"I don't know what it is...But I just love playing in Cleveland. And that's the beauty of this Napster thing and the tapes you guys collect, because you know that I don't just go around saying that." ~ Trey Anastasio, 2.26.01
And it was obvious from his performance that Trey was telling the truth. It is easy to figure out why some people are not impressed with the shows that Anastasio is playing right now... This band is clearly not Phish. But what they are is a group of six musicians who are having fun while making some of the best live music around right now.
But first things first...
Located in downtown Cleveland, The State Theater is an amazing place to see music. What sets this venue apart from the rest is the giant ceiling which allows for the sounds to emulate throughout the entire theater with little interference. Extra tickets could not be given away outside – in fact I saw someone drop two on the ground because he didn’t want to miss the beginning of the show and couldn’t find anyone to take them off his hands.
Security was generally loose which allowed most people to sit with their friends in any area with open seats. As show time rolled around, the tension started to build. It wasn’t until 7:55 that the lights finally went down, and the band took the stage. Out walked Trey, black shirt, red beard, and that same shit-eating grin that we’ve all grown to love in the last 17 years.
The opener, The Way I Feel, quickly grabbed the attention of the audience which made it easy for the crowd to segue into Mozambique – a tight jam, similar at times to an upbeat First Tube with horns. It wasn’t until they launched into the beautiful cover of The Band tune, It Makes No Difference, that we got to hear a song dominated by vocals. I have heard this song performed by bands such as ekoostik hookah, but it wasn’t until last night that I heard a version of a Band song that would make Levon Helm, himself happy.
However, if you ask anyone what the highligh of last night's show was, they would answer quickly and proudly, First Tube. What seemed to be the mother of all First Tubes, last night’s version was possibly the best I had ever heard. The horns added levels to this jam that left the audience begging for more and thanking their lucky stars that they were fortunate enough to hear what Trey and his band just played. Burlap Sacks and Pumps followed – which was a little unfair for any song – imagine being the next batter after Mark McGwire belted his 62nd home run. Trey then settled things down and picked up one of his four acoustic guitars to do a version of Aqui Como Alla without the horns, and a beautiful song entitled Waves, with Tony on a stand-up bass as Trey’s only other support.
An acoustic version of Bathtub Gin, complete with the crowd singing along with Trey’s guitar, led us into the chatty-Trey’s explanation of the next two songs At The Barbecue and At The Gazebo. A jaw-dropping first set ended with the cover, Will It Go Round In Circles. A song that is also much improved with the addition of the horns section.
After the usual 30-minute set break, Trey and his band wasted no time picking up where the first set left off. Starting things out with (Come On Baby Let's Go) Downtown immediately hooked the audience and had the place grooving as if they had never left the stage. Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours came next. During this song, I looked around, and really started to absorb what was going on. Looking at all of the people there, in Cleveland, Ohio, on a Monday night, I could not seem to stop smiling. No this was not Phish, but we had all come to the same place to see an integral part of the band play with five buddies. As evident in this song as much as any other, he gave us our money’s worth.
The relentless groove of Sand thumped down on us next and re-energized our tired legs. A glow-ring war combined with a long, spacey jam in the middle of the song took the crowd back to the band’s inception during the spring of 1999. It became increasingly clear how much Sand has grown and blossomed in the last two years. The next three songs, Sunday Morning, Nothing But An E Thing and Happiness In My Pants (this time played electrically, as opposed to acoustic from the Roseland show) highlighted space, funk and the overall (much anticipated) showing off of the horns section. Dave “The Truth” Grippo seemed to understand his role last night on the sax, but he also understands his role in the Phish community. During the introductions, he received the biggest ovation with the crowd chanting “Truuuuuuuth!” Andy Moroz on the trombone added much to the rhythm and flow of the music, and Jennifer Hartswick helped out on the trumpet as well vocals, most evidently during the Mellow Mood.
The second highlight of the night came with an extremely tight, slow, then building Windora Bug. There were no horns for this song, and in addition to Trey playing the keys, annoyed fans who were trying to quiet the incessant screams of “who’s your daddy” and “we love you Trey,” sprung into a Shush vocal jam. At one point, at least half of the theater was shushing everyone in a playful manor that Trey approved of... Again with that shit-eating grin.
Gotta Jibboo ended the set as only Gotta Jibboo could have – rocking, jamming, grooving. The only thing left to hear, was Mellow Mood, and again, Trey did not disappoint. A half-beat slower then Phish played this fall, the Marley song featured Hartswick primarily on back-up vocals, and added a female touch that worked wonders.
Overall, last night’s show was an incredible night of music. Different from Phish, different from String Cheese, Karl Denson, Phil and Friends and Galactic... What happened last night at the State Theater in Cleveland was a treat for everyone who was in attendance, and was - simply put – a musical night to remember. Phish has fallen off the radar for a while but that doesn't mean that the magic is gone too. Leave your worries and preconceptions at the door - this is time to celebrate!
JamBase Midwest Correspondent
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