Trey tour was a breath of fresh air. I only saw the South Carolina show and the first Fox show, but I left awakened to new insights into Trey’s musical mind. The addition of horns allowed Trey to explore new tonalities and genres of music. He has written some great new songs. Tony, Russ, Jennifer, Andy, and Dave played many roles as Trey’s blues band, jazz band, classical chamber ensemble, and groove machine. For me, seeing new material, new arrangements of pieces, and new genres of music from Trey was pure pleasure.
Trey’s new songs are thoughtful, intricate, poppy, groove oriented, melodic and refreshing to an audience who didn’t see many new songs from Phish in 2000. Trey has expanded his repetoir by writing in new genres. At the Barbecue, At the Gazebo and Sidewalks of San Francisco stand out as horn driven, classically oriented pieces. Tony uses a bow on his stand up bass.
Sidewalks begins with a few bars of harmony from the horn section, when Tony and Trey come in acoustically to support the melodies suggested by the horn lines. It is a slow and dynamic piece, crescendoing at times to more hectic jazz chords. The piece develops as a theme and variation. It is clear that Trey has spent a lot of time writing many parts to the composition rarely repeating sections. Throughout the piece, Trey backs the horns with finger picked and strummed guitar work coming back to one particular rhythmic theme. As the song progresses, this theme grows louder
and becomes a jammy sort of Trey vamp. We’ve heard this happen in many songs, Limb by Limb and The Wedge come to mind. But in Sidewalks of San Francisco, Trey takes a classical body, and puts a little jam on the end. Thanks, Trey, for another groundbreaking new concept.
Trey also spent some time working the familiar blues and jazz feels that we know he loves. Done Done It sounds like a standard 12 bar blues. Some of the lyrics talk about the "hottest girl I’d ever seen in my life." He tries to take her home but realizes she is "somebody else’s wife." Burlap Sack and Pumps was my favorite of the new ones. It sounds like a New Orleans style jazz tune that features Grippo on the Baritone Sax. The tune allows each member a chance to solo. The only lyrics come after a drum breakdowns when the band yells out the title of the song. After each time through this chorus, they drop back into the groove and allow another band member to take a solo.
Most of Trey’s new songs, however, are more pop oriented. Push on ‘Til the Day is probably the best example of this. Check out these lyrics:
Two cans and the ferris wheel,
You’ve gotta love a Mambo #5 quote in a Trey song. Drifting and The Way I Feel, as well as the electric version of Strawberry Fields contained a Heavy Things "bleep" over and over again. This adds a really danceable feel that I love to hear circling the venue. Drifting was the quintescendal happy uplifting song for me both nights. It begins as a light hearted groove with the lyrics, "I’ve been drifting, it seems for years." But as the song progresses, it becomes the story of how the drifting is over because he has found someone with whom to share his life. The trumpet plays a nice melody that alternates with homey lyrics of positive images of places where he finds solace with his partner like "the breakfast table." The end of the song drifts out into a Roggae-esque jam that floats along peacefully.
Drinkin’ on the black top pushin’ steel.
Dance all night with the back door man
By the light of the yellow moon.
Too tanked Tequila Saul,
A little bit of Mary all night long.
The big black bag and the red balloon,
And the sun always comes up much too soon.
Sunday Morning is great as Trey’s original 60s Motown song. "You know I’d rather do it with you" is the bluesy refrain that Trey sings and manipulates throughout the song. It is a smooth love song with one lyric that says "Someday, I’ll share my dream with you." The end of the song features different band members "doing it to you" as each one will bring the dude in a solo shot over the songs changes. Most soloists chose to approach this section really slowly in the behind the beat Marvin Gaye Lets Get it On style. In South Carolina, when it was Trey’s turn, he began to trill the guitar with both hands up on the neck ever so quietly. A warm tone that could barely be heard began to oscillate and change shape so subtly that we people strained to hear. All ears were on Trey as he played the hum of the guitar.
Both nights, the Sand was way off. Acid jazz style vamping. Tony wrote the bass line for Sand but I like Mike’s muddier, fuller, larger tone for this song. Tony is a bit more regimented in his playing. The horns had some great discordant parts to support Trey’s usual guitar rhythm during the breaks in the verses. The Sands were long and driven by the groove. Quite odd I must say, further towards harmonies that the common ear does not crave.
The gem of my experience was the end of the South Carolina show. Trey told us a lot by his words and choice of music. The Sand drifted out into a digital delay jam like the end of the Mike’s Song on 12-31-95. The other band members had left the stage as Trey continued to add layer upon layer of soundscape. The color of the sound was thinner and more clean than the dirtier approach that we see with Phish. This continued for a few minutes at which point Trey left stage with the loops spinning. This created an uncomfortable feel as we waited for him to come back for the encore.
This was the first Strawberry Fields night. When Trey emerged with his acoustic guitar he had much to say. While he quipped about John Lennon being underrated and his impressions of the Beatles’ Anthology, it was not so much what he said but the way he said it. He was talking more wildly than I had ever seen. His words came quickly as he thanked us for being such a patient audience. Gushing with emotion, he let us know that Strawberry Fields was a song he had wanted to play for a while. He paused and in his corniest way said, "for you." Trey was going on and on about how if you took all of the "stuff" off of the song, it was truly one of the greatest songs ever written. He emphasized the word "stuff" loudly twice and
pronounced it with vigor. But he was right. His performance of the song was pristine as he played the changes and guitar melodies with as much acoustic prowess as I have ever heard from him. He brought out the passing tones between chords to really do this song justice. I liked it better than the electric version the next night. For someone who is more of an electric musician, this tour showed the more subtle nuances of Trey’s acoustic playing. Compared to 1999, when he banged on the acoustic a little more, his performance has mellowed and matured.
I could go on about all of the other songs for days. I could tell you about Jennifer’s impressive singing adding the female energy to Trey’s stage. I could tell you about how the addition of horns to Circles made it much more soulful like Billy Preston’s original version. But I think I will leave you with a direction to go to explore this music on your own: Get the CD of South Carolina or another show that is late in the tour. Listen with an open mind and be psyched that Trey is trying something totally new. You deserve it.
Go See Live Music!