Reelin’ In The Year: Trey Anastasio Band Ends 2017 Tour In Oakland – Review, Videos & Photos
Images by: Susan Weiand
Words by: Scott Bernstein
Trey Anastasio Band :: 11.3 & 4.17 :: Fox Theater :: Oakland
Check out Susan’s gallery after the review.
By May of 1999 Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio had accomplished many of the things he had set out to do in his musical career. The band was one of the top-grossing live acts in America, had an incredible body of work accumulated over 15 years and the guitarist had played with many of his heroes including a historic three-night run with Phil Lesh just weeks earlier. With a bevy of goals fulfilled, Anastasio decided to explore a different side of his musicality and for the first time assembled a solo band that would embark on an extensive tour.
Anastasio formed a group that would immediately be dubbed by fans “TAB,” or the Trey Anastasio Band, for a May ’99 run that started with a solo acoustic set and was followed by an electric performance from Trey, drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis. Tony played a big role in the formation of Phish and Trey’s career up until that point, as the guitarist saw Markellis perform with Big Joe & The Unknown Blues Band when he was a high schooler making a trip to the University of Vermont and was so impressed he decided to move to Burlington. Eighteen years after the first TAB tour and a number of lineup changes, the ensemble ended a busy 2017 with two shows at The Fox Theater in Oakland that displayed Trey’s second huge repertoire of material, some of which has crossed over to his “main” band.
The TAB repertoire is very big these days, not Phish Baker’s Dozen 13 shows without a repeat big, but as Trey told me, “It’s kind of a relief with TAB that there aren’t quite so many songs, and that there can be a little bit less of a feeling like we have to play entirely different stuff all the time, because I figure I’m only going to be alive on earth for a finite amount of time, and I’d like to play “First Tube” with that wicked horn line as many possible times as I can before I die, so …”
Anastasio seems to have settled in on a lineup and the impressive chemistry and tightness of the group was noticeable from the start of the “First Tube” opener on Friday through the “Soul Planet” finale on Saturday. The horn section of Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman and James Casey is a versatile trio featuring multi-instrumentalists who can each sing their hearts out. Markellis and Lawton are still as rock solid an in-the-pocket rhythm section as it gets, while Ray Paczkowski brings vintage keyboard tones to the outfit and percussionist Cyro Baptista provides extra layers to the music and a crazed stage persona that’s worth the price of admission alone.
However, at the heart of TAB are the songs themselves. The guitarist’s songwriting has gone through many phases over the past 18 years and the Trey Anastasio Band shows in Oakland featured a taste of each. Anastasio’s early days with Tony and Russ were represented by such warhorses as “Sand,” “First Tube,” “Last Tube” and “Gotta Jibboo.” Each contained outstanding solos from the guitarist in which he patiently built to frenzied peaks. Trey hasn’t lost much off his fastball.
In 2001 TAB added a horn section to the repertoire and was the focus of Anastasio’s efforts with Phish on hiatus. Oakland attendees were treated to an eclectic batch of material from that year including “The Way I Feel,” “Alive Again,” “Cayman Review” and “Simple Twist Up Dave.” A highlight of the run came at the start of Friday’s encore, when TAB dusted off the beautiful “Ether Sunday” for just the second time in 2017. Many fans associate the song with Anastasio’s acclaimed 2002 eponymous studio album, a heady time for the outfit.
Speaking of 2002, “Curlew’s Call” was among the Trey tunes debuted by TAB that year. Friday’s version at the Fox was a standout moment thanks to everyone in the band, besides Markellis, getting a solo or in the case of Cyro and Russ a duet and making the most of it. Trey Anastasio Band shows in 2017 are akin to acts like the Tedeschi Trucks Band, where a powerhouse ensemble shows off their skills more with soloing than full band improvisation. That said, there were a few moments during the weekend when TAB flexed their jamming might. “Burlap Sack & Pumps” featured otherworldly interplay between Casey and Anastasio, “Dark & Down” was a wild ride and the “Spin” jam continues to bear fruit.
Both “Spin” and “Dark & Down” come from a heavy period in Anastasio’s life, when he was battling an addiction that would lead to a 2006 arrest. The heaviness still comes through in each tune despite Trey having long cleaned himself up. A more hopeful batch of material came from the late ’00s and was played in Oakland, namely “Liquid Time,” “Ocelot” and “Alaska.” The latter featured a deliciously weird intro from Paczkowski. The early ’10s found Trey finally exploring his love of showtunes in writing music for the Broadway musical Hands On A Hardbody. Saturday’s “Burn That Bridge” was a taste of the guitarist’s work with songwriter Amanda Green for what stands as his lone foray into the Broadway world. In 2012, Anastasio put the focus back on his solo career and studio experimentation for the severely underrated Traveler. Bay Area concertgoers witnessed spot-on renditions of “Land Of Nod,” “Pigtail,” “Architect” and “Valentine” from the LP.
The New Jersey native’s most recent solo effort is still 2015’s Paper Wheels and oddly the first run of 2017 was still called the “Paper Wheels Tour.” Anastasio fit many tunes from the LP into the Oakland setlists: “Sometime After Sunset,” “In Rounds,” “Bounce,” “Liquid Time” and “Speak To Me.” Perhaps these songs best fit the current lineup of the group and “Bounce” in particular was a winner with nearly all on the floor bouncing along with the lyrics during the version that ended Friday’s concert, which created a wild visual for those watching from the balcony.
This year, Trey Anastasio has unveiled yet another batch of originals and most have the theme of enjoying life and focusing on the positives, despite the unpredictable and sometimes scary world around us. Anastasio appreciates what he has and enjoys giving his fans a respite from the rest of the world even if it’s just for a few hours and that sentiment comes through in “Everything’s Right,” “Rise/Come Together,” “Set Your Soul Free” and “Soul Planet.”
Covers have always been a part of the TAB experience and Oakland was no exception. While the ensemble did put the focus squarely on the originals Trey has crafted over the past 18+ years, they did work three songs by others into the action. Bay Area native Natalie “Chainsaw” Cressman won huge applause both from the crowd and her band mates after “1977,” while Hartswick’s pipes were at the heart of covers of Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” and Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed & Confused.”
Phish is a band that often focuses on improvisation, while TAB lets Anastasio work out his compositional skills and showcase his own talents and the impressive talents of those that have come into his musical orbit in many different ways to lead to the current lineup. If you’re looking for a night of Type II jamming look elsewhere, but if you enjoy Trey’s songwriting and the various twists and turns his material has taken over the past 18 years, now is a great time to see the Trey Anastasio Band. “I’m really just buzzing with excitement to be playing music with that group of people. It’s such a slamming band, and it’s really a joy playing together, I’m sure that’s tangible if you’re in the audience,” Anastasio told me before the first TAB show of the year and the joy is no doubt tangible.
Videos (Captured by Ted Silverman)
Setlists (via Phish.net)
Friday, November 3
Set One: First Tube, Everything’s Right, Curlew’s Call, Drifting, Magilla, Tube Top Flop, Pigtail, Money, Love and Change
Set Two: Mozambique, Gotta Jibboo, Liquid Time, Set Your Soul Free, Night Speaks to a Woman, 1977, Burlap Sack and Pumps, Alaska, Clint Eastwood, Valentine, Tuesday
Encore: Ether Sunday, Bounce
Saturday, November 4
Set One: Sometime After Sunset, Alive Again, Speak to Me, Cayman Review, The Way I Feel, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Burn That Bridge, Tide Turns, Ocelot, The Land of Nod, Dark and Down
Set Two: Sand, Last Tube, Spin, Shine, Rise/Come Together, Simple Twist Up Dave, In Rounds, Architect, Dazed and Confused, Push On ‘Til the Day
Encore: Heavy Things, Soul Planet
Tour Dates for