Review | Soule Monde & Trey Anastasio | New York City
Soule Monde with Trey Anastasio :: 5.01.14 :: The Iridium :: New York, NY ::
It was 7:30 p.m. last night and I had finally finished a long day of work and was about to settle in for a relaxing night on the couch. Yet after learning Trey Anastasio would be sitting in with Soule Monde at The Iridium in NYC, about 30 blocks from where I stood, I knew I had to get down there. Little did I know that about an hour later I’d be watching a guitarist I’d be following around the country for the last 20 years play two full sets and an encore with two of his longtime band mates making for a memorable evening I won’t soon forget. The collaboration came together on a whim, with Soule Monde keyboardist Ray Paczkowski deciding to call Trey earlier that afternoon and NYC resident Anastasio offering up his services.
When I arrived at the famed jazz club in Times Square about 45 minutes later I thought I’d been had. There were perhaps 10 patrons scattered around the room and none seemed to be the kind you’d see at a Phish show. I walked up to one of the maitre de, who informed me I was in for a treat and after seeing my reaction, she said “you heard, didn’t you.” We didn’t discuss it any further as she seated my party directly next to the stage. I couldn’t believe my luck and figured I should probably tell the rest of the community to get down to The Iridium, which I did with a YEMblog tweet. Just after 8:30 p.m. Anastasio took the stage with his two TAB band mates, drummer Russ Lawton and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, aka Soule Monde, and it was on. At this point there were perhaps 20 people in attendance and for lack of a better term, the newcomers were looking more “Phishy.” The guitarist utilized a Fender Stratocaster, which provided a very different tone than his usual Languedoc and just a few pedals including his trusty wah-wah pedal.
With each passing song more people started arriving and I got a kick out of watching the look of disbelief as they walked in to the tiny club and saw what was going down. Word clearly had spread and the room was starting to fill up. The drums/keys/guitar trio mostly focused on Soule Monde’s riveting originals. Anastasio had no issues finding his spaces within the avant-grooves Ray and Russ laid down. The guitarist used interesting chord voicings and was at ease with the material. He didn’t solo very much, instead showing off his masterful rhythmic skills and Big Red didn’t stop smiling throughout the whole performance.
There’s so many times you hear rumors that Trey would sit-in with this person or that person and it never turns out to be true. There are other times Anastasio would guest for a song or two and then jet. Last night’s Soule Monde performance was the full monty. The Phish guitarist never left the stage during either of the two sets. It was unlike any situation I’d seen Trey perform in as there were no roadies, no guitar tech Brian Brown, no huge five-digit rig -just one musician stopping by to perform with two of his most trusted collaborators. Anastasio used plenty of elbow grease to elicit vibrant tones in a way he doesn’t with his usual Languedoc.
As setbreak hit word got around the club that a huge line had formed outside. Venue operators gave those who were on hand for the first show the opportunity to stick around for the previously scheduled 10:30 p.m. performance and not many left. The room filled to capacity, a measly 140 patrons, for a second show that was very different from the first. The normal decorum of a jazz club was lost as the capacity-crowd hooted and hollered at every opportunity. During setbreak it was interesting to hear everyone’s stories about how they found out and there seem to be many dinners that were left uneaten last night as those who heard about the collaboration changed their plans with a quickness and headed down to The Iridium.
Soule Monde doesn’t plan the setlist before taking the stage and last night’s performance was no different. Russ and Ray would call out songs to each other between tunes and then the keyboardist would tell Trey what key the next number was in. It was crazy to see how quickly Anastasio picked up on what Lawton and Paczkowski were playing. When the guitarist stepped to the mic for an impromptu encore after the second performance, we learned why he was familiar with the material. Trey noted that Soule Monde’s studio album was his “coffee-drinking” music and he listened to the disc over and over. Knowing Anastasio, many of his listening sessions probably involved playing along with the songs.
After receiving a massive standing ovation, the trio did return for that aforementioned impromptu encore. Ray told the crowd they wanted Trey to sing a tune and he set up a mic in front of the guitarist. Soule Monde and Anastasio then lit into a “Cayman Review” that wound up being the only Trey original of the evening. “Cayman” was performed in a fairly similar manner to TAB performances with of course much fewer musicians. Those in the crowd exchanged knowing glances as the band left the stage leaving many of us in awe of what we had just witnessed. The venue was so packed that staff manned the doors and wouldn’t let anyone leave without showing their receipts as proof they had paid. This was far from a typical night at The Iridium.
Now, as amazing as Trey’s performance was, one of the lessons I was left with is just how good Soule Monde’s music is. The duos play a MMW-esque brand of groove-rock that shows off the incredible skills Lawton and Paczkowski possess. Had Anastasio not been there, this still would’ve been a fantastic performance and I’m the new owner of the band’s studio album -one of the first physical CDs I’ve bought in years. It will now be my coffee-drinking music as well.
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