Trey Anastasio | 10.19.08 | VT

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Words by: Todd Snelgrove

Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB :: 10.19.08 :: Higher Ground :: Burlington, VT

Trey Anastasio by Rod Snyder
The recent announcement of Phish‘s upcoming reunion in Hampton has re-ignited a scene that has been resting somewhere between dormant and hopefully expectant since the band stopped playing together more than four years ago. The excitement surrounding Trey Anastasio‘s short tour with his original solo band seems to have spiked now that we know this is only a prelude to the big show.

Inside Higher Ground the energy swirled like so many patchwork skirts as Trey and band prepared to take the stage at his de facto hometown venue. The room teemed with happy souls who showed up early to peruse the silent auction, poster sales and raffle prizes that contributed to this evening’s fundraiser for the Seven Below Arts Initiative, while idle chatter centered on Hampton tickets, the previous night’s Albany show and potential sit-ins by other local heroes.

As the lights went down, the 600-strong crowd cemented their sightlines and howled in anticipation while Anastasio approached center stage and soaked it in. In such an intimate venue it was easy to see Trey close his eyes and take a quick, deep breath before launching into the show. “Gotta Jibboo” was an apt opener, sending heads bobbing, asses shaking and good vibes growing as the crowd drifted somewhere between a surge and respect for another’s space. Whether you were against the stage or in the back row, everybody had a great spot, and we all knew it. Right out of the gate Trey’s playing was stellar, and as he pulled “Jibboo” through the improvisational wringer he showed the crowd why he is so revered in the jam world. That he can make so much of two chords is a testament not only to his unparalleled guitar playing but demonstrates his skill as a songwriter, as he somehow kept the straightforward song fresh and unpredictable. He was rewarded for his efforts with a rabid response from the crowd.

As the first set ebbed and flowed its way up and down the energy scale, it became apparent that Trey shared the exuberance and optimism he has recently fostered in his fans. Whether it’s a stronger outlook on life or an enthusiasm for the future is unclear, but as Anastasio closed the set with a virile attack on “Sand,” he looked younger and healthier than he has in some time. Starting his solo by wrenching low growls from his custom Languedoc guitar, Trey pulled the timbre from the dark depths up to that signature soaring bright tone he is so well known for. By the final cadence, the song was brought to a peak that made it undeniably a set ender.

Trey Anastasio by Rod Snyder
After the set break, Anastasio reminded the crowd of the history between himself and the venue, remarking that one of the first TAB shows was the first concert held in the new Higher Ground. At that show Trey debuted several songs that have since become well known and loved by his fans and much played by his various ensembles, and as such, he said those songs are as old as the venue we all stood in.

It was midway through a deft and dexterous second set, when a poignant line emanated from the stage – “The time has come for you to be alive again” – which set the crowd cheering loudly during “Alive Again.” While it may be hyperbole to say that the scene has been dead these last four years, it is clear that a spark has been lit under tour-minded folk since Phish announced their reunion. There is an underlying excitement brewing and that vibe rushed through the room. The time has come, and we do feel alive again. And it’s not stretching the imagination to say that the grin on Trey’s face as he sang the line showed that perhaps he too feels alive again.

To be fair, any comparison between the energy at this show and the energy that will be felt in Hampton remains to be seen, but the feeling of celebration, of being part of a new beginning was indeed in the air at Higher Ground. Regardless, nobody could complain about Trey’s energy and ability this night. He was up-beat and smiling, blazing up the fretboard and his vocals were spot-on. He was even feeling playful enough to submit to a request for “Moesha,” a song the band hasn’t played in years. And he did an admirable job of it too, despite predicting that he’d forget the lyrics and get flamed about it online afterwards.

At 1 a.m. the encore wrapped up with “First Tube” and the crowd, exhausted and ecstatic, bled their way out the door and back to their hotel rooms, sated by a great show and eager to get back on the train. Trey Anastasio seems chomping at the bit to get back at it himself, and this performance proved he’s got the chops to pull it off.

10.19.08 :: Higher Ground :: Burlington, VT
Set I: Gotta Jibboo, Peggy, Dark and Down, Push On Til The Day, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Sand
Set II: Burlap Sack and Pumps, Money Love and Change, Last Tube, Let Me Lie Drifting, Alive Again, Tube Top Flop, Windora Bug > Ruby Waves, Moesha, Dragonfly
Encore: A Case Of Ice And Snow, First Tube

Trey is still on tour, dates available here.

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