Coming into Tuesday night’s Trey Anastasio show at the House Of Blues in Cleveland there were many questions to be answered. How would the Trey Anastasio Trio sound as Trey took the stage with just bassist Tony Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton for the first time since 1999? Would they stick to similar setlists as that 1999 tour with more recent cuts thrown in or go with a variation of TAB’s 2017 repertoire? Would the performance be filled with fretboard fireworks from Trey as the tour’s lone soloist? Would Anastasio play one set acoustic as he did in 1999? The answers started to emerge on opening night.
Anastasio decided to go ahead with the tour that was supposed to feature the full Trey Anastasio Band as the Trey Anastasio Trio while TAB keyboardist Ray Paczkowski recovers from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The Phish guitarist also noted the run began 20 years to the day of the night he first took the stage with Markellis and Lawton as part of an ensemble dubbed “8 Foot Florescent Tubes” at the original Higher Ground in Winooski, Vermont. In 1999, Trey embarked on his debut solo tour with Russ and Tony and started each show with an acoustic set. Last night in Cleveland, the Trey Anastasio Trio presented two full electric sets and went solo acoustic to start the encore.
As for the setlist, Trey & Co. leaned more on the Phish repertoire than they did on the material the trio played during their 1999 tour. The threesome sounded well rehearsed and though there was little in the way of out of the box jamming, there were plenty of strong solos from Anastasio.
Trey, Russ and Tony opened with “Gotta Jibboo,” a song co-written by the three musicians that was debuted at the first official Trey Anastasio Band show on February 15, 1999. “Jibboo” featured a short but fierce solo from Anastasio. Next up was the day-appropriate “Tuesday” and the year-old original “Everything’s Right.” The guitarist dug hard into “Everything’s Right” and scatted as part of the minor-key jam in similar fashion to what he did during versions on his solo acoustic tour earlier this year.
“Camel Walk” was the first big surprise of the night. The trio played a more snappy and upbeat take on “Camel Walk” than the funky/throbbing Phish versions. Anastasio & Co. then served up the TAB debut of “When The Circus Comes,” a Los Lobos song Phish has played from time to time dating back to 1997. The “No Men In No Man’s Land” that followed was another first-timer for the band. Russ, Trey and Tony then returned to the TAB catalog for “Dark & Down” and “Drifting.” Anastasio utilized what appeared to be his Leslie Speaker to add a cool effect to both the beginning and end of his “Drifting” solo.
More TAB staples brought the first set to its conclusion: “Pigtail” and “Bounce.” All ten songs played in the opening stanza featured sparse arrangements and little in the way of backing vocals, which makes sense considering the trio format. The highlights of the frame when it came to Anastasio’s guitar work were the nicely extended “Everything’s Right” jam, the cool tone used during “Drifting” and the wah-heavy and powerful riffing at the end of “Bounce.”
The second set started with one of Trey’s newest originals, “Soul Planet.” Both “Soul Planet” and the “46 Days” that followed were more open-ended than anything played in the first set. The former may have only spanned 11 minutes or so but was free-flowing and showed “Soul Planet” may just be a jam vehicle yet. “46 Days” saw Anastasio make fine use of his rig, as he explored various tones and themes. Once again, the guitarist scatted as part of his solo. Tuesday’s “46 Days” was the first played by a TAB variation since December 30, 2006.
The Trey Anastasio Trio took the energy down a notch with the ballad “Farmhouse,” marking the first time Lawton and Markellis performed the song that was a staple of Trey’s solo sets during the 1999 tour. Next, Anastasio pulled from the Phish repertoire once again with “Steam” getting the call. Anastasio weaved together one emotive lick after another during the standout TAB debut of “Steam.” The “Night Speaks To A Woman” that followed saw Trey switch between tones over the course of the first few minutes before engaging overdrive for what would usually be a build to a ferocious peak. Instead, the guitarist brought the song to its conclusion sans climax.
After “Night Speaks” came a particularly slow-paced “Water In The Sky,” yet another song Lawton and Markellis hadn’t performed in the past. The loping feel continued on “Sand,” just the second tune of the evening that was in heavy rotation during Trey’s first tour with Tony and Russ. Lawton kept the beat slow and steady while Anastasio experimented with spooky tones for the initial portion of the jam for a song that was debuted exactly 20 years prior. Then, the drummer picked up the pace which provided a strong base over which the guitarist shredded.
Trey emerged with acoustic in hand to begin the encore with “Waste.” Lawton and Markellis then came out to join Anastasio for “Heavy Things” and “First Tube” to bring the evening to a close. “First Tube,” like “Sand,” was birthed 20 years ago prior at the lone 8 Foot Florescent Tubes show in Winooski. The instrumental was written by Russ, Tony and Trey and has gone on to become a staple for both Phish and TAB over the past two decades.
On Wednesday, the Trey Anastasio Trio plays 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids.
Setlist (via Phish.net)
Set One: Gotta Jibboo, Tuesday, Everything’s Right, Camel Walk, When the Circus Comes, No Men In No Man’s Land, Dark and Down, Drifting, Pigtail, Bounce
Set Two: Soul Planet > 46 Days, Farmhouse, Steam, Night Speaks to a Woman, Water in the Sky, Sand
Encore: Waste , Heavy Things
-  TAB debut.
-  Trey solo acoustic.