Trey Anastasio & 70 Volt Parade 3/01/2005: Higher Ground – South Burlington, VT

Since Trey Anastasio walked off the stage at the conclusion of Phish’s final show last August, the red-headed frontman has been engaging in some much needed time for himself. Other than a September gig at the Austin City Limits festival, a stint with the Vermont Youth Orchestra, and a February Tsunami Relief concert with moe., Anastasio has been about as mysteriously absent as Brian Wilson was in his “bedroom” hey day.

So it was no surprise that debuting his new band at a stealthy benefit show for Vermont Land Trust would take only two hours to sellout. And before showtime, there were plenty of those familiar looking, ticket-less fans begging for a chance to see Anastasio unveil his latest endeavor – 70 Volt Parade.

Taking center stage, the revived Anastasio came out donning his old Marvin the Martian t-shirt, dug out from the back of his 90’s Phish closet. A notable break from his more recent garb of sport jackets and button downs, for those keeping wardrobe score.

Things have changed behind him as well, as multi-instrumentalist Les Hall may be the biggest shocker in the new band, but a refreshing change. The Billy Joe Armstrong look-alike sports a punk rock charisma straight out of Hot Topic, a true rocker presence not seen around Anastasio since his Oysterhead days. Hall adds a slashing guitar flavor, coupled with some dazzling jazz piano chops. Quite the odd marriage of talents, but it works well for this band that strives for a flexible rock/jazz identity. Joining the lineup on keys, fellow Vermonter Ray Paczkwoski helps embody the steady Steve Nieve/Elvis Costello relationship for Anastasio, who have now appeared together in three projects – including the short lived Dave Matthews & Friends. Paczkowski’s ivory talents are unsurpassed, and this new outfit puts a different edge on his playing, both heavy and sticky.

Skeeto Valdez is already blossoming into the fan favorite, “Ringo Starr,” role of the band, with countless “Skeeto” calls from the crowd. With a style truly opposite of Jon Fishman, or even Russ Lawton for that matter, Skeeto’s energetic flair served as the backbone for the evening’s reworking of familiar songs and provided a gust of fresh air all around. Lastly, Peter Chwazik, or as Anastasio introduced him – “Mr. Mysterioso” -played it the most subtle of the new guys. Standing in the back, Chawazik was solid, yet unspectacular, making it easy to tell these compositions were new in feel and texture to his musical past.

Opening with the typically horn-heavy “Night Speaks To A Woman,” the stripped down version suits this band well, as it apparently found a comfortable home in its new rock setting. It also set the theme for the evening, as Trey led the band through many familiar songs from the TAB catalog and put new touches on them – some worked and some didn’t. “Cincinnati” and “Mr. Completely” easily fit this format, allowing the low end energy to unravel the songs to dark ranges, particularly with Hall’s edgy guitar fills in the latter. However, previous horn driven numbers like “Cayman Review,” “Mozambique” and “Drifting” were left rather flat. Most notably absent were Jennifer Hartswicks’ poignant vocals, now replaced by various backups from Packwoski, Hall, Chawazik and Valdez, who aren’t exactly the Supremes.

Of the new songs in the first set, the most profound was “Low,” a bluesy rock number that sounds like a cross between Deep Purple’s “My Woman From Tokyo” and Phish’s “Get Back on the Train.” Moving over a catchy shuffle beat, it holds potential as a set maker once the band gets more comfortable improvising. The acoustic “Love Is Freedom” has equal potential, as it was big on heart, and may hold up as well when it finds its proper place within the song rotation.

Second set started off with the strongest of the new tunes – “Come As Melody,” a psychedelic build-up anthem similar to Phish’s “Piper.” “Plasma,” a winner in the take it or leave it old song department reached some lofty territory, before the real surprise of the night arrived, a totally reworked “It’s Ice” that was almost unrecognizable. Aside from the flubbed lyrics Anastasio almost completely forgot, it carried a legit heavy anthem that gave new light and meaning to a Phish classic. Kudos to the band for taking a piece of history, and splashing fresh paint all over the canvas.

“Bar 17,” failed to gather much energy, even when Anastasio switched from acoustic to electric, and “Push on Till The Day” was sorely lacking the horns, but made up for it with keyboard work on both sides – courtesy of Paczwowski and a stellar solo from Hall. “I am the Walrus,” was a fitting cover, but considering Anastasio’s been writing prolifically as of late, choosing covers and old TAB and Phish songs could certainly be up for considerable debate. Following suit, an encore of “46 Days” ended the show as Anastasio encouraged the crowd to sing the refrain. This won’t make people forget about Phish’s epic version of the tune from their 2003 IT festival, but will give some hope to late-era Phish fans.

In the end, as the band embraced each other and shared smiles, it felt like this may just be the start of something special. Or then again, as soon as you take a liking, Anastasio will probably change his mind and bring a choir to next year’s Bonnaroo.

Set List

Set One:

Night Speaks To A Woman, Cincinnati > Low Love Is Freedom* (Trey on acoustic), Caymen Review, Mozambique, What’s Done*, Drifting, Mr. Completely

Set Two:

Come As Melody*, Plasma, It’s Ice**, Bar 17* (Trey on acoustic for intro, electric for jam), Push On ‘Til The Day,, 18 Steps*, I Am The Walrus* (The Beatles), 70 Volt Parade**


46 Days


**debut, played over the PA as the band exited the stage

Photos courtesy of Adam Foley.

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