Photos: Jeremy Smith
Funny how often the best things in the world of Phish and the Trey Anastasio Band, affectionately known as TAB, simply go unnoticed. In chatting this past weekend with Hidden Track Editor extraordinaire, Scott Bernstein, about HT’s 5th Anniversary and the 1st of Postcards From Page Side, we were both scratching our heads on the lack of TAB coverage from this mini-tour that just wrapped up, making this week’s column a no-brainer as to what to cover. I caught one TAB show this tour, on the eve of my 31st Birthday, with a large crew of friends at Montclair, New Jersey’s Wellmont Theatre.
[All photos by Jeremy Smith]
While his last tour focused on one solo, acoustic set (the original template he began his also solo career/tour with in 1999), followed by an all out electric extravaganza, this tour was simply electric, with the full band and got right down to business. While TAB has morphed into various shapes and sizes over the past twelve years, the foundation has remained intact with bassist Tony Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton. Ray Paczkowski has also become a staple on the keys, while the horn section has been trimmed down the last few years, finally settling with and anchored by Jen Hartswick on trumpet and vocals, Russell Remington on tenor sax and flute and Natalie “Chainsaw” Cressman on trombone and vocals.
The show last Wednesday, October 12, at the Wellmont was just a great effort from the jump. It also helped that the Wellmont has a mini-Beacon Theater-esque vibe and feel, just on a smaller scale with a GA floor and one balcony with great sight lines. Basically, an intimate setting of approximately 2,000 people, even though it felt smaller to me. The other thing about TAB shows is that there is no pressure, everything is loosey-goosey, and Trey knows it. Everyone is there to see him shred, and boy did he ever on this night. In fact, each night of this tour was exactly like that. Trey’s playing was reckless, ferocious and fiery especially during the Burlap Sack & Pumps and Money, Love and Change opening duo and first set closing Push On ‘Til the Day, which per usual, saw the band lead the Wellmont into a dizzying explosion with full band interaction (complete with Trey spinning around in circles). All of these were signs that just left me aghast that I haven’t really seen any coverage or live recordings of this TAB tour pop up in the urgent and rabid manner that all Phish-related stuff usually does.
Also of note this entire tour, and especially during this show was simply how much fun Trey was having! Talkative, dancing like that lovable doofus we all know and even welcoming his two songwriting partners in the audience, Tom Marshall and Steve “The Dude of Life” Pollak were all signs of comfort, being close to home and a welcoming, fun vibe. Trey properly welcomed them by playing a song each had co-written with him: Pigtail by Marshall (debuted by Phish this past New Year’s run in Worcester), which is a very poppy and catchy number, in the vein of Burn That Bridge, and Snake Head Thumb by Pollak, which struck me as having a very bluesy, power feel, a la Hendrix, which really allowed Trey to attack his axe during the jam.
While the first frame offered perfect balance with some heavy hitter staples, and a mix of softer and poppier tunes, including a nice treat of The Band’s It Makes No Difference, the second-set saw most of the night’s best jams. Mr. Completely early on in the set was simply put, filthy. And I mean Pigpen from Peanuts, roll around in the mud, dir-taaaay. Trey unleashed on this in a manner that he seemingly does with ease during TAB shows lately and the entire band shook the earth to its very core during this number and the Plasma that followed. The same came be said for the Sand a little later on. Sand, along with songs like First Tube (the first song the original TAB trio of Trey, Markellis and Lawton wrote in ’99, as Trey reminded us this night again) are the true crux of this band, and have been since their inception. They allow for some of the most heart-pounding, boa-constrictor-wrap-yourself-around-you-and-smother-you type feeling grooves that allow layering over the top and room for Big Red to stretch his musical legs (and fingers).
But hear me: regardless of what the band was playing, I simply couldn’t shake my ears off of the tone, fluidity and complete, reckless abandon that Trey was firing at those in the audience. And – he was enjoying every single second of it. Not that Trey doesn’t always seem to enjoy himself, but there’s some sort of X-Factor that he has been exuding as of late, and holds promise for the days of Trey, Phish and TAB going forward. Maybe it’s the fact that after a few years back on the road with all of his bands, settling into a family oriented lifestyle, writing a musical score and just reconnecting with old writing friends, Trey is gaining the confidence and chops that we all knew he had and popped up sporadically over the last few years. Overall, watch out going forward is what I’m saying. I can taste it. And that, after 18+ years of Phish and Phish side project shows, is a great feeling.
As for the remainder of the show, TAB crushed Liquid Time, a song I’d be very anxious and excited to hear Phish take on. As Phish.net tells us “Phish released Trey’s sparse acoustic flamenco version of “Liquid Time” on the Party Time bonus disk included in the Joy boxed set. Although they played the song with Trey on electric guitar during their soundchecks at Toyota Park (8/11/09) and Festival 8 (10/29/09), the song has yet to be performed by Phish for a live audience.” I fully expect that to change, as soon as this New Year’s run at Madison Square Garden. Toss in a four-song encore, including a reworked At The Gazebo, bluesy Ocelot (which sounds more Bob Dylan’s like Rainy Day Woman every time I hear it), an introspective Show of Life (also co-penned by The Dude of Life) as my 30th year wound down, and a raucous Black Dog with Hartswick’s vocals leading the way to ring in year 31 for me and you knew Trey would’ve played for hours more, if they let him. In short, the Wellmont show was a perfect snapshot of a night. Friends, family, TAB at the top of their game, with a heavy dose of Trey looking great, sounding better and more confident than ever, whilst smiling from ear to ear.
While this tour may have gone grossly under reviewed, I feel it stacks up there with some of the best TAB tours to date and I for one, can’t wait for New Year’s at Magical Square Garden.
Check out the rest of Jeremy Smith’s killer photos from Montclair…