This past Friday night, Phish frontman Trey Anastasio brought his ever evolving solo band to sold out Chicago Theatre. The venue is the largest the band will visit during their nine show Fall Tour in support of Traveler (available for purchase at LivePhish.com). Anticipation for the show was high as Trey hadn’t played the Chicago Theatre since 2003. When Trey’s Facebook page posted an advance image of famed Phish poster artist and local Chicagoan Jim Pollock print for the evening, the anticipation meter for many had peaked. Despite the cold hard driving rain, fans were patient, but eager to get inside.
Trey has always experimented with the lineup of his side projects and while his previous few solo tours featured the “Classic” TAB lineup, this time Big Red had a few changes in store. The band featured TAB regulars Jennifer “J-Ha” Hartswick on trumpet and vocals, Natalie “Chainsaw” Cressman on trombone and vocals, Ray “The Milkman” Paczkowski on keys, Tony Markelis on bass and Russ Lawton on drums. This tour would also mark the return of Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista.
Cyro first appeared with Trey 2005 and fans were glad he was back in the mix. The lone newcomer to the lineup is Lettuce saxophonist James Casey. This TAB incarnation also saw the return of a mini percussion kit used by Trey. It is very similar to the one he used with Phish in the mid to late 90’s. In addition to their brass instruments, Hartswick and Cressman had mini keyboard setups while Casey had a full keyboard that would get used throughout the evening. Perhaps the biggest change that Trey had in store for his devoted followers was the addition of a Fender Jaguar guitar to go alongside his well known Languedoc hollow body.
Trey and his band hit the stage shortly after 8 PM and within a minute launched into the crossover TAB/Phish fan favorite “Gotta Jibboo.” Trey has always used the TAB project in all of it’s forms over the years as a sort of breeding ground for songs that would eventually make their way into Phish’s repertoire. Phish rotation workhorses like “Sand”, “First Tube” and “Alaska” as well as some one timer’s like “Pigtail” and “Mr. Completely” all had their nascence in one incarnation of the solo band or another.
Trey put the Doc down and picked up the Fender for the first time following “Jibboo” as we were treated to the first track of the evening from Traveler with a solid rendition of “Scabbard.” While Trey’s latest solo effort has been met with mixed reviews from critics, this particular track has been well received as was the case on this evening. The Traveler pieces continued with “Corona” up next which featured some excellent use of his percussion kit from Baptista.
Trey decided to mix in some of his solo band favorites with the high energy crowd favorite “Push On Til The Day, which featured the first real taste of any improvisation with it’s straight forward type I style jam that definitely had the loge and balcony bouncing. The energy stayed high as Trey nimbly led his band through “Cayman Review” and “Burlap Sack and Pumps” that came next.
We turned back to Traveler for one of my personal favorite tracks off the disc, “Frost.” The simple elegant arrangement of the tune really shows off Trey’s diversity, both a composer and instrumentalist, and this version did not disappoint in either aspect. “Night Speaks to a Woman” gave Jennifer “J-Ha” Hartswick the opportunity to fill the ornate venue with her incredibly powerful voice. The heavy TAB rotation favorite “Valentine” and aforementioned Phish one timer “Pigtail” were up next.
As the first set was winding down, the capacity crowd wondered what might close out the evening’s first stanza. Trey didn’t disappoint. Whether it’s Tony Markelis or Mike Gordon playing, there’s no mistaking the opening bass line of “Sand” and while this version might not have stretched nearly 25 minutes as it did over Labor Day weekend at Dick’s, Trey and his bandmates made sure this version packed a punch with thunderous bass, incredible keyboard work, dynamic brass, and percussion all layered and paced by a confident wide eyed grinning Bad Lieutenant who was clearly enjoying every second while laying down ferocious licks.
After a nearly 25 minute setbreak, Trey and company were back on stage and ready go to for the second set. A fairly straightforward version of “Alive Again” opened up the set. We were treated to perhaps a bit of a curveball next with the relatively rarer cover of “Ooh Child”, which the crowd eagerly lapped up despite the overall challenged sound inside the venue. A personal TAB favorite in “Money Love and Change” was up next. “MLC” has always been a song that I’ve thought would translate exceptionally well to the Phish stage, but we haven’t seen it make that crossover leap yet.
We dipped back into Traveler as we raised a glass to “Architect” as the song’s lyrics command. A true treat of the evening was up next as a cover of Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood.” With the almost haunting rapping of Jennifer’s voice had the audience on it’s feet loving every minute of it. The improvisational highlight of the evening came next with “Plasma.” The tune featured a dark, dissonant jam almost reminiscent of “Crosseyed and Painless” sprinkled with elements of “Mike’s Song.” Definitely seek the version out as the tempo was slightly slowed down and all the elements of the band firing on all cylinders it’s for sure worth a re-listen.
A quick spin through the Page McConnell penned “Magilla” kept the crowd moving, which was followed up with a spirited cover of the Charlie Daniel’s classic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Trey opted to slow things down a bit with “The Way I Feel” next. One of my favorite Trey pieces from the Phish break up era of 2004-2008, “Goodbye Head” was up next. This song has been jammed to lengths in excess of 20 minutes by Trey many times, but that wasn’t to be this evening.
To close out the second set, the first TAB song ever written was selected with “First Tube.” “First Tube” has become a staple of Phish’s rotation and has been played by Trey in every incarnation of his solo career. This version didn’t disappoint and the high energy instrumental with it’s ferocious peaks and lightning quick finger dexterity that Big Red showed off is always well received be it from the Phish or TAB audience.
A quick encore break and the band was back for a run through the instrumental “At The Gazebo.” To close out the evening the title track from Trey’s new album sent the Chicago crowd home out of the famous venue into the weekend with a smile on their faces. TAB’s tour continues on Saturday night with a stop at the LC Pavilion in Columbus, OH. If you have a chance to hit one of these nine TAB dates I would certainly recommend it. The creative outlet that it provides for Trey is invaluable and the experience of seeing him in smaller settings is always memorable.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Set 1: Gotta Jibboo, Scabbard, Corona, Push On ‘Til the Day, Cayman Review, Burlap Sack and Pumps, Frost, Night Speaks to a Woman, Valentine, Pigtail, Sand
Set 2: Alive Again, O-o-h Child, Money, Love and Change, Architect, Clint Eastwood,Plasma, Magilla, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, The Way I Feel, Goodbye Head >First Tube
Encore: At the Gazebo, Traveler