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Published: 2008/11/23
by David Calarco

Trey Anastasios Solo Legacy

David Calarco is the founder of the website Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts, which we featured as our October Fan Site of the Month..

Phish has always been Trey’s baby. Through the years he has cared for, directed, and caressed the band with the tender, motivational touch of a parent. In creatively directing the quartet for over twenty years, he has been the band’s most prolific composer. Throughout Phish’s career, the Anastasio / Tom Marshall songwriting team has been the source of the band’s most significant and defining songs. With credit for over 95 Phish originals, more than the rest of the band combined, there was never any doubt who provided the creative impetus behind Phish’s extensive catalog. Yet, as Trey matured and began working with the first incarnation of the Trey Anastasio band, in April of 1998, a new songwriting collaboration and guitar voice emerged for Trey.

With local bassist Tony Markelis, and drummer Russ Lawton, Trey formed a new triumvirate of creativity. Collectively, the three musicians began writing songs that would be become staples of the soon-to-form Trey Anastasio Band, many which would go on to Phish. In the first set of the one-time performance of Trey’s initial side band, 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes at Higher Ground back on 4/17/98, the threesome, along with Tom Lawson on guitar and Heloise Williams on vocals, keyboards and flute, debuted early versions of “Sand,” “First Tube,” “Mozambique,” and “Last Tube,” all but one which would make the jump to Phish’s catalog within a year and a half.

In the spring of 1999, as Trey embarked on his first solo tour with his newly formed power trio with Markelis and Lawton, and Trey found a new outlet for his emotive shredding. While in the context of Phish, in order to musically succeed, Trey had to listen to the other musicians and improvise based on what he heard and what he could add to the mix. While often leading these adventures, Trey was always fully cognizant of what his band mates were doing. With the onset of TAB, that formula was thrown away as Trey’s imagination was allowed to run wild. With Tony and Russ providing the backing grooves, Trey was able to explore tangents of guitar fury with the regularity of Old Faithful. With an ability to extensively improvise over various musical textures, Trey discovered new ways of using his Languedoc. Along with infectious rhythm licks, Trey conjured up his inner Hendrix as he incorporated dissonant walls of screaming sound into his repertoire. Over these multiple feels, Trey was able to indulge his own ideas in a way that he couldn’t with Phish. Yet, facets of these solo excursions would appear in and influence the direction of subsequent Phish jams in years to come. A place for both personal and song development, The Trey Anastasio Band was born.

Throughout the years, his band has gone through various formations, from a trio, to a sextet with horns, to a larger Afro-Cuban dectet downplaying his guitar and focusing on percussive playing. While each incarnation brought another aspect of musical experience to him, Trey seemed to move further and further from a focus on his sublime guitar playing, the one thing everyone was coming to see. Yet, with Trey’s return to the stage these past months with “Classic TAB,” now including trusty keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, Trey has been able to play and arrange his new songs in the context of a quartet, the same number of people in another band. The addition of Paczkowski to such a small band lent a second improviser to the stage to push Trey a bit further out of his personal shred fest. With clear communication between the two, Ray has upped the improvisational ante of Trey’s band, as they consistently bounced musical ideas off each other throughout his-ten day tour.

Beginning in 1999 through this past Northern Exposure Tour, Trey has used the freedom in his second band to explore new songs while performing solo guitar acrobatics that would be considered over indulgent in the context of Phish. Allowing Trey to compose, arrange and try out new songs, TAB has been the birthplace of many a past Phish number. Such latter day staples as “Bug,” “Heavy Things,” “Mist,” and “Get Back on the Train,” all began as TAB songs. Just as Trey seeded his musical ideas with his band in the past, so he did on this tour.

Beginning with his Brooklyn comeback in on August 7th, freed from his legal entanglements, Trey debuted a slew of new songs. With the imminent comeback of Phish, it is clear that many of these songs, as Trey explained during the tour are destined for his “other band.” During this run, Trey featured many songs that seem as though they were written for Phish to conquer. Playing mere templates of what these compositions will become, Phish will use many of these songs to initiate their third go round.

After his return to glory, some things have become clear. Having only played “Light” and “Greyhound Rising” one time each, it seems abundantly obvious that Trey is saving these transcendent songs for Phish to define. With “Light’s” introspective lyrics and sublime, climactic guitar cries, it is begging for the greater treatment of the Phish. “Greyhound Rising” is the type of multi-part composition that fans have longed for from Trey during the last few years. Arranged masterfully with poignant lyrics and a slower bluesy jam in the middle, Hampton awaits this one as well. Having only played “Valentine” two times in the first three shows, it seems that Trey realized a guitar solo could only take this song so far, and feels that his other band are the musicians who can bring this song to its intended heights- something that a “soloing” band can not do. Featuring soaring, uplifting melodic guitar work and psychedelic poetic lyrics, time will tell how Page, Mike, and Fish add to this soon to be classic. “Backwards Down the Number Line,” highlighted in the second half of Trey’s tour, is the newest Anastasio / Marshall composition with thematic lyrics about old friends reuniting- sound Phishy enough? It would not be surprising to see this song kick off the third chapter of Phish on March 6th. Trey also debuted “Ruby Waves” at Higher Ground in Burlington, and then tucked it away for the rest of the run- a clear signal that he has other plans for the song. Another song that will become enhanced beyond Trey’s beautiful solo, expect this one to pop out at some point as well. Lastly, the previously beat-less “Let Me Lie” of Bar 17 was given a backing texture that seems to all but ensure itself as the next gorgeous Phish ballad.

Not just exciting because Trey was back and playing inspired guitar once again, this past TAB tour held great significance for the future of Phish. Foreshadowing what is to come in their third go-round, Trey’s tour did more than prove his health and happiness, but uncovered many gems that will soon be played in larger venues across the country. A psychedelic proving ground for both guitar and song exploration, TAB once again served a primary purpose of test-driving new songs and getting them ready for their more regal unveiling. While surrounded by his second songwriting voice for the last two weeks, Trey continuously displayed appreciation for what Tony and Russ have musically done his own musical development. Beginning with the first show at Roseland, Trey made a point to publicly note and appreciate his second compositional partners. With the encore of “Burlap Sack and Pumps,” Trey introduced his songwriting team, explaining that the next song followed in a tradition of other songs that were written by Markelis, Lawton, and himself and made the crossover to Phish. With a clear acknowledgement of how TAB has pushed him to develop new musical adventures, Trey implied that the pattern was not over.

Without this overflow tank for his own musical creativity, who knows what path the latter days of Phish might have taken. It is safe to say that without his band, the development of 1999 and 2000 Phish would have moved in a divergent direction. Perhaps less focused on groove and searing walls of improvisational sound, without TAB, post-1998 Phish would have most certainly swam a different channel.

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