Trey Anastasio, UIC Pavilion, Chicago, IL 6/06
The other night or so I saw Trey Anastasio’s boobs. He just walked on stage, pulled up his shirt, and showed them to everyone. For a second, he even unbuckled his pants. This was in response to the act of a very kind young lady in the seventh row or so who showed him hers towards the end of the first set. I had never been to see the Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) before this past June evening. Shit, I’ve never even been to Mardi Gras. I have read some books on Composition Theory by Stanley Fish, who teaches at UIC, and I used to drive by the Circle Campus as I went down Halsted, past the bobble-head remnants of the Maxwell Street Market, and on to my girlfriend’s in Pilsen. I spent many nights talking and drinking in a bonsai garden a mere quarter mile from the arena, but I’d never been in it.
So, I got my stuff taken at the UIC Pavilion—my heady reserve. This guy fondled me, dangled my stash in front of his nose, smiled, put it in his pocket, and gave me a grateful look. Then he said, “Now, why you make me go through all that trouble?” “You had to search me tonight whether or not I stashed something in my crotch; it was your choice to grab my balls,” I didn’t say to him. I couldn’t see how he was the one dealing with trouble. To tell you the truth, I’m not so young and careless anymore, so paranoid visions of getting taken prisoner danced in my head and pumped my blood. Fortunately, I was let in to see TAB, so I can’t say the night was a bust. Just for spite, as far as arenas in the Midwest go, the UIC Pavilion ranks somewhere between the gutter and the sewer—at least the Tweeter Center is outside. And the staff smells.
The opening chords of “Push on Til the Day” had me giddy. I realized I was going to have more fun than I’d had in a while. I had a strange public experience: everyone looked like a stranger one minute, a friend the next. (That was the cheesiest sentence I have ever written, but I just had to leave it in to emphasize my giddiness.) I’m not sure whether I actually knew anyone around me, but as I glanced around, I realized where I was and what I was doing: dancing to the music of Trey Anastasio. Since I’d never actually seen any of the material live before, that sense of freshness which distinguishes the experience of witnessing it live from listening to a recorded version was especially salient. The music crackled with a flavor I could not hear towards the end of Phish’s long haul, and Trey’s blissful dancing throughout the night spoke to all of a child-like reverie.
This night even had its own leitmotif. Amongst the plethora of hand signals flashed by the group’s ever-arranging, energetic leader, there was one that continually signaled the band into a recurring theme, a logo of sorts. By the end of the night, I was getting Pavlovian goose bumps when I saw Trey signal for this UIC theme and heard the band temper keys. This fresh musical idea forced the band to go away from the standard jam of the song they were playing and into what I can only call a series of “Chicago Jams”; this is in strict accordance with the front office’s appellation policies. Since there doesn’t seem to be so much touring on the part of fans, I was unable to ascertain whether this theme had been played before. A listen to my TAB show collection (which contains a few from the current tour) deems it singular to June 6, 2002. If anyone is actually reading this and/or knows the nature of this “Chicago Theme/UIC Theme/Jam/Whatever” to be different from what I propose, I’d be happy to be put in the know.
The introduction to “Flock of Words” was the sort of thing I would like to hear more of from TAB. Phish was never scared to stray from dance grooves into free melodies, harmonies, and sound textures. The crowd, however, looked shocked to not be hearing Russ and Tony’s hypnotic funk. There really is no reason TAB shouldn’t play music similar to Surrender to the Air. I want to dance the entire time as well, but with such a talented group of musicians, experimentation can only lead to greatness. I think we have yet to see and hear just how far out there Trey Anastasio is going to get. Bring on the space, I say. For those who unconditionally demand each second to be funkier than the next, I offer this idea, which I got from Beavis and Butthead: “Yeah, this part has to suck, so the next part can rock.”
Theme and development are fundamental facets of music. “Money, Love and Change” was a lesson in these brass tacks of tune making. Trey is certainly no stranger to this device: listen to “Down with Disease” from 12-06-96, “Halley’s Comet” from 12-14-95, or the “Moma Dance.” He is able to build the simplest musical idea to unthinkable heights of ecstasy. Somehow he finds a melody line so in the pocket it is worthy of infinite repeats—variations and cessations come and go at extraordinary times urging the music to blast straight out of the arena. And then the lights kick in, swirling into the back rows, a force to be reckoned with; the bands stops on a dime; then right back into “Chicago Theme.” Without a doubt, “Money, Love and Change” was the highlight of the evening for me, and I think it was foreshadowing of heights we have yet to see TAB reach. Chris Kuroda has made a conscious effort to light TAB shows differently than Trey’s other bands. At times (during this tune) he cleverly added elements of his Phish lighting, emphasizing the teasing the entire Phish organization currently gets its kicks out of. When, oh, when will the hiatus end?
Halfway through “Last Tube,” my friend Jason turned to me, “I’ve never seen Trey so happy.” I turned to look at him, then looked back to Trey and realized that if he’s happy, I’m happy. For this tune’s jam, instead of relying on the theme to rocket the band to beatific heights, Trey introduced a four-chord progression, which to my ears was also native to that stage on that night. Just a simple melodic string, which the entire band eventually picked up on and brought to a glorious conclusion. Trey’s sometimes down and dirty, sometimes transcendent soloing is still pumping through my fingers as I sit here typing. I’ve now heard all the “Tubes” live; I am complete.
You can tell Trey is keen on Jennifer. Her gutsy use of the wah wah pedal and soulful voice have me keen on her as well. Their unaccompanied duel showed flashes of the symbiosis I’m used to seeing Trey have with Mike or Page. Seemed to me, she was the almost always the only other vocalist. I just can’t wait till TAB takes a break, and Jennifer goes out on her own.
Indeed, the jamming was fresh. There was much more of it, and much less singing than at a Phish or Oysterhead concert. At times, you could see that Trey had pushed the band further than he had before. The horn section would look at each other in surprise, than readily accept the challenge of the unknown. If I remember right, it was the unknown, or the improvised, that separated Phish out from every other band.
Trey is Wilson? This idea needs to stop. I think Mike is Wilson, or maybe Fishman, but not Trey. Besides, if he is Wilson, the lightning fast reaction of the crowd answering his “Duh Duh, Duh Duh” demonstrated just what loyal subjects we are to the evil king. I think Trey is Tela, especially after he showed me his tits, or perhaps he’s simply the narrator. Anywho, these are not the sorts of things we need to worry about, especially when TAB is whipping out such quality material night after night. I give TAB at UIC Homer Simpson’s famous seven thumbs up—the UIC Pavilion gets one thumb you know where.