Trey Anastasio, Amphitheatre @ Station Square, Pittsburgh, PA, 6/11
It’s an interesting thing to add a show to a tour itinerary late. Some additions make sense. Add a festival to close the tour, or add an additional date to an existing run, both seem like the sort of things that can happen often. But a mid-week show in Pittsburgh? That sort of thing never seems to happen. But this summer, for some unknown reason, Trey Anastasio and his ever-expanding brethren of musical compatriots decided that a Tuesday night in the steel city was a much-needed addition to the tour route.
Temperatures crept into the nineties as I arrived into a semi-full and slightly disconnected stretch of parking lots that surround the Amphitheatre at Station Square, formerly the I.C. Light Amphitheatre, located on the south side of Pittsburgh. Many things besides the name had changed since the last time I had been to the south side. The Amphitheatre now had a tent-like roof to protect those inside from the elements. However, I believe that it is an aesthetic decline in the amphitheatre’s charm. Not much of an "amphitheatre," the venue was, and still is, simply a vast stretch of asphalt with a few beer stands lining each side. However, prior to the tent installation, it featured wonderful scenery. Tucked between two sets of train tracks at the base of Mt. Washington the venue featured a great view of Pittsburgh’s bridges criss-crossing in every direction, and the city’s skyline across the Allegheny River to the north. All that is now gone, save for the arched windows at the base of the tent, which let a dedicated show-goer crane their necks for a view.
That aside, many made it in early to take cover from the sun’s rays, and snare themselves a prime piece of boogie real estate. Early entry or no, room was in abundance as a less that sold out crowd, that I would estimate to be pushing 5,000 at the maximum found more than ample room to get down. To pass the time I entered a show opener pool with a few heads who were waiting for the band to come on, in the same area as I was. I had $5 on "Cayman Review", while my cohorts had "Night Speaks To A Woman", "Simple Twist Up Dave", and "Foxy Lady", which the band had reportedly sound checked. We were all wrong, and all got our money back when, precisely a half hour after the time on the ticket, the band strolled out and Tony broke in broke into the opening bass line of "Burlap Sack & Pumps".
This version got the crowd going, letting off a lot of the energy that had pent up as most of the crowd spent the pre-show sitting on hard asphalt. New additions to the Trey Anastasio gang, Cyro Baptista and Peter Apfelbaum made their marks early, Cyro adding an interesting percussive flair to the song’s lyrical breakdown, and Apfelbaum delivering a fiery tenor solo. Clocking in around 10 minutes the crowd was adequately warmed up and ready for anything.
"Alive Again" followed, a song I think has made great strides since last summer. Those around me bobbed and bounced each time Tony Markellis rocked back and forth on the song’s bassline. During the song’s lyrical refrain Baptista whipped the crowd into a frenzy as he darted from his percussion perch, located just above keyboardist Ray Paczkowski’s setup, to feverishly blow a whistle and perform jumping jacks at the edge of the stage. The crowd reacted by giving back twice the energy Baptista was putting off as the horn section burst back in, sending the crowd reeling with cheers.
"Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown," was next and was an apt choice. "I get it," I thought, as I watched the early evening sun glisten off what bits of the Pittsburgh skyline I could see through an opening to the left of the stage. Short and too the point, clocking in around 4 minutes, the song featured typical Trey with his liquid fire guitar lines, each lick thickly layered with horns.
The "Mozambique" which followed, as the band began to find the flow and stretch it out a bit, was hot. As each musician added their sound to the mix, revolving around the central repeated theme, the energy seemed to grow and grow. During the jam, Grippo proceeded to take control delivering a blistering solo as Trey cooled the band and put the spotlight on "the Truth". By the time the Grippo had brought it back down, Paczkowski began tossing a layer of keyboard funk on top of things, Trey put down his guitar and did a little dance from side to side as he looked from one bandmate to the next trying direct traffic somewhat. Picking the Languedoc up once more, Trey looked across the stage to Jennifer and teased the "Sound of Music" theme, which garnered a response, Hartswick giggling while managing to keep the trumpet sounds coming, as the ten headed beast churned behind them.
"Moesha" and "In the Wee Hours" were next. I like "Moesha", because it features no intricate rhythms or delicate horn interplay, instead it’s simply Trey at his rock star best delivering explosive leads while running through what is a catchy and extremely danceable rock and roll ditty. "In the Wee Hours" showed the horns off again, getting the Pittsburgh crowd shimmying to its New Orleans jazz beat, as Trey conducted the band, he rocked back and forth toothy grin and all.
To close the set the ensemble destroyed the audience with a "Last Tube" clocking in at over a half an hour. I can’t find much to say about this, except that it was bewildering. The band seamlessly seemed to both churn ahead while at the same time disassembling and reassembling the groove. An extended stretch as a five piece turned the energy up a notch, churning like Phish at their most rocking. I was impressed with the crowd, who responded in turn with each curve the jam threw them, and at the same time seemed to anticipate the changes, and the energy grew with expectation. It was a "Last Tube" that never seemed to cool down, with the energy being turned up more and more. By the time final note was played I could do little but stand there a little dismayed and exhausted. The rest of the crowd felt likewise and as the houselights came up, we went our separate ways in search of water or fresh air to wait out the set break.
The band emerged about a half hour later to the mellow sounds of space. As each member of the group fiddled with his or her instrument quietly Trey mentioned that it was trombone player Andy Moroz’s 37th birthday. He then admitted that he was in error and Andy was nary but 20 years old, Trey offered the young horn player his beer but he declined. After the pleasantries the band ripped into a vicious version of "Mr. Completely". Moroz took off with the first solo, as the entire horn section seemed to come in teasing "Tweezer". Paczkowski then took the lead laying down a heavy groove as the horns departed to let the five piece tear at it for awhile.
After an incendiary take on the song, Trey then opted to slow it down a bit with "Flock of Words". Cyro’s birdcall gave the song a nice touch, and Trey and Jennifer’s vocals blend nicely giving the song a very soothing feel. All told, flute solo and all, it was a nice breather for a crowd that had been absolutely raging up to that point. "At the BBQ" continued the cool-down phase of the show, though it featured another on point solo by Grippo.
"Cayman Review", my opener choice, which I chose mainly because it is the track that I think came to life the most on the album, was next and did not disappoint. It was a crowd favorite, and I was surprised at how many around me knew all the words. It was in direct contrast to the summer prior when most in attendance were there to see Phish, and few knew any of the band’s repertoire. It seems that a year later those who came out knew what to expect and were thrilled. "Cayman Review" absolutely cooked and built the energy under the tent to excessive levels, which crackled as the band brought the song to a close, and then, after a brief pause, tore into "Simple Twist Up Dave".
"Simple Twist Up Dave" is another song that seemed to go by under the radar last summer, but no more. It got a huge reaction from the crowd, as the band tore off on one last adventure before the night was up. This song started off with funk horns that felt like they belonged on a 70s cop show, but by the time that had grown old the horns left the stage to give the five piece version of the Anastasio ensemble a chance to stretch their legs. After a blistering take at things, the five piece gave way again to the full band, horn pops and all. As if to not seem left out, Russ Lawton and Cyro Baptista took over, as their bandmates faded into the backdrop, delivering and intense rhythmic interlude, as members of the horn section picked up hand percussion. After a rumbling minute or two, Trey picked the axe back up and delivered a smoldering solo, as the song was brought to a close. The Pittsburgh crowd was left with nothing to do but watch as the band bowed against Kuroda’s subdued red lights, many opted to scream their lungs out.
After a brief backstage huddle, the Trey Anastasio gang returned, as the crowd was absolutely seething with energy and anticipation. On cue Tony Markellis dropped into the simple but absolutely recognizable opening bass line to "First Tube". The crowd erupted. By the time Trey found the time to enter with the song’s first trademark riff the entire place was in a state of absolute frenzy. With each time the main theme came around the cheers would grow louder and louder, people bouncing higher and dancing harder than they had been all night. With each second the crowd got louder and louder, until the final crashing chord, the Pittsburgh crowd was left a frantic mess.
All told, Anastasio delivered above and beyond my expectations. His ensemble grows tighter each time they play together and the music is finding it’s voice as the band becomes used to themselves and each other. Anyone going expecting Phish is surely in for a letdown. Those going in expecting to see the hottest horn-driven jamband in town, led by everyone’s favorite Vermonter will find just what they are looking for.