Trey Anastasio, University Hall, University of Virginia- 10/28
I have found that this time of year can take its toll on everyone. The weather’s getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and each day seems grayer than the last. Couple that with the onset of the “got shut out of Phish’s return” blues, and this time of year can be brutal. That’s why I decided that the only thing to cure my mid autumn downers was to jump in the car and make the trek down to Charlottesville, Virginia, to pay a visit to my sister, and check in with an outlandish bunch of musical marauders, the Trey Anastasio Band.
I didn’t know what the show would do for me. Would it satiate my desires for all things Phish, or would it only make me dwell on the fact that I would be ringing in the New Year far from Madison Square Garden? I took it as a good sign that, on the day I awoke to more orange leaves blown to the cold gray ground, I also awoke to news that the boys would be back on the road in mid February. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I would be getting back on the bus very soon. I also thought that the pending announcement of upcoming tour-dates was a great move on Phish’s part, hopefully keeping the number of ticket-less phans at the New Years Run to an absolute minimum. Plus a new album taboot! Things were looking up.
We rolled over to University Hall, home of the Virginia Cavaliers basketball program, and found a sparse parking lot scene. There were a few tour-kids who had made the trip, futilely trying to hawk their wares as University Police tried to shut them down. All in all, the scene consisted of a few food vendors, a few beer venders, and a handful of kids generally milling about in front of the venue. I went off in search of a ticket and quickly found a floor ticket for less than face value (though the show was listed as general admission, tickets were for one of two areas, the stands or the floor). On the way inside we were subjected to a VERY thorough search, though no troubles were had. The floor of the arena was barely a quarter full when we entered and the entire venue was only about two thirds capacity throughout the course of the show. After the running the oldest bracelet scam in the book, my sister and her boyfriend had made it down from the stands and we were ready to boogie. Now all we had to do was wait.
At a few minutes until eight, the ten headed monster emerged, took the stage, and began by ripping into “Simple Twist Up Dave”. The crowd roared and continued through-out the song as Trey alternated between his guitar-player and conductor roles, directing every twist and turn. The jam grew funky and rode along on top of Ray Pazkowski’s bouncy keys before Trey brought it back home. “Mozambique” was next, and this song has grown and grown since it’s debut. With each new band member, the song’s overall impact grows, as each time the melody comes back around the intensity is pushed upward. The audience had settled into a full on dance party, building with intensity each time Trey and his cohorts delivered “Mozambique”’s signature lick.
After a brief pause Trey led the band into “Night Speaks to A Woman” with the song’s fat and crunchy opening guitar line. The horns shone on the song’s pseudo-Phish does Motown feel, with Jennifer Hartswick delivering inspired and powerful backing vocal parts. After about twenty plus minutes of jamming, the groove cooled down and the band eased into its first new song of the night, “Traveling Song”. This tune was fairly short, clocking in around seven minutes or so before morphing into the ultra spacey “Plasma”. Not one of my favorites, I took the opportunity to wander around the venue a bit. At any show I like to move through the crowd to get a better idea what is going on throughout the room. This mid-set amble garnered me much needed refreshment from the venue’s water fountains, a browse by the dry goods table, and a thorough up-close assurance that the rest of the audience was whooping it up throughout. By the time Trey led the band into the new instrumental “Forro For All”, with a wailing lick reminiscent of the opening guitar line to Johnny B. Goode, I had made it back to my friends, all of whom were dancing with reckless abandon.
After a brief rest, Trey quickly began brushing out the opening chords to “Push On Till the Day”, which closed the set and got the room pumping. This song is, to me, the quintessential Trey Band song. If you can’t dance to this tune, then you probably shouldn’t come to the show. I had spent the previous night relaxing at my sister’s house watching the newly released Bonnaroo DVD, which closes with a rocking version of “Push” and I had been jonesing to hear it. The band rocked out on this version pushing the intensity level of the room skyward, with Kuroda throwing on the bright white crowd lights causing some in the room to just about lose it. The band was hot, and when they went to set break many in the room could just smile and nod approval while preparing for what lay ahead.
One forty-five minute break later, the band re-emerged, this time with Trey sporting a bright orange University of Virginia soccer jersey belonging to his friend Amy, the goalie on the team, whose birthday it was that night. By request the band jumped into a set opening “Moesha”. This song is one of the catchiest and bounciest tunes the ensemble has in their repertoire, though it is not a catalyst for epic jamming. The band wailed through this version, to the delight of the crowd which reacted loudly to the “leaving Virginia with the throb of tequila, still in my head from last night,” line. After that was pulled to a close the band, tore almost immediately into “Mr. Completely” and let go of the reigns taking off on an epic twenty-five minute plus jam, which afforded all on stage the opportunity to stretch their legs a bit. The jam rocked and rumbled and darted and slowed, Trey often letting go of his axe to point and direct. Interestingly, it is in these moments, where Trey is playing little or nothing at all, but directing traffic that he seems the happiest. Each point to the horns, or every time he waggled his fingers at keyboardist Ray Pazkowski was accompanied with an ear to ear smile.
After bobbing, weaving, and changing tempos to and fro, the jam slowed and gave way to Tony Markellis’ thumping bassline cueing the intro into “Burlap Sack & Pumps”. This song’s ultra funky groove led to stand out performances from the horn section and keyboards as the band dropped bombs, the crowd reacting in kind, loudly chanting the lone lyrics to the song. This slowly stepped aside and gave way to “Chapeau Mauve”, an interesting instrumental piece in which the band quietly played descending notes over an offbeat time signature which seemed to say, “try dancing to this hippies!”
Afterwards as Trey fidgeted with his gear prior to the next song, a phan in the front row yelled, “What was that?” Trey responded with, “Well, since you asked” and went on to explain that it was new composition written for him by his mentor, piano composer Ernie Stires. He then introduced the next song, “Curluse Call”, as a tune that had been newly penned along with the Phish lyricist in residency, Tom Marshall. This got a great response, and the crowd turned it up a notch as the band took off. After the song had disintegrated into a rocking jam, Trey put down the Languedoc and turned his back to the crowd, arms outstretched to either side. As the rest of the band kept the jam going Trey would slowly tilt to one side, as he moved the jam grew more dissonant and out of time, till it almost was a cacophony. Trey then slowly brought his arms back level with the ground and the band had eased back into the same jam they had been in prior to deconstructing it. Each audience member’s dancing slowed in time with the band, just waiting to be dropped back into the groove, and when the band returned to the original jam the crowd exploded with energy, repaying the band for their hard work.
“Ether Sunday” was next, and proved to be the highlight of the show for me, and for many I talked to afterwards. Trey started it off in typical fashion a slow, but sweet groove, which made most in the audience bob their heads back and forth in approval. After the main lyrics segment, Trey pointed across the stage for Jennifer to take a solo, and Kuroda brought the spotlight up on Ms. Hartswick as she brought her trumpet to her lips. No one in the audience could hear any trumpet, so the crowd grew hushed and waited patiently as the rest of the band eased slowly along in the background. And then slowly, and almost silently, she pulled the first note from her trumpet, and then the next, and then the next, each one slow, soft, and deliberate. Those around me in my little section of the floor looked around at each other, almost dumbfounded as she began to build on her solo bit by bit as the sweet and gentle notes pulled at the heartstrings of all those in attendance. As she slowly began to build, the crowd could contain its admiration and approval no longer and the cheering began, as slowly as Jennifer began her solo, first with a few random yelps and hollers, and then as one slowly building roar. All in all, it was that relatively short, but incredibly intense solo that most I knew jabbered to each other excitedly after the show.
Following Hartswick’s devastatingly beautiful solo Trey led the horns to the front of the stage where they stood in front of the monitors and played what sounded like a little ragtime jam as the crowd roared and clapped in time. After a minute or two, Trey, like the pied piper shaking a metal noisemaker, led the horns off the stage as the crowd roared and the other band members followed. As the crowd clapped and began to wait patiently for the encore, I began to sense soft music coming for somewhere around the arena. The sound of horns seemed to be somewhere off in the dark to my right, but I couldn’t place it. Then the sound seemed to be getting closer now, almost behind me as I began to look about the arena. Just then Kuroda threw the brightest white lights he had available onto the audience to reveal Trey leading his ensemble along the rail which separated the floor from the stands, and through the crowd. When the crowd caught wind of what was happening, those on the floor began to rush to where the band was, creating a sudden exodus from the front and center section of the floor towards the perimeter. When the band had returned to the stage, the crowd again rushed back to the center of the floor, creating a tightly packed front section as the band brought the jam to a close, thanked the crowd and exited the stage, this time for real.
As the crowd cheered, sparked their lighters, and held them high the band returned and busted into “Javier Cinakowski” a new instrumental piece that Trey has been playing on this most recent tour. Most notably this piece featured Cyro strutting around the front of the stage beating on a contraption made up of overturned Gatorade coolers. Short lived, the band finished up the composition and jumped immediately into a high energy version “Alive Again”. Cyro traded his coolers for a whistle and whipped the crowd into a frenzy as he did jumping jacks at the lip of the stage let out a high pitched squeal. This served as one last chance for the band to drive the audience to the brink before going on their way. As I walked out into the cold Virginia night following the show I felt absolutely invigorated. Autumn doldrums had been pushed to the side, and the thought of an actual full blown Phish tour seemed to be on the horizon. As a strolled back to the car I thought about what Trey had said, and I agreed. The time has come for me to be alive again.