Trey Anastasio, Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC- 5/13
With a full tour under their belt, the 70 Volt Parade (as it's come to be known) pulled into New York's Hammerstein Ballroom for two sold out shows, the final concerts of the tour. Moving through major markets, Trey has altered the path he used to build up the first band, and has instead chosen to immediately take his brand new group into large theaters throughout the Midwest and east coast. With a dozen shows gone by, the group had found a rhythm of sorts; however an identity still eluded them. Are they a rock band? Are they a jamband? Are they a band at all, or just a group backing the main guy? After two more shows, unfortunately that identity is still MIA.
Over the course of the tour, the band certainly improved and has honed both their repertoire and setlists. Trey has found appropriate places for several songs, in addition to appropriate sequences of songs, including "Goodbye Head->Space Oddity->Black" and "Cincinnati->Low." Of course, there is nothing wrong with repeating sequences of songs, especially when they work to the degree of aforementioned ones. At the same time, this is inevitably going to cause ripples in the pond of fans that have been going to shows expecting to see something that at this time, is certainly nowhere near deliverable.
During the first of the two shows, Trey and Company managed to put on a strong but, at times, tenuous display. After seeing several shows earlier on this tour, and after the Hammerstein shows, it’s clear that this band needs even more time on the road, and more of its own songs, in order to progress. There is no denying that Trey wants this to be a full "band" however as thousands of musicians all over the country will attest, it’s just not that easy.
During the ten song first set, there were five songs from the previous incarnation of Trey’s band, three other cover songs, a Phish tune, and exactly one "new" song by way of "Dark and Down." During the seven song second set, there were three holdovers, three new songs, and a cover. And as I’m sure you’ve heard the encore was a stunningly surprising rendition of the entire B side of Abbey Road, no doubt the suggestion of one fine, fine bunny. With all that in mind, I find it hard to say something other than the 70 Volt Parade is, for all intents and purposes, a cover band.
Here’s the thing though; that’s okay. Given time, that surely will change. Trey didn’t overhaul his band to play the exact same songs. Did he?
Truth be told, we go see Trey these days to hear him play his guitar. He hasn’t written any significantly inspiring lyrics in some time. He hasn’t been able to find a way to work the old band’s material, which was written with specifically charted out horn sections, into the new band which is devoid of a horn section. "Night Speaks" is sped up to some degree, perhaps to compensate, and "Burlap Sack and Pumps" is slowed down, perhaps for the same reason. However, without the horns, the latter features way too much "air," a direct result of its reduced tempo. But I’ll tell you what; this guy can still rip on the guitar…when he wants to. And that is what the crowd responded to on the first night.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. During the opening of the second set, a long drawn out "Way I Feel" meandered, not surprisingly putting too much pressure on a newly formed rock band to be a jamband. Eventually, the song moved into "Mr. Completely," another of the older tunes that doesn’t work quite as well without the horns, despite valiant and subtle contributions by multi-instrumentalist Les Hall. The band did regain its footing, thanks to the aforementioned sequence of "Goodbye Head->Space Oddity->Black" which provided the crowd with some truly inspired moments, as both "Goodbye Head" and "Black" are among the strongest of this band’s tunes, along with set closer "Come as Melody" and its irresistibly enticing chord progression.
However, after one full tour, this band still has a ways to go, and that is to be expected. What I find odd, is that people who are openly speaking about their dislike for this band, and all their shortcomings, ignore virtually all of the obvious points noted above, which surely dilute their arguments. Firstly and most importantly, this isn’t Phish. It’s just Trey and so expectations should be reduced accordingly. The band has played less than 20 shows, two of the members have never been on a tour resembling anything like this, and they are playing a large percentage of cover tunes from a band which exactly two of the guys in the group had any familiarity with. Given some time, and dedication, this band has lots of room to grow and improve.
Hopefully, the audience gives them the room they need.