Trey Anastasio, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO 8/13
WARNING: This review is full of cranky opinions and may be bad for your old habits.
Pizza, Toy Cars & The Meaning Of Now
We had returned from some random kid’s pizza parlor and his two-year-old brain had no recollection of what had just transpired. He sat on the couch playing with the toy car that my wife and I had won for him after playing a few dozen games from Skee Ball to Wham-The-Fly-With-The-Hammer. Didn’t have a clue what had just happened. Just knew that he now held a car and was enjoying himself. At least until Scooby came on.
“When you become an adult,” my wife explained to our son, “you’ll always be trying to get back to that feelingto always live in the NOW.”
And that’s exactly how you have to approach dear old beleaguered Trey Anastasio these days. He played a horrific cover-riddled set at Bonnaroo. Then, he erased that fading memory with an emotionally spirited performance for the ages with his new version of 70 Volt Parade at 10,000 Lakes in July. You knowit just doesn’t matter. There is no sense of history because his past is long gone, scattered across the Northeast mountains along with hundreds of homeless shoes, abandoned cars and broken dreams of a band that will not go on foreveranother Summer, no more Phish Festies; another New Year, no more eves at the Garden. 8/13/05 was Red Rocks and there’s a reason why so many live shows have been taped and filmed and cobbled together for future artistic purposes in its holy cavernous architecture. So if you’ve got to review a Trey Anastasio show, leave all of the clever journalistic baggage at home and try to see the show for what it isa pretty damn sharp group of songs with a tight band that really, in the end, doesn’t have a thing to prove to you or anyone else. He’s done it. Done everything. 90,000 on an Indian Reservation. 70,000 in Maine and New York. No other band has reached their storied height butyou know, who cares? And who cares about the disappointed expectations. The man doesn’t have to answer to you or me or anyone else like us because those he does have to answer to will certainly let the hammer fall where it may
The weather was crap. As I stood on the bottom of the hill by the backstage entrance where white van after white van plowed northwards through the light rain, I noticed a couple of Trey’s relatives. They decided to walk up the long hill instead of fetching a ride and I immediately remembered the Vermont humility that helped build Phish. The woman and the ten year old walked forward with head bent down while I stood like a water-drenched rat in my poncho waiting for a phone call from bassist Tony Hall. Visions of ’94 to ’04 danced through my rain-soaked head of Bowies and Pipers and Hoods. I let that vision vanish and answered my cell phone before being whisked away by a white van with Tony for a lengthy interview that, unfortunately, ended after STS9’s setno opportunity to see them for the third time in two months on this evening.
Trey and 70 Volt Parade. I admit I don’t like the name. Sounds like some reject track off of Prince’s Purple Rain-follow-up albumagain, who cares. Get on with the show. “Drifting” started things off and I turned around and saw that the entire amphitheatre was packed. This had a positive psychological effect on the evening because a handful of shows during this eight-date Summer tour (and you thought Phish tours were getting brief near the end) had not been anywhere near capacity. See Jesse Jarnow’s review for attendance issues at Jones Beach. We never got a full-on downpour during the evening but the weather never did let upfelt more like a Minnesota late-September fall eve than a Summer Colorado trip. Like he did at 10,000 Lakes, Trey looked around at the band early in the set and seemed to really like what he heardall smiles while the crowd was euphoric and headbobbin’. Cameras were everywhere as Anastasio was taking advantage of the location and, hopefully, a killer show, to film the event for a later DVD release. Money on the ground. The game began. Dice rolled. “Cayman Review” rolled forward with a Tony Hall bass solo breakdown with Trey; Ray Paczkowski bludgeoned keys.
Then it got really interesting. Trey’s new band has been working on the new songs since 10,000 Lakes and they continue to develop into tight well-crafted songs. Quite frankly, cow funk ambience has come and gone with the idiotic glow sticks. “Air Said to Me” coiled around the neck and forced you to dance. And yet!! Trey ripped into a long, patient, gulp, very trippy ambient solo that drifted in and around the “Air” theme until the little mysterio bubble crawled forward into a slow, moody and dark duet with Trey-vet Jennifer Hartswick on vocals before Anastasio again peeled off a crowd pleasing solo. “Air” segued beautifully into “Invisible” which had Trey and Les Hall on acoustic guitars. At 10kLF, he concentrated on rotating hooks with structured complex detours. At Red Rocks, Anastasio seemed more intent on speeding across the dividing line while spinning around confident blind curves that somehow never crashed the band. 70VP hasn’t strayed too far into the song catalog during these datesinstead, rotating the lineup almost like one night, you’re batting leadoff, the next, cleanup, the next, ninth. Sometimes you’re on the benchhence, the lack of “First Tube” at Red Rocks.
“Night Speaks to Woman” has become almost Trey’s Zeppelin song. However, somehow, the tempo seems to increase each time I hear the sweet beast. As soon as you hear the riff, the “Whole Lotta Love”-on-speed vibe kicks in and the crowd is at it again: spastic monkeys spilling beer and tossing rain from ponchos and jackets and wookie rags. “Spin” spun like a tumbling slice of melodic Beatles while “Plasma” contained an exploratory jam that had Paczkowski and Hall laying down some mean funk. Les Hall has become quite the interesting wild card for Raspberry Beretuh, 70 Volt Parade. During the 10kLF soundcheck, Hall had been floating between keys and rhythm guitar as Anastasio had the crowd vote on which instrument sounded better for the song. At Red Rocks, Hall offered color on keys and balls on guitar while allowing Trey to float over the whole monster with huge layers of guitar notes. Either that or I got lucky and saw another good one after the Roo disaster: nothing like standing in a media trailer in morbid shock as one of your idols asks you about a rare bummer from Trey.
Push On Til the Day Says: “Goodbye Head”
highlight. n. A conspicuous point in an activity, scene, or the like.
It’s been been said before (and recently) so check out Jarnow’s Jones Beach review for my thoughts on “Goodbye Head.” He nailed it like he’s done a million times beforeI’ll only add that this song alone should wipe away anyone’s notion that Anastasio can’t write the intricate, delirious Ernie Stires numbers anymore. The crowd echoed the ape shit that went down in Minnesota when this bit of total euphoria wove its magic back into the guitar chord crunch. You knew that the song had hit a nerve when the crowd roared as Les Hall stepped away from his keyboards, strapped on a guitar and he and Trey blasted out the ricochet riff up out towards the packed house, melted up and over the arching rocks that cradled our asses in the psycho sound womb. Or something clever like that. Oh yeah, lest we forget as the coffee starts to lose its effect.O.K. I’m back. Before “Goodbye Head,” Anastasio offered: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it againthis is the most incredible place to play. HELLO, CLEVELAND!” (Alright, he didn’t say the last two words.) As if to reinforce the point, he told us how he co-wrote the next song with his eldest daughter, Eliza, who happened to be in the house tonight. Wave. Hi. Wave. Well, that wasn’t enough. Suddenly, he escorted his 93-year-old grandmother out to center stage and the audience went ballistic. She waved and her grandson brought her back upstage and, suddenly, we realized that Trey Anastasio definitely still has a profound sense of occasion while I weep in my beer, knowing that, in the end, the fog that surrounds dissipates…
The Acoustic Set/Phish Redux/Naked Trey/And the Return of the Inappropriate
He was determined to sit down and play these songs and the crowd was determined to break the fourth wall like we had done so many times before, so many locations, so many asphalt and green jungles from Shoreline to Providencehalf the crowd was really happy (me) to see Trey playing some naked versions of four Phish gems, a quarter were transfixed by the sudden silent moment of being, a small handful used this as the proverbial beer/bathroom/pipe-stuffin’ excuse to exit stage rightthen, there were the cultural retards that decided to have a glow stick war during a slow, heartfelt acoustic song. To Anastasio’s credit, he not didn’t show any sign of negativity towards the sometimes violent landings of sticks near his head and body but, he made an astute comment about the nearly 99.998% blue-infested sky. “O.K. I wanna know who was the only person who brought a green one tonight?” Sure enoughthe green devil lurched up to the stage and we all laughed. Nowthrow those babes into the Smithsonian and let’s move on. I have my 8/97 Hood memories and so do youlet’s just be a little sane about all of thisat least wait until after a bloody acoustic set. (Such a Hippie Dad, eh?) “Pebbles and Marbles” was the key acoustic number as it emphasized its classical musical shading and nuance. “Pebbles” followed the Farmhouse duo “Back on the Train” and “Inlaw Josie Wales” and preceded the Billy Breathes gem “Waste.” No more setbreaks for anyone unless your name is Ray or Les or Jen or Tony or the weasels that just have to hit the rock hallways, jabbering away while swirling beer and spewing tales of how great Wakarusa was two months agoSHADUPAWREADY!
On the Silent Wings of a 4-Headed Walrus
“Shine” is radio fodder and definitely moves Anastasio into a more conservative vein but that’s the easy handle. It rocks and you’ve gotta like it lest ye have no pulse.
“Sand” was in full flower and bloom and all those other wonderfully clichspringtime lullaby signatures mixed with some turbo-James Brown-demonic funk terms. Tony Hall’s entrance into the 70 Volt Parade band on bass definitely pounded out its brightest promise on this little old Trey solo pearl that became quite an ambient Godzilla during latter-period Phish i.e. the 25-minute Jupiter landings of 1999 and 2000. NICE!
“Tuesday” is a new number that, again, focused on Hard Rock as an end in itself. Tony Hall and Skeeto Valdez were extremely tight on this number and if I haven’t mentioned Valdez enough in this piece it’s because he pretty much drove the machine from the first note. Valdez isn’t trying anything complex with Trey Anastasto’s current incarnation. He was beat and strength and power and many a song ended with the same portrait: Anastasio would turn around and Valdez would attack the drum kits in a hammerlock with the Languedoc guitar, as the song would reach a fiery Kuroda coda.
“Mr. Completely”>“46 Days”I think will come across very well on the anticipated DVD release of this show. Why? Because like the antithesis of the “Waves”>
“Bowie” sequence at the IT Festival, it just lends its self very well to spacey nuance. I kid, of course. This combo took all of the other new ROCK songs and turned them upside down and inside out. If Trey Anastasio wanted to emphasize thrust and power during these eight dates, he succeeded by locking guitar horns with Les Hall while the brother from another mother, Tony Hall, in this cosmic Brothers Hall Band, laid down the bass funk behind the dueling duo. “Mr. Completely” did, in fact, veer off from its riff trance by way of an out of nowhere ambient digital delay loop jam that saw a woman leap on stage and just as quickly jerked out towards the exit by security. Ahhbittersweet memories of Carini, eh? “Come as Melody” had to follow-up this sonic earthquake but, it offered yet another view into the 2005 realm of a band without an agenda or focal point, just a very firm grasp on what worked and what didn’t.
That’s the hook into the opening thesis, isn’t it? What works in the NOW? What can’t possibly fit? Does it matter? Aren’t shows just one-off escapades meant to offer a village or a town or a city or a temporary city a chance to glimpse into an artist’s process and partake in the outcome? “Love is Freedom” opened up the Encore section of the program with “I Am The Walrus” following as an epic take on good ole tension and release jamming. If these two numbers had anything in common, they circled the theory that Anastasio isn’t abandoning the ideas of his Jam King past. Instead, he’s continuing to hone new songs into focused pieces of work. Gone are the days of the glorious improv madness of yesteryear? I doubt it but, once in a while, even an old walrus needs to step away from the ocean to think about what to do next.