Trey Anastasio, The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA- 4/26
“You can’t repeat the past? What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can.” – Bob Dylan, after F. Scott Fitzgerald
With its two-song second set and four-song encore, Trey Anastasio’s November 1, 2002 performance at the Tabernacle has topped my list of favorite concerts ever since. Three years and change later, Anastasio returned to the Tabernacle after one of the roughest years of his career, spending two nights in rehearsal, changing his band line-up, calling in an old friend, and trying to recapture some of the old magic.
By and large, he succeeded fantastically.
This incarnation of TAB featured Dave “The Truth” Grippo on sax, Russell Remington on flute, Jen Hartswick on trumpet and backing vocals, Christina Durfee on backing vocals, Ray Paczkowski on piano, organ, and Corona, Tony Hall on bass, Raymond Weber on drums, and Trey Anastasio on guitar, trombone, and Budweiser.
Trey was only forty minutes late in starting the concert, and began on acoustic guitar with Ray Paczkowski accompanying on piano for “Sleep Again.” The notes were delicate, and played with a lot of sensitivity. “Wherever You Find It” was also very touching, and Trey’s efforts to improve his voice have resulted in the best singing of his career. Jennifer Hartswick and Christina Durfee came out for a version of “Invisible” and “Shine” which was touching in its acoustic form and stayed away from the “poor man’s Instant Karma’” nature of the electric version.
Then Hall and Weber came out and the show got down to business in earnest. The thumping bass of “Sand” started and the crowd danced like they’d been waiting five months for a Trey show (as they had). The band went straight from “Sand” into the slow groove of “Gotta Jibboo,” and screams of joy filled the old church. “Tuesday” was tolerable, and “Sweet Dreams Melinda” was indeed sweet, and “Night Speaks to a Woman” (thank goodness Jen is back) had all of its old power. “Flock of Words” may be a beautiful song, but some idiots can’t resist the urge to scream loudly and talk to their friends during the quiet parts. From what I could tell, it was note-perfect.
Afterwards, Trey wanted to spend some of the musical capital he had earned with the audience, and very politely asked for patience and feedback when debuting some new songs. The first, “Dragonfly,” is one of four new tracks with G.R.A.B. It was dorky and dissonant a song more for the enjoyment of music theorists than anyone else. The next song “Let it Lie” started off with Raymond singing with some call-and-response by Anastasio. It was good to see that Trey is once again starting to use all of the options at his disposal rather than going for the simple and straightforward it came off like a darker, more complicated, more hypnotic version of “Frankie Says.” The third song, about Katrina, was called “Mud City.” It was great and rocking until the fadeout, which basically consisted of guitar wankery while Jen and Christina screamed “mud city” over and over again for five or six minutes. It made “Hey Jude” look like “Her Majesty.” If they cut out the last half of the song, it would be a great rocker.
At the set’s close, Anastasio gave us the old “back in 15 minutes” line, but after he actually came back in 15 minutes. I knew something special was afoot. Dave “The Truth” Grippo came out to the extra music stand and I knew that, for the first time in a long time, with 3 horns, the Trey Anastasio Band had a bona fide horn section again.
They started off with a long, spacey introduction to “Mozambique.” It started off with a slow “2001”-esque buildup into the theme, and then took off. Grippo’s first solo was mellow, bouncing along and then seamlessly weaving itself back into the theme, but his second began with a swirl of notes probably a dozen in about two seconds, that descended into 20 minutes of madness that I have probably listened 50 times since the show. The third solo in “Mozambique” was taken by Paczkowski as he danced around his keyboards and it was done in the style of the piano breakdown in Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca.” It was brought down quietly and then the riff from “Tequila” came out of nowhere and weaved itself into the song. Spontaneously, the crowd began shouting “Whoo!” at the end of each quote from “Tequila,” and Anastasio kept building and building it into an intense finale based on this spontaneous audience participation.
After everyone had a chance to breathe, the band kicked into “Alive Again,” which was great to hear again, and then the 2002-2004 gravy train continued with “Money, Love and Change.” This was all over the place, and the group broke down into the chaos necessary for a proper playing of this song nice and swampy, with a touch of “what the hell are they doing?”
Afterwards, in a nod to 2002’s show, during which a banner reading “Drifting, or we’ll jump!” hung from the balcony, Trey broke it out for a hornless run-through that was as much sing-along as dance marathon.
The set closed with “Last Tube” as the horns starting soloing while Anastasio set down his guitar, walked up to Weber and grabbed his beer. After stealing his beer, he stole one of his drumsticks, and began banging on the bottle. Paczkowski picked up his Corona, walked over to Raymond, stole a drumstick of his own, and Trey and Ray started dancing around the stage. Then the horns started marching with Trey and Ray in a conga line around the front of the stage. Trey walked by, and I made the universal signal by tipping my hand upwards to my mouth. Trey handed me the beer. Author’s note: Never, ever, ever drink beer that has been beaten like a drum for more than two minutes. I took a swig, got really embarrassed when the foam spilled all over my shirt, but got it back to Trey and the conga line kept marching. At some point, Trey picked up a trombone and starts playing it. They marched off stage eventually, before returning so we can all all “Push On til the Day.”
It was great to find Anastasio back to form. After talking with Grippo afterward, and finding out he was not back in the band, I was disappointed. I miss the horn section, and the way Trey played with them, and the fun he seemed to have with them, made me wonder why he doesn’t as well. Anastasio went from the hit and miss of a very good first set to being on fire, playing a second set that people will remember for some time to come. I guess I’ll be biased towards any set of music during which Trey hands me a beer, but at the same time, I think a lot of people hope that he takes it to that level once again. Even if he has to hire back one more guy.