Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB, Roseland, NYC- 10/16
Tales from Two Dans
Outside Roseland: On 52nd and Broadway you can’t give away a ticket, but on 52nd and 7th,, one block east, you can maybe score twenty bucks for one- alright, you could give one away if you really try. Walking in, we all look older somehow- it’s only been four years, but suddenly the Phish crowd is full of thirty somethings, more bald patches showing, and hints of gray here and there; and we’re asking, how can the music be relevant, because the music should be relevant if the music is going persevere. How, if we, its devotees, can’t even trust our aging selves anymore? The question fades as the quartet comes on and drops into “Sand,” a great choice for the opener, but it takes a while to get going. Still, it feels good, and hits a nice ridge under red and yellow lights- no grand peak though.
“Cayman Review” was followed by "Let Me Lie," the first of the rehab songs, the one about the bike. It really needs a big, tight blazer of a solo at the end, something glistening; it goes quiet instead, pretty. “Jiboo” finally cracks it open- there was something tangible in the room just before they started; this would be the one to really let loose. The jam started all nasty and twisted, Trey looking surprised as he listened to the sounds he was making. The groove took over and allowed for a pretty hot jam by any standard, when eventually Trey led the way in driving it down deep, so that when it bounced back as a rhythm jam, it was a monster. “Dragonfly” follows and it’s the first tune that he just cuts into, and Ray is rowdy on the electric piano during the intro, and carries the tone right through the song. Surprisingly, the jam slips its bounds a little and opens on a squirrelly area, Phishy. The set closes with “First Tube,” loud and explosive a stony blue background and throbbing colored lights.
When they come back on after less than a half hour, the band immediately seems more relaxed and comfortable, bopping through a fun “Alaska.” Trey quips that he wrote the tune before she was on the scene. “The song came first!” Does this mean the music’s relevant? Next comes the ten year old reference, “I did not have sex with that woman,” and no, apparently not. But it sure sounds good as Russ leads the way into “Last Tube.” There’s even a cool Ray/ Russ breakdown, and again the song is able to shed itself, this time for an interesting layered jam. “Sweet Dreams Melinda” sounds especially sweet, looks fine bathed in blue with a green line above the stage- the music feels natural, organic in its poppy sensibilities; good. These are the guitar licks that you used to throw away, not pay too much attention to, and now it’s time to get reacquainted and savor the taste a bit.
“Valentine” is next, and while it certainly has a nice structure for improv at the end, the lyrics are awful- no hint of subtlety or style whatsoever. If only those walls of words in the middle weren’t there, the chorus would be catchy and the song would fit better in TAB’s repertoire. “Drifting” brings back similar notes as the earlier ballad though, and the audience is singing, “Love, love, love.”
Trey is solo acoustic for “Brian and Robert” and “Chalk Dust Torture” with great guitar work on both, but especially in the final moments of the latter. The band is back for the totally porn groove of “The Way I Feel.” Ray is leaning on the organ while Trey comps, a couple moments of back and forth, and they reprise the interaction, only much more quietly, a little bit later. After a chorus, Tony plays his line and everyone else falls away; eventually Trey comes back and leads the way on a high pitched start/stop jam.
To close the show, "Spin" which has the faintest hint of The Beatles’ “Come Together” at the intro, midsection and end. It’s a dense piece, heavy with guitar shredding. The tune seems to simultaneously swell and collapse on itself as it roars on, and we’re definitely in that late second set space, where the music seems to have pooled in the room, surrounding everyone. There were some ups and downs getting there, it’s a great place to be, great that this band is taking us there again.******
There was, no doubt, a fair amount of anticipation for Trey and Classic Tab’s solo tour which began on Thursday night at NYC’s Roseland Ballroom. The post-Phish expansion of the band to include a horn section, percussion and backup singers helped the band in its maturity, growth and the depth of its sound, however there was always something special about the very first stripped down tour Trey embarked upon. This tour finds itself devoid of the accents that found their way into TAB’s later bands, instead focusing on the minimalist approach of the first tours.
Ironically, the name “Classic TAB” is a bit misleading in that keyboard player Ray Paczkowski, who was on stage at Roseland, was not in the original band which was merely a trio with Russ Lawton on drums and Tony Markellis on bass. That original 1999 tour featured some absolutely inspired playing by the band as takes on new and unheard songs as well as interesting covers made for a magical series of shows. In retrospect, Phish was clearly not Trey’s priority at the time and the ’99 tour was a jubilant affair for Trey as a result. However if this “Classic TAB” show was any indication, much of what made that original tour so exciting was relegated to the past.
That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to go to one of these shows expecting Trey and the band to recreate the non-musical excitement from the '99 tour. While it was not widely discussed at the time, the idea of a Phish hiatus or breakup was certainly possible and perhaps that sense infused the band and gave those lucky enough to attend the shows a feeling that perhaps they were witnessing the future whereas Phish might very well be the past. The ’99 tour was the first time many, many fans had the chance to see a Phish member in such a small venue and with tickets being nearly impossible to obtain, those lucky enough to be at one of the shows certainly had their expectations and observations heightened.
In its current incarnation, “Classic TAB” opened up the show in a strong way, bringing out “Sand” to let the crowd know they meant business. And that they did as three out of the first four songs were, as the kids say these days, “the heat” with “Let Me Lie” being the lone low point to start the set. “Gotta Jiboo” featured Trey in fine form, beginning the jam with a dark and mutated Wah sound to his guitar which really darkened a song that often finds itself anchored in major key sonics. But the set closing duo of “Dragonfly” and “First Tube” were lackluster at best, with the former unable to move past B-side status and the latter disappointing with its ending section guitar heroics.
Unfortunately, the second set didn’t see much of a return to form. This was nowhere more evident than during the ending section of “Valentine,” a nice enough song on its own however the desire to extend the outro into some type of a guitar solo felt forced and never really went anywhere at all. “Linear” is the best word to describe the jam, and it’s the same word to describe the jams in “Sweet Dreams Melinda” and “Drifting.” Once the acoustic guitar came out for takes on “Brian and Robert” and “Chalkdust,” I found myself heading for the exits (the fact that I am at work at 6:45 AM doesn’t help, but still). This was the tour opener so some rust is to be expected, and the relative strength on display in the first set made the evening enjoyable enough, however one has come to expect more from Trey at this point. I never thought I’d say this, but on this evening, it was the jams that failed to live up to the strength of the songs themselves (“Sweet Dreams Melinda” really is a great song, as is “Drifting”),
With the official countdown until Phish’s return, perhaps tonight was a warm up in more ways than one.