Trey Anastasio Band, Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD – 10/8
Photo by Matthew Lang
Rams Head Live!, located in the center of downtown Baltimore, is like Disneyland for alcoholics – as the gratuitous exclamation point implies. It consists of a consortium of bars in a piazza-like neon infused setting and is, as you might imagine, heavily patrolled by security and police. Two main floors with at least six different bars and over a dozen flat screens, the layout encourages more drinking than dancing, but this particular Saturday night the bartenders didn’t seem to be as busy as usual – and may have been dispensing more water than expected. The overhang from the second floor deadens the sound if you are standing under it, so most try to fight their way onto the floor. Like so many bugs chasing a light, the aggression that music fans sometimes exhibit can be a bit of a buzz kill – a restless jockeying for position not unlike a D.C. commute. But I guess it didn’t help that the scene at Rams Head was predominately male.
I didn’t realize the vocals were going to be in surround sound! Luckily the guy just behind my right ear, who smelled like the stale pot and old laundry, knew every word to the opening “Cayman Review” as well as “Money, Love and Change” and continued to sing along while the crowd on the floor expanded and contracted around him, leaving little more than wiggling room. During the first set, fans got the “Alaska” they’d been requesting a few nights earlier in Asheville – followed by a hot “Simple Twist Up Dave.” But the sweet and low “Let Me Lie” seemed like a good time to grab a beer and cool down. (Coincidentally, I took my own bike out for a long slow ride the very next day!)
The appropriately named Copperhead Ale I was drinking was gone by the time the band got to “Snake Head Thumb” but I love the dirty groove of this new one, one of my favorite Trey guitar effects being the square-wave warble he gets on this tune (see also: “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” ) — that combined with Tony Markellis’ thck envelope bass really takes it deep down right into the thick of things. We all know Trey shreds the ol’ blues licks. He did so here.
Natalie Cressman on trombone was clearly a crowd favorite, especially considering the crowd was mostly men. She really knocked them out with her sequin dress, good looks and oh yeah… trombone skills! The guy in front of me was vocally smitten and swore he’d be single for the rest of his life if he couldn’t have her. (I have a feeling he’s got a long road ahead of him.)
“Push on Till the Day” has killer horn parts and can really ignite the partying. As usual Trey’s tone was perfect on this one, and he was really letting us have it, climbing and climbing to an awesome finish. Cell phones were responding in kind, so there may be a few shaky videos out there. Easy going “Pigtail” gave way to a set-closing, crowd pleasing “Gotta Jibboo,” inspiring more singalong from my unlikely neighbor.
Remember that scene from Bittersweet Hotel when Trey is back stage singing about wishing there were more girls in the front row than guys? I can see why. This was probably the best I’ve ever come to seeing him play up close, and I had to fight a bunch of dudes to do so – the large corn-fed variety. I spent the first set sweating it out on the floor, but moved upstairs for the second where there was a little more breathing room.
Phish fans are protective of their brand, fanatical even, and like the comic book guy from the Simpsons, they are often quick to point out inconsequential inconsistencies in the music and in writing about the music. So to clear this up: Trey introduced one of the new originals, “Land of Nod” at the start of the 2nd set, making a point of saying how it resembled a similar song by a different band… kind of like “Simple Twist Up Dave”! The reggae inspired jam on “Nod” gave way to the funk, which included a driving “Burlap Sack and Pumps” and the darker groove of “Sand,” the subtle interplay of clav and guitar being real nice here.
“Night Speaks to a Woman” has some amazing It’s Ice-like guitar runs and like most of Trey’s songs, the potential to open up into a big jam. Hot-diggity! “Goodbye Head,” “A Case of Ice and Snow” and “Liquid Time” eased us off the funk, offering up some compositions that would have made Zappa jealous. We also got “Frost” and “Drifting” but I lost my view to a rather lumpy pillar-like fellow so moved on.
Music is tribal, but so is drug use, so pick your poison, I guess. I wouldn’t have been surprised by the presence of psychedelics, but I was surprised at the amount of aggression, more common to mood-swinging pharmie users and drunks. The empty plastic cups that littered the floor at the end of the night made the cause pretty clear. But to fight it would have been “quite a bit like trying to heal a gunshot wound with gauze” if you get my drift. If you can’t beat them, join them. I ordered a rum scoundrel and tripped the light fantastic.
In our society we currently have marijuana prohibition, economic depression… and swing music! Nope, this is not the 1930’s — but the kids still love to dance. And every now and then these zonked out reefer addicts will come to life and start twirling each other around like they planned it all. The tango of today is a bit more freeform, but during TAB’s swingin’ take on “Magilla,” I half expected one shabbily dressed raver to produce a top hat from under that dirty white shirt of his and offer dancing lessons. Swinging from polls and rubbing strangers’ heads for luck, this particular cat brought a smile to my face, and made me remember that fun favors the trickster — of which, as always, there were plenty about.
The band’s rendition of Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” was a pure high energy beer splashing good time — hearing those horns rip through the bluegrass licks with the speed of fiddlers ridiculous good fun. Beer rained down from above in a climactic second to last song, and if that heartwarming clamor of canned heat wasn’t enough, the “First Tube” that closed out the second set had everybody bouncing for joy on the floor in front of the stage. I was glad to be one of them and happy to get a cover of Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood” for the encore over say, “Hey Ya!”, which I never really cared for. Trey threw in some tasty chords here, adding color under trumpet player Jennifer Hartswick’s rap, which was delivered with requisite swagger – even if it was kind of lost in the reverb.
It’s great to hear Trey Band’s take on familiar Phish songs, especially with the addition of horns and the no frills straight ahead rhythm section, tight and in the pocket. All in all it was a hot time in ol’ Bmore town, and I’d tolerate the iridescent sheen and madhouse racket of a public square or brave a surly wook scene any day to see me some Trey. I hope he comes back real soon, but maybe Recher Theatre would be a better fit. The suds are more reasonably priced, and the old style dance hall ten miles north of the city might be just the place for me to work on my Lindy hop and jitterbug!