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Published: 2013/02/02
by Alex Baker

Trey Anastasio, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON – 1/18

Photo by Marc Millman

“I’m a Trey fan if I’m a Phish fan,” one wide-eyed, shell-shocked reveler told me as we were walking out of Toronto’s Danforth Hall, past the witching hour of Friday, January 18, 2013.

After almost a decade away from the frozen confines of Canada, Trey Anastasio and his new band made their triumphant return, kicking off their winter 2013 tour in style. In front a packed house, Trey showcased his latest solo album, Traveler, as well as solo material spanning two-plus decades and even some Phish classics.

With one of the most insane, trippy and spectacular light shows this writer has ever seen, the TAB’s traveling circus of a performance had the crowd captivated and, at times, enraptured. From the first set’s frantic, upbeat opening licks of “Cayman Review” and “Land of Nod”, to the bluesy, extended jams of “Alive Again” and “Spin” (first play in two years), it was full speed ahead from the get-go.

Trey then slowed things down with “Plasma” before ramping back up with “Last Tube,” the first song that really showcased his horn section and the skilled percussion of his backup band. This song’s jam also featured one of the coolest moments of the show, a slow-motion tape-rewind sound effect in mid-chord that led into the lullaby-esque “Frost,” off the new album. Making full use of the beautiful voices of back-up singers’ Natalie ‘Chainsaw’ Cressman and Jennifer ‘J’ Hartswick, a simple solo here demonstrated Trey’s ability to make his guitar cry and sing.

After the funky “Burlap Sack and Pumps” made us all believe we were in a Mardi Gras parade, the horn-infused “Shine” (first since Nov. 2011) brought to mind the happy-ending finale of a stage play.

With two of the more evocative and psychedelic songs off his new album, “Scabbard” (with amazing lighting effects that saw a surreal Trey floating in his own ghostly aura of white light), and “Valentine,” perhaps the poppiest and most upbeat of the new tunes, (“all through the sky/I see strings of electricity/and I feel the power/like it could burn my hands”) the ravenous crowd was whipped back to a frenzy – “spinning in circles” in a tornado of light.

Ending the set with “First Tube” – which Trey noted to the crowd was “sometimes covered by that other band” – one of the most Phish-like jams that was capably handled on this night by bassist and song co-writer Tony Markellis, TAB took a short break and we all caught our collective breath. It was, indeed, the set we had all been waiting for – but we’d hardly seen anything yet.

Kicking off the second set with “Money, Love and Change” – a Joplin-esque collaborative tune that involved the whole band, round-table style – brought the tempo right back to where we left off. New track “Pigtail,” with its fantastically imaginative lyrics, had us all in an uproar before a showstopper – a frenetic, 10-minute-plus version of “Gotta Jibboo” – that literally had people on the floor. It was pure insanity during this song, with the energy of the surging crowd, ascending rhythms and the light show feeding off one another. Although I expected to hear this tune, there was no preparing for it.

“Let Me Lie” (tender, lilting and a little haunting) and “Night Speaks To A Woman” (a blistering, Afro-Cuban-style jam) were a bit of a blur after the pure power of “Jibboo.” A cover of Bob Marley’s Small Axe came next to slow it down, one of four covers Trey pulled out of his bag of tricks on this night (a highly entertaining first-set version of The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child,” Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” as the encore to close the show, and the Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood,” impeccably sung by the sultry voice of Jennifer Hartswick, were the others).

Trey’s simple ballad “Drifting” came next, again showcasing the high range of his backup vocalists to create a fairy-tale-like, floating feeling. This led into “Goodbye Head” – a slow-burning jazzy groove – and then into “Architect,” which gave way to “Sand” where we all broke down in an epileptic frenzy of dancing and funking-out.

After “Clint Eastwood” and “Push On ‘Til the Day” closed out the set on high-energy note, at which point, Trey returned the stage and announced that it was almost midnight – or, as he put it, “In 15 minutes it’s officially Hockey Day: I’m in the only place where people will care about this as much as I do!” (Trey is a big Flyers fan and the lockout-shortemed NHL season was about to kick off the next night.)

Nevertheless, there was time for a bit more music, and a rare version of “At The Gazebo” gave way to an awesome take on “Sultans of Swing,” perfectly placed in the encore (“Goodnight/Now it’s time to go home,” “we feel alright/when we hear the music play”).

All in all it was a very special night of music for fans of Trey and Phish alike. With Phish back in motion and the band members also in the thick of individual collaborations, the freedom, energy and confidence was and is at an all-time high – not to mention the fun. If there’s one thing I could tell from being that close, it was just that – the laughing, smiling, goofing-off Trey is having a lot of fun these days.

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