Last night, Trey Anastasio Band returned to the Capitol Theatre for the second and final night of their tour-opening run at the historic Port Chester, NY venue following an impressive tour opener on Friday. Many Phish fans–notoriously opinionated and critical to begin with–have an interesting relationship with Trey Anastasio‘s other band. The Phish faithful still flock to see the horn-driven 8-piece whenever they’re out on the road, but idioms like “if you’ve seen one TAB show, you’ve seen them all” and “still wish it was Phish” frequently float around Internet forums and social media.
TAB has been around for over a decade, but Trey has increasingly pushed focus toward his solo outfit as the years have passed. Just today, an extended discussion broke out on one of the many Phish-focused groups on Facebook speculating about whether the new next-day LivePhish TAB soundboards, the presence of the familiar webcast cameras, decreased touring from Phish, and a spike in dates for TAB signify the beginning of weening the audience off the Phish. And that prospect makes some of the band’s die-hard devotees just a little bit nervous.
There’s no denying that the band’s lineup–Russ Lawton (drums), Tony Markellis (bass) Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet, vocals), Natalie Cressman (trombone, vocals), Ray Paczkowski (keys), James Casey (saxophone), and Cyro Baptista (percussion)–is extremely talented. The gripes about TAB mainly stem from the notion that Trey–the main draw of the ensemble–is simply not at his best in this medium. While we can (and have, at great length) debated the merits/drawbacks of TAB from a Phish-facing perspective, last night made one thing abundantly clear: whatever we all think of TAB, Trey fuckin’ loves it, and that excited energy is coming across in a big way right now.
The show saw the band tear through TAB staples like “Sometime After Sunset,” “Lever Boy,” “Bounce,” “Money Love & Change,” “The Architect,” “Last Tube,” and “First Tube,” as well as a pair of Phish tunes–a brassed-up “Ocelot” reminiscent of Phish’s 12/31/16 rendition with the TAB horns, and an excellent take on A Picture of Nectar instrumental “Magilla.” The band also ran through several of the most exciting covers in their repertoire, including The Five Stairsteps‘ “O-o-h Child”, Anna Tijoux‘s “1977” (delivered, as always, with Latin flair by Natalie Cressman), The Band‘s “It Makes No Difference,” Bob Marley‘s “Small Axe,” Charlie Daniels Band‘s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and more.
You could feel the energy radiating off the stage all night. Trey was locked throughout the show, thoroughly enjoying the abilities of his bandmates and leading the way with thick, distorted guitar vamps and soaring, “peak Trey” refrains, bobbing and weaving intently like a boxer with a chip on his shoulder. James Casey (“on the cowbell…and other things,” says Trey) shined brightly–particularly when, at the boss’s urging, he grabbed his bass sax to trade fiery licks with the guitarist. Russ impeccably kept the beat, Cyro added vibrant texture, Tony held down the backbone, and Ray colored in the lines with his fluttering keys. But while everyone onstage excelled–and while Trey was obviously at the center of it all–last night was the Jennifer Hartswick show. Among other (ample) highlights, Hartswick led the band through two more classic covers (Donna Summer‘s “MacArthur Park” and a roaring encore performance of Led Zeppelin‘s “Black Dog”), both of which left Anastasio–and the audience–happily bewildered. Add that to the funny exchange that saw a sign-weilding fan wishing the band a “Happy Ether Sunday” get their request granted by an amused Trey, and you’ve got one highly entertaining evening of live music.
Sure, TAB won’t give you 25-minute improvisational odysseys. They may not give you a totally different setlist every night. You might see Trey hang back and let the other skilled musicians onstage take the spotlight. And you may still wish that you were seeing Phish–hell, wishing I was at a Phish show is my resting mental state 95% of the time. But even the most jaded of vets will have a hard time hating on Trey Anastasio Band right now. This ensemble is hot, and the temperature is steadily rising. For now, we’ll just enjoy the great shows TAB is turning in, and keep crossing our fingers that Trey continues to make time for both of his bands.
You can watch fan-shot videos from the performance below, courtesy of YouTube user rdeal1999:
SETLIST: Trey Anastasio Band | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 4/16/17 (via @Dianna_2ns)
Set One: Drifting, Magilla, Sometime After Sunset, Alive Again, O-o-h Child, 1977, It Makes No Difference, Small Axe, Last Tube, Lever Boy, Bounce
Set Two: Money Love & Change, The Way I Feel, Tuesday, Ocelot, Goodbye Head, Architect, The Devil Went Down To Georgia, MacArthur Park, Ether Sunday, First Tube
Encore: Black Dog
TAB tour continues on Thursday at The Fillmore Charlotte in Charlotte, NC. For tickets and information on upcoming shows, head to Trey’s website.
[Cover photo via Andrew O’Brien]