In 2005, moe. came together with an all-star cast of musicians for an incredible show that can only be described as a mega-jam. The event, which raised money for victims of the horrible 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, quickly sold out, after the announcement of a bevy of special guests. John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood and Sam Bush were both on the bill, as was Phish‘s Trey Anastasio, who brought Trey Anastasio Band members Jennifer Hartswick and Ray Paczkowski along for the ride. The concert, which would come to be known simply as the “Tsunami Benefit”, took place at the beloved, recently-torn-down venue Roseland Ballroom in New York City. I was one of the lucky few who got a ticket for this show when the tickets went on sale, and, as an ecstatic seventeen-year old would do, I counted down the days until it was time for this too-good-to-be-true show.
The anticipation for this particular show was huge. Anastasio hadn’t performed in months, taking a six-month breather to (presumably) get healthy after his obvious meltdown during Phish’s break-up shows at Coventry. Seeing his name prominently placed on the bill was truly exciting. I had been to my first few Phish shows in Brooklyn during the summer of 2004, so the chance to see Anastasio play again, especially after such a long layoff, was a true treat. That John Medeski was on the lineup as well provided endless amounts of excitement, and I could only hope that I’d get a chance to see two of my favorite musicians guesting with one of my, at the time, absolute favorite bands.
Upon arrival at the venue, my brother, a friend, and I lined up 20 yards back from the stage, straight back from Trey’s guitar and rig. The lights went down shortly after we arrived, and moe. kicked things off with a glorious, fifteen-minute performance of their anthemic “Rebubula” that set the tone for the wild night ahead. We were just catching our breath when Medeski and Bush waltzed out to add organ and violin to a memorable version of “Mexico”.
Medeski took more of a background role on “Mexico”, laying down the rhythm while Bush played a euphoric solo on the violin that brought the song’s jam section to a close. Bush left the stage as “Plane Crash” started, and Medeski’s playing on that track was a true highlight of the night, with moe. giving him some room to stretch out during the song’s jam section. He went crazy for a full four-minute organ solo that brought the house down. Everyone had come out for Trey, but Medeski truly owned the crowd when he performed on “Plane Crash”.
Next up, Medeski led the band through a tribute to Jimmy Smith with “Got My Mojo Workin'”. Medeski waved to the crowd and disappeared to the backstage as Bush returned with his mandonlin to lead moe. for two tracks: the ill-received “Sailing Shoes” and the much better received “Same Old River”. “Same Old River” had a great energy that really connected with the crowd, but its impact was soon forgotten, as Al Schnier stepped to the mic and announced “our next guest needs no introduction”, and Anastasio finally took the stage.
The place went absolutely wild. The band quickly started up a slow and funky version of “Crossroads”, and the crowd went nuts again when Trey sang the song’s second verse. They went even more crazy during his first guitar solo. However, it’s when the song kicked into double-time that the audience absolutely went its craziest, dancing crazily as Anastasio, Schnier, and Chuck Garvey dueled to close out the song. It was an incredible energy to witness in person. I had never felt that kind of energy at a show before. Little did I know that the entire second set would be filled with more of the same.
Set two started with a bang, as moe. returned to the stage with Anastasio, Paczowski, and Hartswick. The band quickly counted off the Trey Anastasio Band classic “Night Speaks to a Woman”, and this was Trey’s true highlight of the night. Soaring tension and release guitar playing led to several memorable moments throughout an unforgettable fifteen-minute jam. This is what everyone had come to see: Trey Anastasio, wailing on his signature guitar.
moe., Trey Anastasio, Jennifer Hartswick, & Ray Paczkowski – “Night Speaks to a Woman”
Anastasio attempted to leave the stage after the song ended, but the members of moe. convinced him to stay on stage for a run through “Spine of the Dog” > “Buster”. Trey clearly didn’t know the songs that well, so he took a backseat role, adding a few moments of improv while Schnier and Garvey took the lead. It was certainly cool to see Trey play a couple of moe. classics, but the energy just wasn’t there. It returned when the band launched into Stevie Wonder‘s “Boogie On Reggae Woman”. We recognized the music it was all smiles for the song that Phish had regularly covered, making for another huge highlight of the night. Paczkowski shined on the cover track, showing off his own organ skills. The song eventually transformed into a “Drums” segment that featured moe. drummers Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico showing off their joint percussion skills.
moe. & Trey Anastasio – “Spine Of A Dog”
moe. & Trey Anastasio – “Buster”
The drum jam provided Anastasio an opportunity to grab an acoustic guitar. When Loughlin and Amico finished their jam, they walked off stage, Anastasio returned to the stage solo and with his acoustic guitar in his hands. He remarked that it “feels really good to play guitar for you guys” before starting up “Chalk Dust Torture”. The crowd reveled in screaming the song’s “can’t I live while I’m young?” refrain along with Anastasio, and he took an interesting acoustic solo that whipped the crowd into a frenzy. “Chalk Dust” was followed by “Wilson”, which played into the crowd’s energy perfectly. The audience screamed along to the “can you still have any fun?” lyric before giving Anastasio a huge, deserved ovation. I’m not sure anyone in the room expected acoustic Phish songs when they walked in the room that night, so this was a true cloud nine moment for all at Roseland Ballroom. For a young Phish fan who watched the band crash and burn on its way out the door at Coventry, this was an unforgettable moment.
Trey Anastasio – “Chalkdust Torture”
Trey Anastasio – “Wilson”
What could possibly follow up such a glorious moment? The icing on the cake was just as I had hoped for: Trey and Medeski, jamming together. They joined moe. for a a thirty-five minute, set-closing version of “Meat”, and they each took turns leading the band through the incredibly long and impressive jam. It was so awesome to see them both on stage, jamming together and truly getting out there with a weird and exploratory jam that stands out as the improvisational highlight of the show.
When the band returned to the stage with Anastasio and Medeski for the encore, the audience knew it was going to be insane, but none of us there that night saw the “Peaches en Regalia” cover coming. The band kicked off the encore with the beloved Frank Zappa song, and the entire audience lost it one more time. The cover was perfect, with Jim Loughlin’s mallet work shining on the track. The show then came to an end with every guest coming on stage for an Anastastio-led version of JJ Cale‘s “After Midnight” that featured a few excellent guitar duels.
As the audience was quickly herded out the venue into the cold winter New York air, the awesomeness of what we had just seen started to sink in. With a genre of music so dependent on being in the right place at the right time, we had managed to witness one of “THE” shows. With excellent playing by moe. and incredible, lengthy guest spots from Trey Anastasio and Medeski, the show truly lived up to its billing. It felt like a dream, and, to this day, eleven years later, it still feels that way.
moe., Sam Bush, John Medeski, and Trey Anastasio – “Boogie On Reggae Woman”
Check out full audio of the show below, courtesy of taper ericv, moe., and archive.org.
Setlist: moe. Tsunami Benefit | 2/10/2005 | Roseland Ballroom | New York, NY
Set One: Rebubula, Mexico*, Plane Crash ^, Got My Mojo Workin’ ^, Sailing Shoes **, Same Ol’ River ^^, Crossroads #
Set Two: Night Speaks to a Woman $%, Spine of the Dog $ > Buster $, Boogie On Reggae Woman $% > Drums, Chalkdust Torture $$, Wilson $$, meat. *$
Encore: Peaches En Regalia *$, After Midnight *$%
* with John Medeski on keys, Sam Bush on Violin
^ with John Medeski on keys
* Sam Bush solo
^^ with Sam Bush on mandolin
# with Sam Bush on mandolin, Trey Anastasio on guitar
$ with Trey Anastasio on guitar
$$ Trey Anastasio solo acoustic
% with Jennifer Hartswick