Trey Anastasio may be best known as the frontman of Phish, but the 55-year-old artist is much more than the face of jam band royalty. The list of side projects and Phish-adjacent ensembles of which he’s been a part could fill a sizeable setlist with names, let alone songs. From Bivouac Jaun and Space Antelope to SerialPod, G.R.A.B., Ghosts of the Forest, Oysterhead and beyond, Trey is nothing if not prolific in his work.
(And that’s to say nothing of the times he’s sat in and/or recorded with the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews, Herbie Hancock, Toots and the Maytals, Carlos Santana, B.B. King and Robert Randolph, among others.)
Throughout his magical musical journey, Trey has maintained a steady career of his own, with a backing band that has grown and morphed through the 11 albums he’s authored in his more than 21 years as a solo artist. That catalog, along with the numerous shows it’s filled, offer an extensive window into who Trey is, as an artist and a person, in a relative vacuum.
“Big Red” was back in action as the head of his own snake on the third Friday of the year. He and the Trey Anastasio Band started off a two-night stint at the Wiltern in Los Angeles with a bang, to continue the West Coast leg of their winter tour.
Those expecting an evening filled with rollicking, Phish-style jams would’ve have left Koreatown entirely disappointed. The second set, in particular, featuring some extended riffing, including spectacular axe work by Trey on “Simple Twist Up Dave” and turns in spotlight on “Mr. Completely” for Natalie Cressman on trombone, Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet, and James Casey on saxophone, along with a delightful rhythm-section duet between Russ Lawton on drums and Cyro Baptista on percussion.
As a whole, TAB did its part to sprinkle in Trey-authored Phish favorites from time to time. “Everything’s Right” popped into the rotation during the first set, with “No Men in No Man’s Land” tipping off set two, “Heavy Things” appearing a few tracks later, and Trey busting out a solo acoustic version of “Backwards Down the Number Line” in the encore, as a birthday tribute to a close friend. The evening also produced the first TAB rendition of Phish instrumental “The Landlady” since 2006.
Aside from that handful of Phish songs (and the constitution of the crowd), TAB’s performance was predominantly distinct from its namesake’s main musical squeeze, in both content and style.
Sure, it was still Trey up there, singing through fun, uplifting lyrics and wailing away on the frets of his guitar with his appropriately-falutin fingers. And obviously, it’s different having him backed by a horn section and a percussionist, rather than the simpler arrangement of Mike Gordon on bass, Page McConnell on keys, and Jon Fishman on drums.
But even an eight-piece band—especially one with musicians as talented and well-practiced as TAB’s—could pull off spacey improvisations on par with its more Vermont-centric counterpart. Jazz fusion, though, isn’t the point of Trey’s solo work. Where songs in Phish are a means to an end (i.e. a big jam), in TAB, they are ends in themselves. That distinction informs the relatively tighter structures and arrangements on tracks like “Sometime After Sunset” and “Cayman Review”, with which Trey and company opened the evening. It also explains the deeper, more emotional lyricism on songs like “Sigma Oasis”, “Liquid Time”, “A Life Beyond a Dream”, and “About to Run”—the last two of which hail from Trey’s most personal project to date, Ghosts of the Forest.
That’s not to suggest that Trey takes himself (too) seriously when his drummer isn’t wearing a muumuu. On the contrary, seeing him with TAB only crystallizes the extent to which his true essence as an artist is one of joy and positivity, especially amid trial and tragedy.
After all, if Trey were a brooding creator rooted in darkness and despair, TAB would be the perfect opportunity for him to showcase that side.
No internal band politics to navigate. No college friends to placate. No external expectations to meet. Just pure, unadulterated Trey, his own vision enabled by the finest musicians he could find.
Given those circumstances, Trey has chosen to wrap his Phish-y worldview in more carefully curated packages. In the process, he’s shown what his heart and soul as a musician looks and sounds like while simultaneously blurring the line between himself and the act that made him famous in the first place.
Because for all that Phish is as a powerhouse collective and Trey Anastasio is as a versatile creative genius, the former can’t properly exist without the latter and the latter, in turn, has every reason to embrace what he’s accomplished with the former.
Below, you can watch a selection of fan-shot videos from the show and check out a gallery of photos from the performance courtesy of photographer Brandon Weil:
Trey Anastasio Band – 1/17/20
Trey Anastasio Band – “About To Run” – 1/17/20
Trey Anastasio Band tour continues tonight, January 18th, at The Wiltern. For a full list of upcoming Trey Anastasio Band tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Trey Anastasio Band | The Wiltern | Los Angeles, CA | 1/17/20
Set One: Sometime After Sunset, Alive Again, Acting the Devil, Burn That Bridge, The Landlady, Everything’s Right, Sigma Oasis, Liquid Time, Olivia, Pigtail, Money, Love and Change
Set Two: No Men In No Man’s Land, Night Speaks to a Woman, About to Run, Shine, Heavy Things, Simple Twist Up Dave, A Life Beyond The Dream, Mr. Completely > Tuesday
Encore: Backwards Down the Number Line , Sleeping Monkey, The Parting Glass, Rise/Come Together
 Trey solo acoustic.