Trey Anastasio Band fans in North Carolina were undoubtedly a little disappointed on Saturday afternoon when the group announced that vocalist/trumpet player Jennifer Hartswick had tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of a two-night, two-city run this weekend. But spurred by the unfortunate news—and the new-look lineup it imposed—the band turned in a pair of thrilling, improv-heavy performances in Charlotte and Asheville featuring deep takes on Phish favorites.

TAB had already been without its usual horn trio throughout the tour’s first six shows, with Hartswick and trombonist Natalie Cressman joined by stand-in Cochemea Gastelum (and, for one night, Natalie’s dad, Jeff Cressman) in place of regular saxophonist James Casey as he undergoes chemotherapy for colon cancer. With both James and Jennifer now out of play, Anastasio announced that he would finish out the tour without a horn section.

A no-horns TAB configuration is not entirely new to fans—from Classic TAB to the Trey Anastasio Trio/Quartet to, most recently, The Beacon Jams—but with Dezron Douglas on bass in place of the late Tony Markellis, audiences on Saturday, 9/25 at Metro Credit Union Amphitehatre in Charlotte and Sunday, 9/26 at Rabbit Rabbit in Asheville witnessed a never-before-seen Trey Anastasio Band lineup.

Anastasio, Douglas, drummer Russ Lawton, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, and percussionist Cyro Baptista got straight to jamming on Saturday night in Charlotte with a grooving, 16-minute take on Phish’s “46 Days”. A smooth, sultry “The Way I Feel” kept that groove alive as Dezron’s low-end mastery and a stirring Ray solo helped take the sting out of Jen and Natalie’s missing backing vocals.

Trey Anastasio Band – “46 Days” – 9/25/21

[Video: Robert Hayden]

“The Way I Feel” would mark the only “TAB song” of the set, as the five-piece spent the rest of the five-song frame churning out exploratory jams on Phish tunes “Blaze On”, “Camel Walk”, and “Ghost”. Saturday’s second set continued the improv trend with creative jams on “Set Your Soul Free”, “Gotta Jibboo”, “Twist”, and more, all of which benefitted from the new stable of low-register effects Trey introduced during Phish tour this summer.

Trey Anastasio Band – “Gotta Jibboo” – 9/25/21

Trey Anastasio Band – “Twist” – 9/25/21

[Videos: Robert Hayden]

For the encore, Trey emerged by his lonesome to deliver a solo acoustic segment featuring readings of “Sample In A Jar”, “Brian and Robert”, “Back on the Train”, and “Strange Design” before the band returned for an emphatic “Sand”.

The band once again had exploratory goals on Sunday in Asheville. The first set was highlighted by a hefty “Everything’s Right” as well as funky readings of “No Men In No Man’s Land” and “Steam”. During a set-closing “Push On ‘Til The Day”, Anastasio slipped and fell while jumping for excitement, but quickly popped back up and continued to rock.

Trey Anastasio Band – “Push On ‘Til The Day” (Trey Falls Down) – 9/26/21

[Video: the5conks]

The band returned for set two and immediately got down to work on one of the highlights of the tour thus far: a massive, peaking “The Moma Dance”. Clocking in at just under 20 minutes in length, this long walk by the Phish staple marked the lengthiest TAB jam in well over a decade.

Trey Anastasio Band – “The Moma Dance” (partial) – 9/26/21

[Video: the5conks]

After blazing through quarantine tune “I Never Needed You Like This Before”, Anastasio continued to fire on all cylinders through a moody “Plasma”, a searing “About To Run”, a bobbing “Sand”, and a climactic, set-closing, 15-minute “Carini” jam.

Trey Anastasio Band – “Carini” (partial) – 9/26/21

[Video: the5conks]

Matching the format of the Saturday show, Trey began the Asheville encore with a run of solo acoustic tunes (“Mountains In the Mist”, “Shade”, “More”) before bringing the band back up for a big closer (“First Tube”).

This weekend, following yet another dose of bad news, Trey Anastasio did what he does best: improvise. Much like we saw with The Beacon Jams last year, Trey rolled with the punches, figured out a way to make it work with the people who could be there, and proceeded to use those limitations to his creative advantage.

Early on in this tour, we wrote about the excitement of bearing witness to this project’s continued evolution in recent years. Despite the unfortunate reasons for the lineup update, we’re no less excited to hear the results of this latest new TAB experiment. Get well soon, Jen and James!

Below, check out the setlists from the Trey Anastasio Band shows in Charlotte and Asheville this weekend. The tour continues on Tuesday, September 28th in Columbus, OH. For a full list of upcoming TAB tour dates, head here.

Listen to full audio of both North Carolina shows via LivePhish.

Setlist: Trey Anastasio Band | Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre | Charlotte, NC | 9/25/21

Set One: 46 Days, The Way I Feel, Blaze On, Camel Walk, Ghost

Set Two: Set Your Soul Free, Ocelot, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Gotta Jibboo, A Life Beyond The Dream, Twist

Encore: Sample in a Jar*, Brian and Robert*, Back on the Train*, Strange Design*, Sand

*Trey solo acoustic.

Setlist: Trey Anastasio Band | Rabbit Rabbit | Asheville, NC | 9/26/21

Set One: In Rounds, Everything’s Right, No Men In No Man’s Land, Olivia, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Steam, Push On ‘Til the Day

Set Two: The Moma Dance, I Never Needed You Like This Before, Plasma, About to Run, Sand, Carini

Encore: Mountains in the Mist*, Shade*, More*, First Tube

*Trey solo acoustic