Trey Anastasio Band came into a 13-show tour that ended on Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on the heels of two major changes to the outfit’s lineup. Yet it was trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick and co-founding drummer Russ Lawton testing positive for COVID-19 within a few days of each other mid-tour which led to even bigger adjustments, as TAB went sans horns and with Phish drummer Jon Fishman behind the kit for the run’s final four concerts, including last night’s tour closer at the iconic NYC venue.
Saxophonist/vocalist James Casey had to miss Trey Anastasio Band’s 2021 tour while he underwent treatment for colon cancer. Casey’s “prognosis is great” according to his doctors and an emotional moment took place during last night’s encore as James emerged to augment TAB for “Evolve,” “Rise/Come Together” and “A Life Beyond The Dream.” The NYC resident sounded great on soprano sax throughout his guest spot and also sang his heart out on the final three songs of the evening. James, whose role was held down by Cochemea Gastelum for all but one of the tour’s concerts featuring horns, shared lead vocals with Trey on “Rise/Come Together” and “A Life Beyond The Dream.” The latter was especially poignant as Anastasio wrote the song for Ghosts Of The Forest, a project inspired by the passing of his lifelong friend Chris Cottrell from adrenal cancer in January 2018.
The other major change to the TAB lineup confirmed pre-tour was bassist Dezron Douglas joining the band. Dezron, who teaches at NYU, has a long history of performing with TAB members in various ensembles and was a member of the Jennifer Hartswick Band. The bassist’s addition to the group came in the wake of founding bassist Tony Markellis’ death earlier this year. Douglas wowed throughout the run and last night’s show was no exception. To say that the rhythm section of Dezron Douglas and Jon Fishman was impressive would be a huge understatement. Dezron and Fish provided tight, in-the-pocket grooves giving Trey ample opportunities to shred.
Anastasio, Douglas, Fishman, percussionist Cyro Baptista and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski formed the lineup that played on Sunday night following shows from the same formation in Pittsburgh this past Wednesday, Washington D.C. on Friday and Radio City on Saturday. The quintet embarked on many deep jams throughout their time together with a wild and adventurous +35-minute “Everything’s Right” serving as the improvisational high point of last night’s concert.
Trey and his mates opened the tour closer with a rollicking “Back On The Train” that gave way to a lengthy “The Moma Dance.” Fish was the only other vocalist in the five-piece lineup and sang his parts of the Phish classic before propelling the extended “Moma” jam to great heights. The drummer then shined on a raucous “Undermind” featuring a stellar organ solo from Ray and Cyro cracking Trey up with his percussive antics. Douglas’ impressive musical rapport with Fishman was on display during the versions of “Ocelot” and “Set Your Soul Free” that followed. “Ocelot” spanned 15 minutes, saw the guitarist urge the audience to help sing and mix extraordinary rhythmic work with dynamic leads. Last night’s first set came to a close with “Dark And Down,” which marked the Phish drummer’s first performance of the 16-year old TAB staple. Fish provided rolling fills as Anastasio strung together one impassioned riff after another.
Last night’s five-song second set began with a high-octane “Sand.” Anastasio patiently led the group in a build to a crowd-pleasing climax. Next up was an instant classic “Everything’s Right” in which the quintet strayed far from the jam’s typical structure. Ray and Trey connected on an ascending riff towards the middle of the 36-minute version. Then, Baptista gave a tour of his rig, moving from one percussive instrument to another as the improv reached near-silence outside of Cyro’s contributions. It was more akin to a Medeski Martin & Wood jam than anything TAB had pulled off previously. Eventually, Anastasio inserted the “Everything’s Right” theme to lay the groundwork for one final solo to end the must-hear version.
Trey Anastasio Band next paired the pretty title track and dirty “I Never Left Home” from the guitarist’s 2020 quarantine album, Lonely Trip. Anastasio and his mates capped the set with a quick romp through “Carini.” Trey returned to the stage to start the encore solo acoustic and addressed the crowd:
“Thank you. So this is just the most unique tour, this is our last night. We’re so happy to be here. ‘We’ [giggles]. So, lots of friends and coming and going along the way every night. Going, mostly. But everybody’s good. I don’t know if everybody in here knows the whole journey but … I’m not going to bother. We started out with seven and then James first had some health issues, so he was going to come but he couldn’t come. We love you James, so much, so that was the big thing. That was the big one.
Of course our dear friend Tony who departed one show before this tour. We love you, Tony. Friends and companions everywhere. Then, I think we got about four shows in and Jennifer tested positive so she went home. We love you, Jennifer, you’ll hear this. Then [TAB trombonist] Natalie [Cressman] tested positive. Cheme, James’ substitute, tested positive and then two days later Russ Lawton, our drummer, tested positive. They’re all fine. They all had some soup. I talked to them all today. Everybody’s fine. But it was interesting. So then my dear friend Jon Fishman called up and said, ‘I’ll come down!.’ And I was like ‘here we go, alright, whatever!’ Such is touring in 2021.”
Trey went with Phish classic “Strange Design” first in honor of his “companions” and then played an unplugged “Backwards Down The Number Line” before Casey came out for the aforementioned three-song run of “Evolve,” “Rise/Come Together” and “A Life Beyond The Dream.” While the Trey Anastasio Band made it through the tour’s twists and turns and completed the jaunt on a high note, here’s hoping the core lineup is able to return in 2022 without any further complications. Dezron was the perfect choice to join TAB and the group will likely thrive when given more time together on stage.
Watch “Evolve” featuring Casey as well as fan-shot video of last night’s “Strange Design” below:
Setlist (via Phish.net)
Set One: Back on the Train > The Moma Dance, Undermind > Ocelot, Set Your Soul Free, Dark and Down
Set Two: Sand, Everything’s Right, Lonely Trip, I Never Left Home > Carini
Encore: Strange Design , Backwards Down the Number Line, Evolve , Rise/Come Together , A Life Beyond The Dream
-  Trey solo acoustic.
-  With James Casey on saxophone.
-  With James Casey on additional vocals and saxophone.