Despite a reputation as road dogs, the Trey Anastasio Band might have actually improved its stock during the live-music stoppage of 2020-21. Last autumn, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio brought comfort and community to our living rooms for eight Friday nights through the inspired virtual residency “The Beacon Jams.” TAB also released the live album Burn It Down, which served as their greatest statement of purpose since the 2002 Trey Anastasio album.
TAB returned to the road — perhaps appropriately on a Friday night — at Thompson’s Point, in Portland, Maine, with some notable changes to their lineup. Founding TAB bassist Tony Markellis died earlier this year and was replaced by contemporary jazz great Dezron Douglas (seriously, check out his work either as bandleader or with Brandee Younger or Makaya McCraven). Regular saxophonist James-Casey recently announced he is undergoing cancer treatment, and he was replaced for this tour by Cochemea Gastelum, who is best known for his work with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.
The band opened with “First Tube,” the song that closed “The Beacon Jams,” in a show that carried over the general vibe of that residency (as well as the live shows in January 2020), with the full Anastasio catalog playfully explored and fleshed out by the Trey Anastasio Band, including classic TAB songs, surprising appearances by Phish compositions, solo material, Ghosts Of The Forest tracks, and mutt songs with origins across projects.
“Alive Again,” the first extended jam of the evening, came in the second slot, with Trey happy to play rhythm guitar over the Latin percussion as the horn section took turns with solos. This was followed by two Phish songs: the Jeff Holdsworth composition “Camel Walk,” featuring its tightly wound TAB arrangement, and “Ocelot,” which boasted a swinging bassline by Douglas and an extended improvisational section. “Ocelot” was also the first song to truly showcase the other new addition to this TAB tour: Trey’s new guitar and rig, which helped ignite some of Phish’s most inspired play in years on their recent summer tour.
The relatively new reggae number “Love is What We Are” and the instrumental “Olivia” continued the set, followed by “Set Your Soul Free.” Even though the latter song has served as a launchpad for some stellar Phish excursions in recent years, it’s increasingly feeling more like a TAB song, by nature of how much the backing vocals and Ray Paczkowski’s carnivalesque organ make the composed part such a natural fit for them. The bluesy “Dark And Down,” Latin instrumental “Mozambique” and “Rise/Come Together” closed out the set.
Like many Phish concerts of summer 2021, the show hit its highest peaks in the first half of the second set. “Everything’s Right” got things started with the longest jam of the evening, as Trey continued his outstanding play of the summer and, on a stage drenched in fog and color, pushed the jam into increasingly psychedelic terrain. After a one-man “Drums/Space” (and flutes and bird noises) by Cyro Baptista, the band segued from that into “Gotta Jibboo,” to the delight of the audience.
“Curlew’s Call,” with its intricate web of rhythm and melody, kept the momentum going. Trey spattered an array of his new effects over furious drumming by Russ Lawton, who also got extended time to solo by song’s end. “Ether Sunday” then offered a chance for trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick to take center stage for a crowd-favorite solo over subtle and spacious bass playing by Douglas, a longtime friend and classmate of hers.
The deeply funky “Burlap Sack and Pumps” gave Gastelum a spotlight, and he delivered some of the gnarliest playing of the evening, inching close to free jazz within the song’s established structure. After the song, Trey sent his love and well wishes to Casey.
Finally, the set closed with three more Phish songs: a robust and soulful reworking of “The Moma Dance,” the muscular new rock number (from Trey’s 2020 solo album Lonely Trip) “I Never Needed You Like This Before,” and a take on the Phish staple “Twist.” They then encored with Ghosts of the Forest’s “A Life Beyond the Dream” and the Shine-era pop of “Tuesday.”
While nobody can truly replace the great Tony Markellis and his contributions to Trey’s musical orbit, Douglas honored his legacy admirably in his debut TAB performance by setting up camp in a deep, powerful pocket with Lawton and Baptista, while also bringing his own personality to the material. It was especially thrilling to hear Douglas’ unique phrasing of iconic Mike Gordon basslines in songs like “The Moma Dance” and “Twist.”
And for his part, Trey’s playing was as strong and clean as it was with Phish this summer. The tour, and the new era of TAB, began on a sparkling note.
Setlist (via Phish.net)
Set One: First Tube, Alive Again, Camel Walk, Ocelot, Love Is What We Are, Olivia, Set Your Soul Free, Dark and Down, Mozambique, Rise/Come Together
Set Two: Everything’s Right > Gotta Jibboo > Curlew’s Call, Ether Sunday, Burlap Sack and Pumps, The Moma Dance, I Never Needed You Like This Before, Twist
Encore: A Life Beyond The Dream > Tuesday