Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Monday Trey at Webster Hall and a Review of Bar 17

A few friends told me that the Sunday night's Trey show to open his new tour was a sizzler. I tried to contain my enthusiasm. Over the years I've learned to go into shows with an open mind and not to expect anything special because that way I don't leave disappointed and feel like my expectations were not met.

I still say that most of Trey's solo gigs fall somewhere in between him fronting a Phish cover band and publicly masturbating on stage for three hours. And you know how loyal Phisheads are... they'll happily let Trey jizz in their mouths for $42.50 a pop.

I was a little worried about the show because I listened to Trey's new album Bar 17 a couple of times and I didn't like it. I have to say that every time Trey releases an album... I don't like it right away and I eventually warm up to it. At this point in his solo career it's evident to me that my favorite variation of the Trey Band was one of the firsts when he released his self-titled album. All his releases since then wither in comparison, particularly Bar 17.

Bar 17 is an album that features an interesting mix of dozens of musicians including Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman, and John Medeski. Everyone knows that Trey is a talented guitar player and unheralded composer. Individually some of the songs he put together are remarkable especially when he mixes an orchestra with his acoustic guitar. But when you look at the album as a whole... it's schizophrenic. Bar 17 lacked cohesion and a central theme.

At least on Shine, Trey's album from last summer, we all understood the source of inspiration, energy, and emotions. Trey was crushed after Phish broke up and he hid in his studio aka The Barn and wrote a ton of music while he sobered up and watched his marriage evaporate and he allowed the last lingering memories of Phish to be blown away by the cool Vermont air.

While listening to Bar 17, I felt very lost and I think Trey is also confused. SuperDee said in best in her review of Bar 17 over at Jambase:
"More than anything else, this album confuses me. Does Trey want to be a composer of modern symphonies or musical theater? (This could be an intriguing direction.) Or perhaps he'd like to be a pop darling? (Sorry, my love, this doesn't seem likely.) Does he want to sing lullabies or does he want to be the bad-ass guitar rocker for which we are all yearning? With Bar 17, I just don't know."
On Bar 17 it seems like Trey is wearing too many hats. Perhaps he should have released three or four different albums with each focusing on a specific genre such as symphonies, popish tunes like Lou Reed or go hard-core rocking guitar via the Santana Highway.

Despite the clustered Bar 17, there are some good tracks such as a thunderous Mud City and a mellow Good-bye Head which Trey wrote with his daughter. She obviously didn't arrange the music that Phishkids twirl around and take ecstasy to, but she did write the lyrics and even got a liner credit in the album notes. Of course the biggest disappointment on Bar 17 was Dragonfly which sounded like a weak attempt at a Luna-esque or Velvet Underground Valium-induced version compared to what we saw and heard at the Super Jam. The Bonnaroo version of Dragonfly was 100% frenetic energy and that song nearly busted the roof off the tent we were in.

Trey knows his shit but this thick hearty soup of songs doesn't taste as good as his previous meals. OK, that was my quick review of Bar 17.

* * * * *

I met Bruce in front of Webster Hall an hour before Trey took the stage. Bruce was mingling with a few older Deadheads out front while I tried to recall the last band I saw at Webster Hall. In the 1990s I went there when it was mainly used as a dance club. In the last few years I've caught a few indie bands but no one as big as Trey and I never caught a band of the Phishy genre there.

After you go up 1.5 flight of stairs and pass no less than two bars on your way upstairs, you walk into a nice space much smaller than Irving Plaza. There's a balcony surrounding the stage which was for VIPs only. Bruce and I headed over to the far left of the stage where there was a raised section. We ended up hanging out there most of the show after one of the guys next to us said, "I was here last night in the same spot and the sound was awesome. You missed a great show. Trey's best in years."

Trey's not just a musician, he's a performer and salesman. He knows what the crowd wants. I'd say a good percentage of the fans at his solo shows are there out of respect for his talents. Some are there for his new stuff while others are there because they simply miss Phish and need any kind of fix. For hard core junkies, Trey Band is like methadone. And then there's 5-10% of the audience who's there because deep in their hearts they have this insane notion that Phish will get back together that night. We've been to enough Phish shows to know that the main reason we go to multiple shows is because you never know what might happen. So a crop of Phisheads religiously attend Trey shows on the off chance that Mike, Page, and Fish walk out on stage. They'd hate to skip the night that the band gets back together while they sit at home pulling bongs on their couch while they get a text from their friends at the show saying, "Holy fuck. Phish is playing Tweezer!"

10.9.06 Trey Anastasio Band, Webster Hall, New York, NY

Set I: 46 Days, If You're Walking, Spin, Heavy Things, What's Done, Mr. Completely, Bar 17*, Good-bye Head*, My Friend My Friend > Guyute **

Set II: Push On 'Til The Day, Sand, The Way I Feel, Mud City, Let Me Lie, First Tube

Encore: Divided Sky**, Dragonfly

* with orchestra
** Trey on acoustic guitar with orchestra
Trey opened up with a lukewarm 46 Days and threw all the Phisheads a bone with an average version. I watched the new drummer Jeff Sipe which wasn't hard because we were only about 10 people back from the front of the stage, just off to the left of Ray's keyboards.

"Dude, where's the cow bell bro?" Bruce asked.

I guess he missed Fishman's unique random usage of the distinct cowbell on 46 Days. Trey did some weird semi-gay "I'm gonna gaze into Tony Hall's eyes and try to have a sick bass-guitar duel." It was a little strange to see Trey smiling close next to another man but it looked like he was having fun. And the more fun that Trey has... the better he plays and the more fun we get to have.

They played a new track If You're Walking for what seemed like twenty minutes. I'm sure it was shorter and I used the time to smoke up and watch Sipe some more. The guy is good. Bruce and I saw him play drums with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Beacon Theatre almost a year earlier. My initial impression was that he was solid and consistent. He wouldn't make too many mistakes but I wondered how his improvisational skills would be. The problem with Trey's drummers in his solo projects were that they lacked one of Fishman's strengths... to be able to push a jam in specific direction when Trey is so far gone and out there. I've often compared Phish to a fire engine weaving 100 mph down a crowded street. Trey is out front speeding with his foot on the gas while Fishman is the dude in the back steering the rest of the truck and making sure they don't crash into anything. Although Skeeto Valdez had his moments and could play kick ass rock-n-roll bong rattling drums... he couldn't push or pull Trey out of those jams with the same consistency and confidence as Fishman did every night for over two decades. Shit, that's part of the reason the band was named after him.

I'm a fan of Spin. If you've ever been caught up in depressive funk agitated by drug use, then you can empathize with Trey's lyrics and his message about losing your shit. His version was average but since he doesn't play it too often, I was happy to get that special treat.

Trey threw the Phisheads another bone when he busted out Heavy Things which got the crowd even more excited. It was not as long as the fluffy Phishy versions but Christina and Jen on the vocals were delicious sounding especially the "Ooh ooh waaaaaa" parts along with Ray's magnificent keyboard playing.

Trey had been following a formula... play a old TAB tune or Phish song then play something new. That way he knew that the crowd wouldn't be restless for more than six or seven minutes at a time. What's Done is one of those songs that sounded better live in concert. I'd say that about all of Trey's tunes on Bar 17... they sounded better live which is not to say they were spectacular. I'm still getting used to them and it seems like the band is starting to mesh with the new material.

Mr. Completely was all Trey as he opened up his guts and unleashed hard-rocking guitar riffs as the entire room exploded with chaotic jubilation and the floor bounced up few inches as everyone in the crowd jumped up and down and danced their asses off. Bruce, who's a drummer, often relays cryptic musician speak to me during concerts. I often have no idea what he was talking about when he said, "Bro, Sipe is busting out the extra turbo rolls and fills on Mr. Completely."

Trey brought out an orchestra of six or so classical musicians to play a few songs including the title track off his new album Bar 17. They sat in the back of the stage behind a huge plexiglass sound guard. They looked like they sat in the penalty box at a hockey game. Anyway, at some point Bruce turned to me and said, "Those orchestra guys get to sit in and play for two minutes and now they're sitting there bored as shit waiting for Trey to finish up his ten minutes of noodling before they finish up the song."

Yeah, the orchestra added to the mix seemed awkward like a Saturday Night Live sketch that's funny the first five seconds and then for the next three minutes it's utter torture. The orchestra with Trey playing electric guitar is bad. But Trey playing acoustic guitar with the orchestra is good.

I'm indifferent about Good-bye Head. I've seen good versions and blah versions. I smoked up during Good-bye Head and I watched the group of high school aged Phishy chicks in front of us who were on some very good drugs. They kept dancing the entire set and all I kept thinking was although I get older, Phishy chicks stay the same age.

Bruce called Guyute but I could have swore I heard him tease My Friend My Friend to start before he busted in Guyute with the orchestra. Trey was onstage by himself with an acoustic guitar and just the orchestra. Trey ended his ninety minute first set with Guyute and took a half hour setbreak where I tried to get the score of the Denver-Baltimore game. It was tied 3-3 at the half and I had Denver.

Trey opened up the second set with an early TAB tune Push On 'Til The Day. I dig the song because Trey references to doing lines of blow in a Tokyo hotel room during Phish's trip to Japan in 2000.

With the crowd in high gear they didn't waste anytime before Trey slipped into Sand. Originally a TAB tune, it often gets mislabeled as a Phish song, although it appears on a Phish album Farmhouse and has been made insanely popular by Phish's sick versions. The lights went down as the song drfited into heavy funk riffs and Trey closed his eyes and imagined that he was playing with Phish again... kind of when you are having sex with someone and you are thinking about someone else... that's what I think is running through Trey's mind when he covers Phish tunes with his solo band.

The second half of Sand featured intense jamming between Tony Hall and Trey. But as I stated earlier, they repeated the same jam for over three minutes as Sipe held pace. With Fish at the helm, they would have evolved the jam or Fish would have pushed them in a different direction as the snaked their way into a better place to segue into a different tune.

I've see a few amazing versions of The Way I Feel and since Trey doesn't play it as frequently as other songs, I was happy to hear it. They didn't let up in the set and played one of my favorite cuts off of Bar 17 called Mud City. I caught a version of Mud City with Mike Gordon and the Duo at Bonnaroo and have been hooked every since.

Let Me Lie is one of those Trey lullabies. I hope he wrote that for one of his kids instead of trying to bed 19 year old Phishy chicks as Trey exposed his sensible side swooning the audience. I could sense the wetness in the crotches of all the Phishy chicks in the crowd. The background vocals with Christina and Jen add a nice harmony to Let me Lie and I wondered if Trey ever put his penis inside of Christina.

Trey closed the set with First Tube which started off choppy and bland but they boys picked up the slack and the crowd jumped around as the floor shook while the band built up the intense jam. It wasn't a clean version and nowhere near from perfect, but the packed audience loved every minute of it.

Trey brought the orchestra out for a version of Divided Sky. He played it on Sunday and dedicated it to his mother but decided to play it again. "Tonight, I'm dedicating this to you guys for making me feel so good."

It was a solid version and sounded great with the orchestra. It made me miss Phish though. I kept thinking about the encore at the 12.29.98 show when Phish played Divided Sky at Madison Square Garden to end their second of four shows. Talk about an epic run that happened almost 8 years ago.

Trey didn't pussy out with a lame version of Dragonfly. Instead it was a funkified rocking version like he played with GRAB this past summer. The lyrics are lame but the progressive jamming is intense and Trey shines on.

I've seen Trey play a solo show around 50 times and Webster Hall was a better than average show. I'm still ambivalent about the new stuff off of Bar 17 but Trey is doing the right thing and mixing it in with old material and classic Phish songs, that way everyone gets something that they want at his shows.

I don't care if Phish ever gets back together and I actually hope they don't. But Trey needs to stick with the same lineup for a few years and build a band around him instead of having revolving musicians come in and out. It seems like they have to relearn all the songs everythime a new member is introduced and that kills precious studio time with them getting used to playing with each other.

I'd sure like to see Trey in Boulder, Co on the 23rd but I'll be in LA and eventually making my way to Las Vegas... that's where I'll see Trey next.

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