Contrary to what some might think, though Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) does indulge with a few select Phish tunes, its performance is not simply a mini-version of a Phish show. TAB has a decidedly different vibe, complete with a stellar horn section doubling as dynamic backing vocalists. Where Phish can venture into more heavily "experimental" jam territory (at times bordering on just plain weird), TAB tends to be more straightforward and melodic. Anastasio still provides his signature soaring guitar solos, but keeps them more within the confines of average-length songs.
The band is super-tight, with particularly standout performances by its two female members, trombonist/vocalist Natalie Cressman and trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick, as well as saxophonist/vocalist James Casey, original members Russ Lawton (drums) and Tony Markellis (bass), longtime collaborator Ray Paczkowski on keyboards and percussionist Cyro Baptista.
Kicking off the evening with the sweet, keyboard-driven "Drifting" from Anastasio's first self-titled solo effort, the band began warming up fans for a nearly three-hour sonic adventure. Two more tunes from that album, groovy "Cayman Review" and "Money, Love and Change" put Hartswick in the spotlight with outstanding trumpet solos and vocal opportunities. Though all three members of the horn section sing, hers is the voice that clearly stands out.
Appropriate for February and a highlight of the first set was "Valentine," a fun and infectious tune from Anastasio's most recent solo album, 2012's "Traveler." He was all-smiles during this song, his stage presence something akin to a sweet, goofy puppy-dog -- eager to please and grinning with sheer delight when he does.
In a black hoodie, t-shirt and jeans with his shaggy mop of red hair, Anastasio looks more like an overgrown teenager than a nearly-50-year-old rock veteran and Tony-nominated Broadway composer. Though not everyone may love his voice, it would be pretty impossible to argue the merits of his guitar skills. He is quite simply one of the best guitarists to ever play the instrument. With the perfect combination of technical genius and boyish exuberance, Anastasio moves seamlessly from soft, lilting, transcendent notes to all-out face-melting solos.
Closing out the first set with Phish instrumental "First Tube," Anastasio's face contorted, eyes closed as he transported himself and the audience to another dimension -- ending with his guitar held high above his head in the air like a lightning rod.
The energy in the room, and particularly on the dance floor, swelled to a new level during the second set during TAB classics like "Alive Again" and soulful "Night Speaks to a Woman," as well as Phish favorites "Gotta Jibboo" and "Sand." Hartswick got another chance to shine on the cover of Gorillaz tune "Clint Eastwood," taking the vocal lead to cheers and roars from the crowd.
Anyone who is able to listen to TAB perform and not be compelled to dance has a serious problem. Fortunately, the majority of the audience was in agreement, shaking and grooving non-stop all the way through the set-ending notes of "Push on Til' the Day," Anastasio himself jumping up and down like an enthusiastic toddler.
Clearly electrified by the response he elicited, Anastasio graciously bowed, waved, grinned and humbly thanked fans before briefly exiting the stage, only to quickly return for a two-song encore including upbeat "Tuesday" followed by TAB's fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog, Hartswick once again showing her astounding vocal range.
Crappy January weather be damned, Trey Anastasio Band's triumphant return to the Pageant was an event that hardcore fans knew they simply couldn't afford to miss. With Phish playing the majority of its shows each year in large arenas or outdoor amphitheaters, seeing a musician of Anastasio's caliber do his thing in a more intimate club setting is a rare opportunity and one that absolutely didn't disappoint.
Money, Love and Change
Burlap Sack and Pumps
Dark and Down
Simple Twist Up Dave
The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band cover)
Night Speaks to a Woman
Clint Eastwood (Gorillaz cover)
Push on Til' the Day
Black Dog (Led Zeppelin cover)