Uncle Trey’s Sing-Along
For the second year in a row, Trey Anastasio and his solo band came to Chicago’s Riviera Theatre. It is a great, old venue on the North side of the city. It definitely could use a new coat of paint or two, but I’ve been saying that since I saw my first show there in 1998, so I don’t expect it to happen any time soon. Unlike last year when the entire band played for both sets, Trey played acoustic for the first half (more or less) and played electric for the second set. As much as I love listening to Trey play, I hate to say it but the acoustic set is kind of a novelty. It’s almost exclusively Phish songs redone for the acoustic guitar and after the first couple of songs, it starts to feel repetitive. Of course everyone in the audience is a true believer and it became more of a sing along than anything else. Fun to be sure, but not exactly the makings of a memorable night. It’s also interesting to see the “graying” of the Phish community. To be sure there were plenty of twenty-somethings throughout the crowd, but judging by the receding hairlines (present company included) Phish/Trey is managing to hold on to their audience as the years go by, definitely makes me feel like I’m among friends. The highlight for me was one of my personal favorites, “Dirt.” I know to some folks it’s a set killer, but ever since I first heard it in 1997 I’ve loved it. A new song followed and a new favorite of mine, “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan.” I think the appeal is the introspective nature of the songs, with really strong, but simple hooks. They both work really well on acoustic as well. Otherwise, the set was ok. Sure, “Backwards down the Number Line” was fun with the crowd filling in the Page part and the cover of “Hey Ya!” was a hoot in a goofing off kind of way, but if you take the acoustic set from any of the shows this tour, my guess is they will generally be the same, give or take a few highlights from the various shows.
The electric set definitely goes in a different direction, but Classic TAB is much more confined than Phish. Partly because playing with horns by necessity requires a little more direction. Trey likes to show off his arrangement powers with the horns and TAB and the covers really play that out. Listening to “Clint Eastwood,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “Sultans of Swing” along with the other covers by the band are very reminiscent of Zappa and the virtuosity he demonstrated with his bands, especially the 1988 ensemble. Anyway, arranging a country song for horns doesn’t leave a lot of room from exploration and improvisation, something to see and appreciate to be sure. Being Trey, though, some good old jamming did take place, especially during “Gotta Jibboo” and “Night Speaks to a Woman.” A very pleasant surprise was “Ocelot” with horns. I pretty much didn’t like this song when Phish played it in 2010 but with the fuller sound it really came through strong. I’d imagine for most of a Phish show backup singers would be bored out of their minds, but for a song like “Ocelot” they really bring something special to the performance.
Overall, the TAB show in Chicago was a good time, kind of like meeting an old friend from college, reminiscing to some old songs from back in the day and just enjoying one another’s company. It may not be the exploration and improvisation of a Phish show, but like that reunion with an old friend a welcome change of pace that I can always use.