It’s been quite a ride for Trey Anastasio since July 2008, when the Phish frontman resurrected the Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) at a show in Brooklyn. Though his self-titled side project never really went away, Anastasio and his band reemerged live that night to debut a handful of stripped-down and unassuming songs — including “Light” — that would eventually become a staple of Phish’s expansive, jam-heavy repertoire. Of course, Phish was on hiatus at the time, but the crowd gathered at Music Hall of Williamsburg that night seemed to feel that the band’s reunion was inevitable.
Nineteen months and over 50 Phish concerts later, Anastasio brought his TAB unit — plus a familiar horn section — to New York City’s Terminal 5 on Feb. 16, for an evening that celebrated the past and a promising future.
Unlike Phish, where Anastasio’s leadership role goes unspoken, there’s no question that he is the ringmaster of TAB. While this allows him a certain freedom to plume his feathers as his supporting cast recedes into the background, he also revels in the glow of his carefully crafted ensemble. During each of the band members’ solos and audience-energizing crescendos, Anastasio jumped and clapped along like a proud big brother.
The original TAB rhythm section — drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis — were a fiery steam engine, playing the groove-laden catalog with direction and purpose. Songs like “Push On ‘Til the Day,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Sand,” and the first officially penned TAB original, “First Tube,” all generated their magnitude from the sedentary foundation that these two provided throughout the night.
Keyboardist Ray Paczkowski added complimentary fills to Anastasio’s feverous play, all rounded out by the brass section of Russell Remington (tenor sax, flute), newcomer Natalie Cressman (trombone) and the essential Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet), who not-so-subtly stole the show with her charismatic stage presence and soulful vocals. “Night Speaks to a Woman” would have basically been incomplete without her commanding voice, while “Ether Sunday” revolved around her compelling trumpet solo, and her unique lead on Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” put other artist tributes to shame.
Still, was Anastasio whom the audience had come to see. If there was a literal centerpiece to the evening, it was the solo acoustic numbers that closed the nearly two-hour first set — here, Anastasio offered the club crowd an intimate performance of some of Phish’s largest arena rockers. “Sample in a Jar,” “Chalkdust Torture” and “Wilson” all became audience sing-a-longs, a collective breath of fresh air in the wake of a jagged decade of being a Phish fan.
And yet, these informal raucous renditions were only outdone by the rarely performed “Strange Design.” Anastasio introduced the song by telling the audience that it was originally written in the weeks leading up to his oldest daughters birth, and as he was coming to terms with a crucial next step in his life. It was a fitting a parallel to this latest stage in his career. He is, after all, in the midst of a comeback — a rarely allowed third try at this — and on the past nineteen months, he’s more than succeeding.
Here is Trey Anastasio’s setlist:
“Push On ‘Til the Day”
“All That Almost Was”
“Night Speaks to a Woman”
“Brian and Robert”*
“Sample in a Jar”*
“Show of Life”
“Sultans of Swing”
*performed solo acoustic