The Phish frontman and band delivered an audience-pleasing musical barrage for a near-capacity crowd at 20 Monroe Live on Wednesday. Read the review, browse the photo gallery, check out the set list.
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For those that didn’t already know it, and most in attendance at 20 Monroe Live on Wednesday night already did, Trey Anastasio is a rock star.
The Trey Anastasio Trio took the stage in Grand Rapids in front of a nearly sold-out crowd, playing the second show of an 11-date tour through the Midwest, South and East. The band, which aside from the Phish frontman also features bassist Tony Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton, was a throwback to the Anastasio offshoot that came together in 1998.
Discounting the tour opener in Cleveland, the three were playing together without additional support for the first time since 1999, when they appeared together as “8 Foot Florescent Tubes.” After opening the show with a smoking “Blaze On,” the trio delved into the upbeat “Party Time,” a song that Anastasio joked beforehand was a “cover” written by his “all-time favorite songwriter” who had written two of his favorite tunes.
What fans got was an upbeat tune written by Phish drummer Jon Fishman that has been in semi-regular rotation since 2009. The jam then led into a driving “Undermind” and a blistering and bouncy “Gotta Jibboo,” the latter of which had been co-written by Anastasio, Markellis and Lawton and debuted by the three in February 1999.
Per usual, a few glow sticks took to the air and the first set continued on a high note with the Phish staple “Back on the Train” and a rousing “Alaska,” a song that had been debuted by Trey during a solo performance at Rothbury in 2008. The first set then closed out with “Soul Planet” and “Sand.”
The tour had originally been booked as a Trey Anastasio Band tour, featuring, in addition to the trio, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, a horn section and backing vocalists, but it was announced in mid-March that Paczkowski had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and would have to undergo surgery prompting the lineup change. Anastasio sent Paczkowski some love during the second set, letting the crowd know that he was in their thoughts and recovering well.
INSPIRING HIGHLIGHTS IN BOTH SETS
And while the band missed Paczkowski’s presence, the specialness that was the trio took over and his missing keys were emulated throughout the night by the pure wizardry and mastery of Anastasio’s guitar playing as well as the interplay between Trey and Markellis, the latter of whom made his bass speak like Peter Frampton’s guitar at one point.
Those that surmised the trio performance would be a stripped-down, intimate acoustic show got their moment at the end, but were quickly reminded early on that Phish itself is a four-piece with one of the fullest, tightest sounds on the scene, and the sound that filled 20 Monroe last night was nothing short of tight.
Where many bands take a jam to a certain place and then routinely rely on vocal anthem calls, Anastasio keeps phans on their toes, constantly twisting up jams to new and different places. It’s not that his vocals aren’t strong enough to carry a tune either (quite the opposite) it’s his guitar work — sometimes Jimmy Page (there were hints of Zeppelin on the night), sometimes Jimi Hendrix, and sometimes simply Trey — that carries his songs to a magical place time and again.
The second set had many magical moments, too, from an opening “Corona” to TAB classic “The Way that I Feel” to the rollicking “Stealing Time from a Faulty Plan.”
As a personal note, I’ve been seeing Trey since ’94 and have enjoyed him in many different configurations, having enjoyed solo shows in front of tens of thousands to TAB shows at mid-sized venues to full-band performances at venues as small as the Michigan State University Auditorium back in the day to 11 shows at the 26,000-capacity Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. Every time I see him, regardless of who he is with or what size the venue is, it’s easy to understand why people follow him all over.
Catching him in the intimate setting of 20 Monroe was a pure treat. And following second-set songs that included the old TAB cut, “Mr. Completely,” the existential “Bug” and a well-placed “Set Your Soul Free” the trio turned the dance floor into exactly that with a set-closing “Ghost” and “Julius.”
That’s when things got even more special, as for the second straight night, Anastasio took the stage to kick off a four-song encore, just he and his acoustic.
Vulnerable and humble, Trey delivered on a delicate “Brian and Robert” and timely “More” before bringing back out Markellis and Lawton to close things out with an emotional “Show of Life” and crowd-pleasing “First Tube.” I’m already looking forward to the next time I get to catch him and stoked for all my friends that will catch him sooner than that.
PHOTO GALLERY: Trey Anastasio Trio at 20 Monroe Live
Photos by Anthony Norkus and Anna Sink
SET LIST: Trey Anastasio at 20 Monroe Live
Set List courtesy of Phish.Net
Party Time Undermind
Back on the Train
Corona > The Way I Feel
Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan > Mr. Completely > Bug, Set Your Soul Free
Brian and Robert More Show of Life
 Trey solo acoustic
Note: This show featured the TAB debut of Party Time. Heartbreaker was teased in Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan. Brian and Robert and More were performed by Trey solo acoustic.
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC