The atmosphere was a festive one as the Trey Anastasio Band made their return to Boston a few weeks back. Not only the de facto weekend of a Halloween Wednesday‚ reports were strong from other markets along the Midwest and East Coast that the band was cooking in support of their front man's most recent studio effort‚ Traveler. As it turns out‚ word was spot on.
Kickstarting things with a fierce "Money‚ Love‚ and Change‚" it was immediate that Boston was in for a treat. While the song found room to explore it never meandered‚ with leader Anastasio flashing his dexterity as keyboardist Ray Paczkowski found some nice spots to ornament on the Rhodes. After a ripping solo‚ the horns emerged to build with Anastasio towards a fluid finish.
"Sweet Dreams Melinda" followed‚ slowing the pace on the one hand but allowing the crowd to ease gently into things after the onslaught from the start. Anastasio has a penchant for striking a seasonal mood‚ and singing "When summer days are through" was another reminder. "Melinda" also began a trend of the show of balancing stalwart with sensitive‚ and never relying too much on either.
After a standard run through "Çaymen Review" highlighted by a snazzy solo from trumpeter Jen Hartswick‚ things really found a groove with the punch of "Burlap‚ Sack‚ and Pumps." Steadied atop the fuzzy‚ thick rhythm section of bassist Tony Markellis‚ drummer Russ Lawton and percussionist extraordinaire Cyro Baptista‚ the horn section stepped forth in a big way. The newest member of the band‚ Lettuce's James Casey‚ was given room to display his talents on the sax‚ and he absolutely teed off. There was some timely input from Anastasio and Paczkowski with loops and glitches‚ but it was Casey's song‚ full of energy and funk.
Things slowed for "Let Me Lie‚" which featured some pleasant harmonics between Anastasio‚ Hartswick‚ and trombonist Natalie Cressman. The real surprise was in an inspiring guitar outro not present on any of the album versions‚ raised up in the beauty in the simplicity of its repetition‚ helping to welcome it as an old friend.
"Scabbard" and "Frost" followed‚ the former featuring Anastasio on an acoustic and feeling slightly more organic than on record without sacrificing its atmospheric triumph‚ the latter again offering the seasonal affect‚ as Casey took over on a mini-key kit to enhance Paczkowski's spacey‚ distant sound underneath an expansive guitar solo.
The highlight of set one‚ unquestionably‚ was the set closing "Push on Til the Day‚" which continues to have that anthemic "it" factor going for it. This one saw the horns build into a wild salsa party and peaked with Trey spinning in circles at the front of the stage.
Set two opened with the nifty "Corona‚" a song which never quite peaks but offers enough forward motion to stand as a fitting start to the comeback. Another Traveler tune‚ "Valentine‚" appeared early‚ which featured playful contributions from the horns atop not overpowering guitar work from Anastasio. As on record‚ Hartswick and Cressman scatted the brass outro‚ giving it a much more unique and soulful feel in the live setting.
The second half was also packed with groove favorites: a slithery "Jiboo" featuring some sinister synthesizer work from Paczkoswki‚ a swinging "Pigtail‚" brass intercourse in "Magilla‚" and of course‚ the dark and dancey world of "Sand."
The highlight of the night came in surprising form: the newer "Architect‚" which took its time to form in the ambiance of birds chirping‚ gentle chord strumming‚ and the freehand jazz of Paczkowski. It added up to an intimate exploration of texture and space -- and found a place for its mainframe before building into moog psychadelia -- far‚ far away from its recorded version.
And that was the real trick on this night. There was never a rush to get into or out of the middle of a particular tune. The whole night‚ in fact‚ was very different from the sometimes self-imposed stress of a Phish show. If that band is one of brotherhood‚ the Trey Anastasio Band feels more like Will Hunting's "MarkyRickyDanny…." band of orphans: ragtag‚ bruised‚ and battered‚ but never afraid to muck it up in the pocket‚ and always‚ it seems‚ having a blast.
The vibe in the crowd felt the same. Hypersensitive analyzing and bustout hopes were the anti-mindset; without it‚ the whole thing felt relaxed and jovial. Even Anastasio took a moment to acknowledge the energy prior to walking offstage. It was just one of those nights.
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