It's hard to believe it's been fifteen years since Trey started his solo band endeavors, and even harder to believe that he still hasn't busted out "Row Jimmy" since that first gig back in Burlington. Fortunately though, his non-Phish catalog has grown immensely in all that time, and subsequent shows' setlists can vary greatly from one night to another. Compared to a tour like the summer of 2001 when the biggest variance you got was whether "Gotta Jiboo" would open the 1st or 2nd set, recent T.A.B. gigs can be pleasantly unexpected.
Despite it also being fifteen years since Phish has played Portland, the density of the Phish-fan population is quite hearty in the PDX. And as is often the case in such high-profile gigs, the majority of the first set was drowned out by audience conversation. Yet even when the murmurs would settle, it still seemed like the house-mix wasn't quite right. The vocals were incredibly distant, and overall there just didn't appear to be enough power coming off the stage. This made for the early set appearance of "Burlap Sack and Pumps" to come off as a far more timid affair then the song is usually credited with. The same goes for "Cayman Review" and "Alive Again" -- neither seemed to hold the groove party strength that should have been there. The mid-set "Magilla" was more aptly suited for the sound of the room at the moment though, and from that point on the flow of both the band and the crowd seemed to be in a more cohesive lock. A few of the newer tunes casually flowed out after that, and led up to a chunky set-closing "Night Speaks to a Woman" that left everyone in the room much more enthusiastically prepped for the 2nd set.
When "Money, Love, and Change" kicked off the 2nd set, it felt like an entirely different gig altogether. Perhaps it was in part due to the settling of the crowd, but the sound finally got dialed in. The raucous power of this song is wholeheartedly different from the casual groove it used to embody, and it served as the ideal launch-pad for the set to erupt from. "Pigtail," easily the strongest tune of Trey's latest release kept the strength rolling and I laughed to myself thinking of how comparatively weak it sounded when Phish gave it a shot in Worcester 3 years ago. Sadly the crowd murmurs picked up to full strength again as the band ran through a handful of the newer tunes, but Trey seemed to have accepted it by this point and chugged through them with an undaunted confidence. "Plasma" was well received by all, but it wasn't until the show-closing "Push On Til' The Day" that it felt like the whole room was finally consumed by the music. The non-stop growth of this jam is one that can't be denied in any context, but it seemed extra eruptive on this evening. The horn section was in a crisp lock throughout it, and despite my desire to see Dave Grippo welcomed back to the T.A.B. stage, I couldn't deny that the 3-piece section of Jen Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, and James Casey is actually the tightest horn lineup to ever play with this band.
All sound-issues aside, there's no question that the "Black Dog" encore was easily the highlight of the night. JHa crushed the lead vocals in a way that Robert Plant could nary touch these days, and Big Red absolutely destroyed the guitar solo. It was one of the moments that makes a part of you wish that Trey would play nothing but Led Zeppelin covers, but guilty dreams are just guilty dreams. Overall, it seemed as though the Crystal Ballroom was just too small of a venue for T.A.B. to play in Portland, and it drew out the elitist mentality of the crowd that wouldn't have been so omnipresent in a larger room. Trey didn't say one word between songs all night, not even to introduce a band member, and it felt like that was because he knew nobody would have heard anyway. It's such an odd feature of the man's music that he can make people enjoy it so much that they feel obligated to not pay attention, but those are the breaks of guitar-god fandom I suppose. It's too bad, because a large portion of the folks there missed an incredibly solid rock and roll concert while they spent all night talking about why Trey's other band never comes to town anymore.