Trey Anastasio has adopted a very methodical approach to the resumption of regular public performances this summer of 2008. Two solo acoustic festival performances‚ at Rothbury and Newport‚ gave way to his first show with a quartet in Brooklyn‚ something of an off-Broadway precursor to the classic TAB appearance at the decidedly more high-profile gig at All Points West on August 10th.
If the second set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is any indication‚ the guitarist/composer is taking just the right approach as he plays a mix of familiar and newly composed material with musicians he knows and trusts. The downside‚ if you want to call it that‚ may be that innovation is at a minimum‚ but there's every indication that -- at least based on the emotion within the man and his music this Thursday night - a higher level of inspiration is inevitable.
Sharing the stage with the rhythm section Anastasio worked with when first going solo in 1999 -- drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis‚ plus regular comrade keyboardist Ray Pazckowski -- the familiarity lent itself to a positive sense of comfort. The bass and drums were always right where they needed to be (indomitably so as the second set moved along)‚ so there was no sense of Trey being distracted from his own playing and singing.
Whether it was something new like "Greyhound Rising" or a solo staple such as "Drifting‚" Anastasio radiated a deep sense of engagement but more importantly‚ a palpable air of rediscovery: as he sang the lyrics of tunes like "Spin‚" the words seemed to hit home with him and equally so to 500-plus in close quarters around him. There's clearly a difference between a musician freely enjoying himself onstage and one working to have a good time onstage.
It was definitely the former at this tiny music hall‚ but never more so than during later stages of the evening. His guitar playing scalded during the recently composed atmospherics of "Valentine‚" and‚ perhaps not surprisingly‚ he attained an even more emotionally laden tone on his instrument on the regular set-closer "First Tube." Not surprisingly‚ the guitar playing approached transcendent levels with waves of Paczkowski's Hammond organ surging beneath. If Trey's (re)learning anything these days of classic TAB‚ it's that the greatest pleasure he derives from his music is sharing it with the band and‚ in turn‚ with the audience.
The ultimate extension of that reciprocal may or may not be the Phish reunion ever more constantly in debate these days‚ but if that indeed happens‚ it will be‚ as this late summer show suggests‚ all in good time. When and if that moment comes‚ it'll no doubt contain more than a little of the natural relish Anastasio and Co. displayed within these cozy confines in New York City.