On the afternoon of the Classic TAB show at Higher Ground‚ I was hit with a wave of emails and text messages about how incredible the performance was in Albany the night before. "He's back!" one read‚ while another said‚ "I counted - he only missed 4 notes all night. He was so on!" jokingly referring to some of his latter-day sloppy performances.
That type excitement and energy about seeing Trey perform feels like home. That's how people react when he's on his game. And there's no denying that this old band has the chemistry to ignite that same feeling: Ray Paczkowski on keys‚ Russ Lawton on drums and Tony Markellis on bass. Yes‚ this band feels like home.
The excitement in the room was already there before the band hit the stage. The audience was ready to go there; you could just feel it. A few minutes into the opener‚ "Gotta Jibboo‚" they settled into the groove‚ thick and familiar‚ and it was clear the band was riding the wave too. Trey built the solo‚ eyes looking distant like he's focused on the person all the way in the back of the room. His playing became increasingly tasty‚ interesting and‚ of course‚ climactic. He started mouthing notes and the room swayed without any doubt. The song‚ the man‚ the band‚ yes‚ they're all "classic."
And with Phish announcing they're playing again‚ it's in the air to go back to what you know best‚ and what works. Hence‚ Classic TAB. I don't think it's a cop-out in any way. That was displayed brilliantly by this band all night -- they found new pockets in the improvisation‚ moments of spontaneity that were fresh and unique. And it's clear by the way they play together that this band is on another level‚ more so than any of the other incarnations of Trey's solo bands since Phish stopped in 2004.
"Push On 'Til the Day" was magical. It was one spiraling upward crescendo after another‚ a jam that peaked‚ and then peaked and then peaked again. The place was rocking‚ with people jumping up and down‚ not giving a shit if they spilled their drinks. Ray was first with the keys‚ fiery as hell‚ and then Trey picked it up. I joked with my friends: "That was like having multiple ejaculations." That's one signature of Trey's guitar playing that no one does quite the same. With a big grin on his face‚ he was having a blast watching his work slowly build the crowd into a frenzy‚ and when they were completely losing it‚ he took them deeper.
The show was absolutely fantastic. But once the afterglow wore off I realized that the best parts -- "Gotta Jibboo‚" "First Tube‚" "Last Tube‚" "Sand‚" "Push On 'Til the Day‚" "Money‚ Love and Change‚" "Burlap Sacks and Pumps‚" and "Alive Again." -- were all written more than five years ago. And sadly‚ nothing that was performed this evening from Trey's recent batch of songs -- "Peggy‚" "Dark and Down" "A Case of Ice and Snow‚" "Dragonfly" -- has anywhere near the infectious glue‚ hooks and quirkiness of the aforementioned songs. They simply don't do much. The psychedelic‚ trance-y blues jam that came out of "Dark and Down" was amazing‚ but I don't remember the song much.
No doubt‚ the old material is there -- Classic TAB or Phish -- to make great performances‚ and especially to serve as a springboard to make some of the most interesting improvisational music out there. And the improvisational spirit will always be there. There's no faking chemistry. But you have to write good fucking songs. Songs that I can play for someone who's never heard Trey or Phish and they will say‚ "Wow… this is interesting." Just like when I was 16 or 17 and I heard "You Enjoy Myself‚" "Divided Sky‚" "Guelah Papyrus‚" "Reba" and "Down with Disease" for the first time and thought‚ "Tell me more! This is interesting." The melodies were unforgettable and the songs had an identity -- quirky‚ psychedelic and original. Seeing Trey perform‚ I took away that amazing feeling: there are very few live performances out there that I'd rather be at and that are as invigorating. But I'd hate to have to explain to everyone else in the outside world sheepishly about the new songs‚ "Umm… wait for the jam."