Trey Anastasio unveiled his new band Friday night in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. During the two-set, low-profile gig (and benefit for local environmental group Vermont Land Trust) at the Higher Ground, the former Phish frontman and Co. treated fans to seven new songs and new takes on old favorites.
Anastasio, who has taken to delivering monologues on recent tours, was tight-lipped on this night, saying only, "We are so excited to be here . . . thank you," from the stage. The new backing band -- guitarist/keyboardist Les Hall, bassist Peter Chwazik, drummer Skeeto Valdez, and lone Trey Anastasio Band holdover keyboardist Ray Paczkowski -- stands in sharp contrast to the last incarnation of Anastasio's non-Phish touring groups: a ten-piece outfit including a horn section.
Opening with a crunch-heavy reading of "Night Speaks to a Woman" (from Anastasio's 2002 self-titled solo album), the new cast put their mark on familiar material. A slowed-down "Push On 'Til the Day" featured a swing-feel to chorus, and "It's Ice" -- one of the few Phish songs sung by pianist Page McConnell -- elicited roars, and a few gasps, as Anastasio tackled the lead vocals.
Aside from the acoustic-guitar based "Love Is Freedom" -- a live take of which has been circulating on the Internet -- the new songs were unfamiliar to the faithful. Rockers included "Come As Melody," "What's Done" and "Low," which was elastic enough to allow the band to find a groove before it came crashing into a booming chorus. "Bar 17" began with Anastasio on an acoustic, before he picked up his trusty electric as the band galloped along.
The band took on the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," with Anastasio's distorted vocal and screaming guitar lines complementing Hall's spot-on electronic rendition of the tune's string arrangements. They closed with another Phish tune, "46 Days," with Phish bassist Mike Gordon looking on approvingly from the crowd.
Trey Anastasio and his band will launch a spring tour April 26th in Richmond, Virginia.