Trey Anastasio Band at First Avenue, 2/4/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Tony Nelson

Trey Anastasio Band
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Trey Anastasio last performed on the First Avenue stage 21 years ago. The Phish frontman returned with a six-piece backing band to make up for his long absence with a three-hour, two-set performance on Tuesday night. The sold-out club was packed full of dedicated fans who received a generous set featuring a well-paced mix of solo songs, Phish staples, and surprising covers.

See Also: Slideshow: Trey Anastasio Band at First Avenue, 2/4/14

Against a colorful backdrop of tranquil blue waves crashing, the group took quickly to the stage and got the night going with "Cayman Review," which had a jazzy, New Orleans vibe to it due to the stellar three-piece horn section composed of Natalie Cressman (trombone/keys), Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet), and James Casey (sax). Their vibrant additions consistently gave the songs a stylish edge, while also boldly setting the material apart from the distinctive jam band sound of Phish. "Gotta Jibboo" kept the strong start going, with Trey's nonsensical lyrics serving as mere placeholders that eventually gave way to an expansive guitar solo atop the track's funky beat generated by drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis.

Any three-hour performance is going to have highs and lows, especially when you're dealing with music that is so unrestrained and improvisational. The slower material seemed that much more tepid when compared to the tracks that truly caught fire, so melancholy songs like "Gone," "Valentine," and "Pulsing Days" paled in comparison to the ripping, horn-laden instrumental "Magilla" and a scorching, guitar-driven take on "Dark and Down," which Trey simply owned as the horn trio ceded the stage to the band leader's wildly expressive solo.

Photos By Tony Nelson

After thanking the vocal, supportive crowd, Trey remarked how the last time he played First Avenue was in 1992. "That's crazy," Anastasio remarked wistfully. "Are Trip Shakespeare still playing? Tell them I said 'Hi,' and I still can't get that one song out of my head -- 'He played guitar like a natural disaster.'" (I'm not sure how many people in the crowd recognized the affectionate reference to Trip Shakespeare's "Toolmaster of Brainerd.")

The salsa-flavored instrumental "Mozambique" kept things lively, while the upstairs of the club got down to the funk-fueled jam "Money Love and Change." Keyboardist Ray Paczkowski ignited a strong version of "Pigtail" that flowed well into a smooth, soulful rendition of "Night Speaks to a Woman." The first set then came to a rousing finish as Trey donned an acoustic guitar and Cressman took over vocals in Spanish for the Latin-fueled pulse of "1977."

The group built on that energy during "Push On 'Til the Day," which featured a blazing guitar solo from Trey, who was clearly lost in the spirit of the song. He spun around wildly in time to the track's vibrant rhythms while being perfectly framed by the series of spotlights that were rightfully shining on him as he took the song to the stratosphere. He was still feeling the flow as the band left the stage as the first set ended, bouncing excitedly like a child on Christmas morning.

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