Trey’s finale marked by fire-breathing guitar
ASPEN – Trey Anastasio made a sharp turn on last year’s “Shine,” his first solo album since the 2004 break-up of Phish, the band he’d led for most of two decades. “Shine” was a tight, pop-rock production, oriented toward songs and lyrical statements, prompting the question: would Anastasio’s Jazz Aspen Snowmass debut be a jam-free event?Early on in Anastasio’s Sunday night set, to close Jazz Aspen’s June Festival, it appeared the show might be short on the lengthy guitar excursions Anastasio became known for in Phish. Devoting plenty of attention to the “Shine” material, the first half of the show was relatively tame, with only flashes of exploration in “Sand,” from the Phish catalogue, and “Night Speaks to a Woman,” from Anastasio’s earlier solo debut.But Anastasio is not the sort to allow the guitar solo to be removed from his repertoire, and certainly he isn’t about to be the one doing the removing. The last hour of his show, spanning just three songs, showed that Anastasio has not gone down the singer-songwriter, or the pop star route. The final sequence was marked by fire-breathing guitar, and not of the sort that has given jam bands the reputation for languid, unfocused soloing. On a new song (perhaps titled “Mud City,” as it is called on the website phantasytour.com), and a pair of encores – “Gotta Jibboo” and “First Tube,” both from Phish’s 2000 album, “Farmhouse” Anastasio let loose his rock-guitar god, using bassist Tony Weber as his sparring partner. The rapturous audience response tickled the heads of Jazz Aspen, who had previously limited such rock acts to its outdoor Labor Day Festival.
It’s hard to say where Anastasio is at the moment – other than an apparently joyous musician, who smiled throughout the show, hugged his bandmates at the close, and jammed with local band Seventh Hour at Club Chelsea afterwards, to the delight of some 50 fans. The concert featured a bigger handful of Phish songs – including the crowd-pleasing “Waste,” part of a three-song acoustic segment – than he has been playing. The “Shine” material didn’t produce any of the evening’s most memorable moments. It may be that Anastasio, with his prolific and fast-moving creative mind, is already beyond his recorded output. Two of the highlights were songs that have not been released; presumably that will be included on “Bar 17,” the Anastasio album slated for release later this summer.Not too far removed from Anastasio was Elvis Costello, who made his local debut Saturday night on the Jazz Aspen stage. Costello has become accustomed to making leaps in style over the last decade-plus, and the show saw various of those past threads surface.Costello opened with one of his biggest hits, his version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding,” and followed with the little-known but excellent “Monkey to Man,” from his country-leaning 2004 album, “The Delivery Man.” When he brought guest pianist Allen Toussaint to the stage, the show took a predictable turn toward songs from “The River in Reverse,” the New Orleans-themed CD the two recently collaborated on.
The reaction to the unfamiliar music, though, was perhaps unexpected. Beginning with the new “Broken Promise Land,” a sharp criticism of the official handling of Hurricane Katrina (and preceded by even sharper words from Costello), the crowd embraced both the message and the R&B-ish sound. A pair of older Toussaint songs, “Tears, Tears, and More Tears” and “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?” worked thematically and musically. The “River in Reverse” songs got as much reaction as all the Costello hits (“Watching the Detectives,” “Clubland”), save for “Alison,” his first and still biggest hit.Like Anastasio, Costello praised the audience, thanking them with a generous encore that included Toussaint working out New Orleans classics like “Big Chief” on piano. A further treat would have been letting the Crescent City Horns off their leash. Only trombonist Sam Williams got any solos, and both sent the tent into a frenzy.
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado