Trey Anastasio Band – The Capitol Theatre – January 23, 2013
Just a little more than 20 years ago, Trey Anastasio led Phish through two sold-out shows at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. That weekend was equal parts present talent and future potential. And two decades of nearly constant playing later, potential fulfilled and then some, Anastasio returned to the historic, restored venue—the same, but different: better—for another two sold-out nights, with a second, completely different band also well on their way to maximizing their possibilities. Last night’s show opened with “Cayman Review,” setting an upbeat, major-key celebratory mood. Anastasio isn’t the lead guitarist in this group, he’s the bandleader, modeling himself, the band (percussion and a horn section that doubled as backup singers along with the traditional guitar, bass, drums, keyboards) and the music after other big bands of yore: shades of Tito Puente on the Latin-tinged opener; classic big jazz band for “Magilla”; James Brown’s heyday group in “Push On ’Til the Day”; and even notes of full orchestral music on the prog-rock “Scabbard” and “Goodbye Head,” both of which showed the prowess of an ensemble that’s grown along with Anastasio’s solo career.
Throughout two full sets, the band had plenty of opportunities to show off their wares, and like a good bandleader, Anastasio was generous with the spotlight: James Casey added a perfect dollop of flute to “Heavy Things”; Jennifer Hartswick nailed the vocals to the Gorillaz cover “Clint Eastwood”; Natalie Cressman rocked the Knopfler on trombone during the “Sultans of Swing” encore; Ray Paczkowski’s organ pushing and prodding the guitar solo in “Simple Twist Up Dave”; bassist Tony Markellis laid down the shag-carpet groove in “Push On”; and percussionist extraordinaire Cyro Baptista did a little bit of everything. Of course, what I meant to say was that Anastasio isn’t merely the lead guitar player in his own band. The show was obviously loaded with Biggie Size comes-with-fries-and-a-Coke guitar solos and jams to satisfy an audience giddy to gobble up more. In this way, the true model for the band might be Santana’s mid-era bands. The highlight jams came in “Money Love and Change,” with the group going full on jam band, scintillating guitar work leading the way.
During second-set opener “Sand” the show finally turned darker, the lights starting to find the nooks and crannies of the venue and Anastasio flexing his six-stringed muscle through the signature techno groove and the full-bore rock and roll tilt coming out of “Alaska.” Quiet moments also found their way into the set list: “Architect,” a ballad from Anastasio’s newest album began quietly, slowly building to a soaring climax, and the band’s wonderful “Ooh Child” cover was a feel-good sing-along highlight. Anastasio was chatty throughout the night, joking about how he was gung ho to play the show’s original date (the day after Hurricane Sandy struck) without realizing how big a storm it was and also extolling the virtues of the new and improved Capitol Theatre. So why stop there? I’m guessing it won’t be another 20 years until the next visit back to Port Chester. —A. Stein