(Photos at Bottom)
It was good to get back into the swing of live music after a cold and snowy winter. I really can’t remember seeing any shows of note, by anyone outside of my local bar, since my foray to Atlantic City for Halloween. Needless to say, when Trey announced a date at the brand new Stage AE in Pittsburgh, a short hop and jump from Morgantown, I couldn’t say no.
I rolled up to the ‘burgh with Kenny and Dusty, who pulled double duty as both driver and show-photographer: two skills that would come in handy all night long. This is one of the first shows ever held at Stage AE, a duel indoor-outdoor venue on Pittsburgh’s north shore, nestled between Heinz Field and PNC Park, so no one knew what to expect.
Owned and operated by Promowest Productions, Stage AE is near doppelganger of their Promowest Pavilion in Columbus and a welcome addition to Pittsburgh’s music scene. I love the Steel City, but I hate most of it’s live music venues, so I was hoping for good things. The chilly weather pushed almost all of the pregame festivities indoors and we passed the time in the Rivertowne Northshore downing Yuenglings and Maker’s Mark while Dusty and Kenny had an epic Golden Tee battle to pass the time. I bemoaned the Mountaineers’ loss the night before to some not-so-sympathetic Pitt fans and generally got ready to get down with Big Red.
Once it was rock time, we made it inside without hassle and managed to snake a great spot about five people back on the “Page side” of the floor. Trey came out as ‘on time’ as you might expect and whipped right into Backwards Down the Number Line. You know how I feel about Backwards, and this was a great start to the acoustic set with the crowd carrying the “all my friends…” lines. It’s the sort of thing that can give you chills, just knowing all the Phish kids are on the same page right out of the gate.
All in all, the acoustic set was fun, but also had its limits. The crowd singing along was actually the best part, and Trey ran through perfunctory versions of Gumbo, Farmhouse, Stealing Time and Horse/Silent before dipping into Talk. I might have texted the lovely girlfriend about Silent, because she loves that tune, but Talk was the highlight of the acoustic set for me. It works so well in the solo setting. While the rest of the set were campfire sing-a-longs, Talk is still a God’s honest acoustic composition and it ended up being one of the more hypnotizing moments of the evening.
Trey seemed to share my opinion that the acoustic set only really worked when the crowd was singing along. Backwards and closing duo of Theme From The Bottom and Down With Disease were the tunes that worked the best that night, for that very reason. While it seemed he could’ve gone a few more tunes solo, Trey hurriedly waved the rest of the band out and jumped right in to an interesting arrangement of Heavy Things which had Russ Lawton on percussion instead of his full kit and Russ Remington stepping out front on the flute.
After Heavy Things, things started to get, well, heavy. The set closing four song run of Liquid Time, Let Me Lie, Show of Life, and Push on ‘Til The Day took things to the next level and let us all know it was time to get down. Liquid Time was a first for me, and I was totally blown away. That’s a great song, and it’s the one I cued up hours later in a drunken haze on YouTube when I got home. Love the middle-eastern vibe on that one. Let Me Lie is a tune that I used to abhor, but honestly has grown on me by leaps and bounds. I thought it worked perfectly in this setting; Jen and Natalie’s harmonies took the song over the top. When Phish plays it, it’s obvious that it’s not going to go to the kind of places Phish can go. In this acoustic full band setting, I thought it was a completely gorgeous tune. I was really intrigued by the full acoustic Trey band, and would love to see this next year as the surprise act at DelFest. That would bridge the gap for me between the best guitar player and the best fest. Let’s get this done, Coran Capshaw!
Show of Life was the perfect mid-tempo set up man for the blazing Push On that followed. In the course of just an hour we’d gone from the sing-a-long campfire song leader to the bad lieutenant. I looked at my watch, and it was almost 9:30 before we got our first ripping guitar solo, but I had a good feeling there was more to where that came from.
Setbreak illuminated some of the issues with a brand new venue. Stage AE’s biggest gaffe was putting the men’s and women’s bathrooms and smoker’s exit all down the same hallway. This created a bottleneck of epic proportions, compounded by a nearby beer cart. Also, by set-break the concession stands were out of bottled water, just as most of us begun to work up a sweat. Seriously your honor, I had no other choice but to continue drinking beer.
While we were still waiting in what we thought was the water line, the band emerged for the second set and slinked into the funky opening riff of Night Speaks to A Woman. This one got things pumping and as we got into the second set the evening begins to turn into a bit of a blur, as mentioned above. I dug the opening trio of Night Speaks, Valentine and Cayman Review. I think I prefer Review of the three for it’s awesome organ intro, but it’s still not a really big tune for me, as most of this band’s songs aren’t. It took me awhile to get into things and Alaska really helped, as I dug the Trey band arrangement which I had never heard before.
The set really picked up for me with Burlap Sack & Pumps. I dig the rhythmic interplay with the horns on this one and it’s always been one of the more memorable Trey Band songs for me. It’s fun to sing the tune’s lone line, and it’s a hard tune not to get down too. The Gotta Jiboo that followed really got the Phish grooves going, and I always love it when the horns duck off and let the quartet just destroy it for awhile. Jiboo was followed by Goodbye Head, which was another first for me. I’d never heard the tune and dug the laid back hook-filled vibe. Mozambique brought back the kind of rhythmic fusion groove that makes Trey Band shine and kicked off the end of the set, which I thought steamrolled to a blazing finish. Clint Eastwood is fun despite understanding there’s probably a limited shelf-life for seeing it live. It’s a goofy tune with a good groove and really shows off Jennifer Hartswick’s skills. I really dug it, and was fairly surprised how few people around me knew what song it was. Not a lot of radio listeners, I guess.
The closing trio of Money, Love and Change, Magilla and Sand pretty much had everything you’d want out of a closing trio: a blazing rock song showcasing the full band, a brief setlist fetishist’s interlude, and then back to rock dog Trey to close the night out. It worked for me. The First Tube encore kept the rock n’ roll theme going strong and the energy pumping until long after the house lights came on. All in all, I had a blast. Coming on the heels of the Summer Tour announcement it made me crave Phish in a big way. It also reminded me that it isn’t Phish, for better and for worse.
For better, seeing Trey rip it up close and personal (as Dusty’s photos can attest) is something special. You just aren’t able to make that happen at a Phish show these days. That alone made for a great, great night of music. I may not feel as connected to the songs as I do at Phish, but mid-jam, especially in something like Money, Love and Change or Sand, it doesn’t really matter. Being within spitting distance of my favorite guitar player of all time will do just fine, thanks.
The “for worse” part is that, of course, it was not quite Phish. All the Phish stuff I did hear, while exceptionally special to see in that environment, felt a little neutered. In the thick of things, watching Trey tear it down, in the middle of any song, is pretty awe inspiring. My connection to that catalog just isn’t there, and the stuff that really works for me is when the horns drop out and a quartet just blazes. Still, I have no complaints, we had a helluva good time in the Steel City.
It was a great night but not a Phish show, but that’s alright, summer’s coming…