San Francisco, CA
December 7, 2006
Trey Anastasio is like a child at a carnival, too small to ride any of the roller coasters. Or a man washed up on the shores of a tropical island. Or perhaps - a well-drawn doodle. Yes, a well-drawn doodle. It is all great but still doesn't quite leave you fulfilled in the end.
Trey is perhaps one of the most talented guitarists of our time but a mediocre, at best, song-writer. Listening to Trey play is both exhilarating and boring at the same time. It can be a stunning dichotomy. His constantly inventive guitar playing can be complex and compelling but is surrounded by pedestrian, predictable song arrangements and accompanied by both banal and often insipid lyrics (although not nearly as bad as Dave Matthews, the King of Insipid Lyrics).
For the uninitiated, Trey Anastasio was the former lead guitarist and singer of Phish, an iconic American jam band whose following was second only to the Grateful Dead in terms of their devotion to the band and their fondness for tie-dye, patchouli and psychedelic drugs. The parallels don't stop there. Phish in many ways was the Grateful Dead 2.0 and often included Dead staples in their setlists. Trey continues this association by playing frequently with some of the surviving members of the Dead.
However, the Grateful Dead was at least wise enough to outsource most songwriting duties to Robert Hunter and John Barlowe who penned some classic American songs, telling stories of down-beaten characters and their struggles for redemption- directly descending from the traditions of John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac- becoming chroniclers of the American experience.
No such wisdom has been found by Trey. While emphasizing the power of music to be uplifting (not particularly insightful), Trey consistently relies on rock and roll clichés and empty ambiguities: "Night speaks to a Woman" "Wherever you Find It" "Alive Again" "Shine." Although his songs are a smorgasboard of different genres, blues, funk, rock, folk, most of his songs rely on predictable melodies with predictable breaks and predictable crescendos.
Nevertheless, Trey was accompanied by a deeply talented band, including an energetic horn section which added much needed color. When Trey just let the band run free and when he let loose some bouncy, curling or bluesy guitar licks, the ride was great fun- even if didn't mean anything. Like a well-drawn doodle.