Review: TAB @ Terminal 5
TAB continued their acoustic/electric tour last night at New York’s Terminal 5. With a line stretching over two blocks away, many fans were left in the cold by the time the show got started. The first set saw the solo acoustic debuts of “Down with Disease” and “Meatstick,” along with a revived acoustic version of “Camel Walk,” which was a request from Fishman all the way from Morrocco (giving a bit more insight into the very strange middle eastern-themed tour announcement video). Trey ran through several more songs that have been in the recent rotation before he was joined by the two ladies for “Wading in the Velvet Sea” and then the full band for the acoustic debut of “Heavy Things” along with “Peggy” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” (Click here for the full setlist)
While Trey often struggled with the crowd noise during his ’99 acoustic sets—at times appealing for the crowd to be quiet—the recent sets have taken more of a bar-room sing-a-long type feel, rather than a quiet acoustic setting. This is somewhat of a mixed blessing, as it has allowed us to hear many of our favorite Phish songs in this new acoustic format, but prevents Trey from doing any real playing. That said, it seems to be working on this tour and it was definitely my favorite part of the night.
Through these acoustic sets, the many songs Trey and Tom have written come to life in a way we have not seen before, highlighting the power of the actual songwriting. While Phish is often admired for their musicianship, there are so many great lyrics to so many great songs. This is the focus of these acoustic sets.
With the crowd singing along, it’s a shared experience from beginning to end. Classic Phish numbers like “Theme from the Bottom” and “Cavern,” that evoke a totally different feel when performed with the full band, invited us to a fresh new place. For me, these were the highlights of the set. It’s quite special to see the man responsible for all of this music performing it right before your eyes on nothing but an acoustic guitar (a Martin D28 at that, not his custom DC).
Trey was typically chatty throughout the evening as he had plenty on his mind to banter about. He told us of Fishman’s trip to Morocco, his upcoming musical collaboration with Amanda Green “Hands on a Hard Body,” and an error-plagued history of his relationship with Russ Remington of the Giant Country Horns.
When the band returned for the second set, they opened with a cover of Professor Longhair’s “In the Wee Wee Hours”—the first of several covers in the set. Right from the start, the electric set took on more of a soulful, bluesy feel as many of the songs typically reserved for the first set made their way into the second. Instead of digging into any lengthy or psychedelic jams, Trey showed off his fleet-fingered solos atop the deep grooves of the impeccable TAB rhythm section. Some tasteful covers appeared including The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” and Toots and the Maytal’s “Sweet & Dandy.” “Sand” briefly slipped into some spacey territory, but for the most part the jams were a display of high-energy rock. Mixed in with the covers, it made for a fun but somewhat dull second set.
Perhaps cursing myself, the other night I had made a remark that I hoped Trey had gotten the top 40 out of him in Portland and Albany (and then in Boston). But, instead, NYC got THREE top 40 covers. We know Trey has a fascination with the pop charts, but this was just too much. I like “Hey ya”—it’s well done and it’s nice to see Trey take on a song like that. I don’t think “Clint Eastwood” works, and I would have rathered any other hat-tip to NYC than the infinitely overplayed “Empire State of Mind.” I mean, it’s fun and all, but it definitely takes away from that specialness of seeing your favorite musician perform a solo show, at least for me.