A smile rarely left Trey Anastasio's face all evening after stepping foot onto the First Avenue stage for the first time in nearly 22 years. "I can't even believe how cool this room is, and how good it feels to be back," the ginger-mopped Anastasio exclaimed early in the second set before blasting into crowd favorite, "First Tube." Later on he got a laugh from the crowd by recalling his early-90s Minneapolis music roots. "So does Trip Shakespeare still play here?" he asked, "If so, tell them I said hi." With a hop in his step, the 49 year old guitarist who is best known as the leader of the jamband Phish, conducted a fine performance from front and center.
First Avenue was sold out, leaving little room for concert-goers to dance, but the energy in the room was powerful nonetheless. The slow and heavy "Dark and Down" from the 2006 album 18 Steps brought huge cheers when Anastasio let go across the bridge with a meandering blues solo that was completely stunning. After that, the often-played "Money, Love and Change" was funky and fun and made the sea of fans bouncing in place as the backing horn section played off of Anastasio. "Frost" from the 2012 album Traveler showcased a much mellower side of Trey. The backing vocals provided by Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman accompanied the tune gorgeously.
In the second set, the band hammered through a potent version of "Sand," one of several Phish songs played throughout the night. As the crowd bounced along attentively, the band patiently pushed the dynamics with a perpetual driving rhythm while watching Anastasio for cues. By the end of Trey's lively solo, he was swinging his custom Languedoc guitar like a Jedi, as nearly everyone in First Avenue had their arms up and was screaming for more. It was intoxicating, and a definite highlight of the night.
Phish's song "Heavy Things" was played for the first encore, and was also a nice moment. Anastasio opted for an acoustic guitar for the first time, allowing the horns and piano to shine through beautifully. Trey Anastasio Band closed down the show with Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog." Anastasio's longtime friend Jennifer Hartswick took the vocals on this one, and to say she did it justice is a great understatement. She absolutely howled, with Anastasio feeding her screaming guitar riffs to respond to. By the end of the song, it was a shouting match between the two and everyone in the crowd came out winners.
Trey Anastasio and his fantastic band rocked First Avenue. From the beginning, it was obvious that he was very happy to be back. Over two sets, the show approached nearly three hours long, giving fans their monies worth. And while the crowd seemed to enjoy every minute of it, it's hard to say anyone was having more fun than Trey.
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The longest continual entertainment and music venue in the Twin Cities.
701 First Ave N