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Thursday, May 29

Review and Photos: Trey Anastasio Band - House of Blues - Cleveland, OH - 5/23/14

When I was 16 or so and just getting started on guitar, my buddies and I thought three chords was enough to form a band. In a sense, we were right. There’s no better way to learn an instrument than to play with other people. It forces you to finish the songs you start, and to keep motoring on when you make a mistake. But from the earliest days of playing with my group of friends, the question was, “What kind of band should we be?” In retrospect, this question was ludicrous. We were suburban Clevelanders, how were we going to be a Reggae band without faking it? We were beginner level musicians. We couldn’t have been the Mahavishnu Orchestra if we tried.


A night I’ll never forget was when a friend of ours brought a new CD over with an excited look on his face. He said “You guys have got to hear this”, so we put on Phish’s “Lawn Boy” for the very first time. We hadn’t heard of these four guys out of Burlington, Vermont, but we only had to listen for about ten minutes to realize that “What kind of band should we be?” is an irrelevant question if you’re doing it right. This was music we had never dreamed of. Here were four guys absolutely killing whatever it was. You don’t call yourself a Reggae band then try to fit that mold. You close your eyes and see what your soul produces, and there it is, that’s what you are. In the case of “Lawn Boy”, it was everything from Cool Jazz to Circus Music to Rock-n-Roll and absolutely all points in between. It was absurd and genius at once, and for us, all of the rules flew out the window.
 As a guitarist, I was mesmerized by the playing of Trey Anastasio. 

My students ask me often who I think the greatest guitarist of all time is. I can’t answer that question. It’s not a race, or a mountain with a single peak that only one person reaches. You get six strings and a fret board, neither of which make a single sound until someone pours their heart into them. B.B. King isn’t Andres Segovia. Jimi Hendrix isn’t Joe Pass, Jerry Garcia isn’t Mark Knopfler. I think you pickup on the theme here. The greatest guitarist of all time is the one who is instantly recognizable by tone, style and soul. There are many of them. I know that it’s David Gilmour after just a few notes, and in the same exact way, I know that it’s Trey Anastasio. 


The difference between the greatest guitarists of all time, for me, on May 23rd, 2014, was that only one of them was ten feet away from me at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. And this was no Phish show. This was Trey Anastasio Band, aka TAB. And this band is an absolute force to be reckoned with. When you rightfully belong on the list of the all time great guitarists, you can assemble a pretty kick ass band to lay down the groove for you to work your magic over. To Hell with labels and genres, this is just pure fun in musical form.

I’m no music critic. You find me a person who sees a show like this and comes out griping about the sound quality in a particular frequency range, or a missed note, or a dropped lyric, and I’ll show you a buzz kill of the highest degree. What we had here was stadium caliber jams in a club sized room. There was the extremely well used talent of the horn section, who doubled as background vocalists when needed. The world class Ray Paczkowski managing the organ and keys with raw skill. Russ Lawton, one of the finest and most versatile drummers you’ll ever find, throwing down his brand of controlled madness. And the monster bassist, Tony Markellis, who after suffering a series of injuries plays from a seated position with his bass rigged to a stand to relieve the pinched nerves he suffers when holding it with a strap.
This guy, a big fella, seated as he was upon the riser, seemed to me to be looking down on this world of sound like Buddha himself.

But at the helm of all of this, is Trey Anastasio. I’d never seen him from ten feet away. I know enough about him to recognize him on the street, and as I’ve already said, I could pick him out of a line-up blindfolded if he only played a few notes. Here’s what I noticed. When Trey is playing rhythm behind the other soloists, or just laying a groove with the band, he’s having a blast. He’s like a kid up there, smiling, bouncing around, making great eye contact with the crowd and his band mates, and really getting off on being a part of the party, seemingly without realizing that he’s the one driving it. But when it’s time for a guitar solo, there’s work to do.
His eyes go straight forward, and to who knows where. I have a hunch they go forward in time. Because it’s one thing to improvise over twelve bars of the blues, but when you’re constructing a guitar solo with a four minute or greater life-span, you have to have a concept of where you’re going, and how what you’re doing at the moment is going to get you there. I would give anything to spend five minutes in the zone that Trey Anastasio occupies when he’s doing what he does best. I want to know if he’s thinking hard about it, or if he’s consciously trying not to think at all. Either way, it’s not something you can learn. It’s not a zone I’ll ever get to.
 But if seeing it up close and personal at the House of Blues is the closest I ever get, I’m cool with that. This show was an absolute treat. And whether you’re a fan or not, if you get the chance to see one of the all time great guitarists in a relatively small venue, do it. 


------ Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Matt Harmon is a freelance writer with a day job as an audio engineer at a business oriented conference center.  He is most at ease performing on stage as an acoustic guitarist and songwriter.  www.mattharmonmusic.com 




Trey Anastasio Band:


Trey Anastasio
Awesome 
James Casey - Saxaphone/Percussion/Vocals
Natalie Cressman-Trombone/Vocals
 Jennifer Hartswick – Trumpet/Vocals
Ray Paczkowski – Keys
Russ Lawton – Drums Tony
Markellis – Bass

Words: Matt Harmon
Photos: Craig Casgar
   ©Grateful Music LLC