Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Heeeee's Back

People took the break-up of the Popular Rock Band Phish in many different ways. Most fans -- well, fanatics, really -- inevitably went through the five stages of grief, and the emotions setlist went something like this:

Denial (This can't be there last show, I don't buy it) > Anger (Fuckin' asshats takin' all my money and just quitting) > Bargaining (I swear I'll be nice to orphans if they give me just one more show, man, I swear to Jebus) > Depression (I don't know what I'm gonna do for fun now, maybe I'll go kick the homeless in the teeth) > Acceptance (I guess they're entitled to do what they want, and I'm okay with it). That was a tough few weeks for a lot of people.

But enough fans are still bitter enough about the death of Phish that the message boards are unoffically split in several different camps. And while it's tough to pigeonhole an intellectually diverse fanbase like Phish fans, they usually fall into one of three groups.

There are the Trey Haters, who are mostly jaded veterans that use clever phrases like "Be-Treyed" and "Trey-tor." On the flipside there are the Trey Apologists, who are the most likely folks to get their ears pissed in and they'll still be there to happily lap it up and spread the good word. Finally there are the Realists, who accept the Trey-led demise of the best rock-n-roll band in recent memory but still harbor at least some feelings of abandonment and resentment towards Big Red. I've probably got one foot in each of the last two camps.

To be sure, for many fans, there isn't a more polarizing living figure this side of President Bush than Ernest Guiseppe Anastasio III, our beloved Trey. And keeping with the political analogy, the announcement of his brand new project -- 70 Volt Parade -- was the 2004 election, which drove the ultimate wedge into an increasingly divided fanbase. Even though the things that unite us are far, far greater than the things that divide us, the Internets are now abuzz with warring hippie factions.

Trey kicked off his tour at the famed Higher Ground in Burlington on April 1st, and the fans in attendance, in conjunction with the technologically advanced that downloaded the show just hours after it ended, came back to the boards and panned the show. A few weeks went by before his next show, but as more people listened to it, the more they hated it. The Trey Haters were rushing hard and signing up pledges left and right. A few more shows went by, and 70VP received more bad reviews. Uh oh.

At that point I decided to heed the proclamation of Frank Costanza, who yelled "I wanna go in fresh" as Mr. Ross started to describe his feelings about the fictional movie Firestorm. I didn't download a lick of this new project...I'd just wait until I saw the Bad Lieutenant first-hand to form my own opinion with my own three ears.

When I saw Trey was playing Cincinnati on a weekend, I knew I had to get there. Anyone who has seen Phish in the Queen City knows the band sets that town ablaze. Literally. After the first night of their 2003 run, a fire broke out at the Westin, forcing the band and the hotel's other patrons to evacuate in the middle of the night (incidentally that led Trey to write a song called Cincinnati, that kicks ass). But seriously, they rip Cincy up every time they come through, and the last time I vowed not to miss a show there. So I booked my flight, met up with some good friends and went downtown to see what this new band was all about.

After strolling through the mini-Shakedown down the street from the Taft Theatre, we walked in for the last half hour of the John Butler Trio. If this guy is near your area, go see his show. His two bandmates and he ripped it up completely, set the tone for a great night. He finished his set and then the anticipation really started to gnaw at us, stomachs turning from the toxins we had recently ingested and natural butterflies that danced about waiting for our potentially fallen idol.

The lights went down at 8:45 to a primal scream of sorts from the fans, and Trey stepped on stage with as big a smile as I've seen in a long time. Out came the Other Four Dudes -- Skeeto Valdez on drums, Peter Chwazik on bass, Ray Paczkowski on keys, and Les Hall on keys and guitar -- and the show began with some new songs. From the start, Trey looked like he was having more fun than I'd seen him have on stage in a long time.

He did have a ridiculous leg twitch all night, but at least he didn't look like a cracked out OxyContin junkie doing the bump with his mom. And he didn't play Heroin Jam once all night (for non-Phish fans, that's not a song or a jam, that's just when it looks like Trey is on so much heroin that he plays these ambient nothingness chords while the band waits for him to get his shit together).

70 Volt Parade made one thing abundantly clear almost immediately: This band is really talented and meshes well with Trey's proclivity for straight-up rock and white guy porno funk. The drummer, Skeeto, is fucking great, and from where I sat he looked very much like a combination of a bleached blonde Dennis Rodman and child star Todd Bridges. That's always a plus. Les is also incredible, the kind of guy that plays any instrument you put in front of him, the kind of guy that looks like he'd wear a leather, studded dog collar if you asked him nicely enough. As for the other two, Ray's the lone holdover from Trey's last band, and Peter is not nearly loud enough; he's either not all that good, or he needs to be turned up in the mix.

But give these guys the rest of this tour, let them take the recordings and hit the Barn for some practice, then watch out on the Zooma Tour this summer. This is a band with serious potential. And they're gonna start ripping it up once they get a consistency and some confidence about them. Don't buy into the rhetoric and pressure of the Trey Haters...they know not what they speak or type. I would honestly challenge anyone to a formal debate who saw 70VP on Saturday in Cincy and walked out unhappy and unimpressed.

How could you walk out and not love It's Ice 2.0, the new and different version of one of Phish's older tunes (think It's Ice meets Floyd's Run Like Hell)? How could you have listened to the first set closer, Billy Preston's Will It Go Round In Circles, and not danced your fuckin' ass off? How could you hear that Night Speaks to a Woman that opened the second set and not broken out in a full sweat? They re-worked some old songs, cranked out some new songs, covered two Beatles tunes (Dig A Pony and I Am the Walrus, alllllright) and Zeppelin's In the Light.

But most importantly, they played everything flawlessly and flub-lessly with tons of energy and emotion. Isn't that what we always required of Phish towards the end but rarely received? Well, this is Trey's new band, and they're putting together solid performances. They're also here to stay.

At one point during Night Speaks my buddy tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the crowd, which was going ballistic in the heat of an intense jam. "It's happening again," he said. We're not there quite yet, but yes, it is happening again. It's all happening.

Go get 'em, Trey. See ya at the Hammerstein this weekend.


At 11:43 AM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

One foot in each camp? Perhaps.

Trey's entire cock and both balls in mouth? You betcha!

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Hey, didn't that guy you love from Panic die?

What, too soon?

At 1:12 PM, Blogger jakezebra said...

Ace, which night for you?

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous HANDSTAND said...

Nicely said Ace.

A few comments after now going through the Charlotte and Cincy shows twice.

Dark and Down is going to be a BEAST of a song. That evil bluesy jam that just keeps building and building is going to give someone a heart attack when it finally reaches the point of full nastiness.

Many of the new songs are already growing on me. Today's winner, along with Dark and Down, is 18 Steps. Its got decent lyrics and how can you not love a song that ends with a Theme/Bug-style jam? Signature Trey.

The bottom line is, Trey never lost it, he just got lost for a little while. From the announcement (who's 1yr anniversary is just a few days away, btw) to the emotions pouring out in Coventry to the early on sloppiness of 70vp, Trey kind of got off track. But after listening to Charlotte and Cincy, he's definitely back, playing well and excited about this new band, and the Hammerstein might explode this weekend.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Friday night, Zebra. I was supposed to go away this weekend, and if Trey sucked in Cincy I was gonna give away my ticket. But I decided to hold onto it after seeing the Greatness of Cincy. We'll all meet up for sure.

Handstand, Dark and Down was smokin' at the Taft...it was the opener, and we all looked at each other and knew it was gonna be a sick night.

My take on the new songs is fairly simple: The jams are great, really good stuff, and they're definitely patient in building those jams, but some of the new songs take too long to develop. Not in a bad way, really, but I think they could stand to get to the meat a wee bit faster. That's my only complaint really.

How cool is It's Ice 2.0? Seriously, I LOVED it.

I do, though, agree completely that the new songs are gonna be dangerous. Trey is indeed back from being lost.

Handstand, I need a copy of that Cincy show, brotha! Hook it up!

At 3:10 PM, Blogger offpeak34 said...

This is so good to hear! I can't wait for the Hammerstein shows. I knew after the 2/10 Tsunami Relief show that Trey did not lose it, he absolutely shredded that night and looked as happy and as composed and as animated as he can be. Hammerstein is gonna rock!

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

Did you just capitalize "Greatness of Cincy?"

At 3:42 PM, Blogger TJ in OH said...

The thing that got me the most was the tightness in his playing. I haven't listened to the show yet, but while there I was marvelling at how well he was making the runs in Ice and other songs. I'd kind of gotten used to hearing Trey half-ass it through the composed sections of his songs, so this was a treat. And how 'bout the setlist? He basically played everything I wanted to hear out of his current repertoire.

This was the Trey I used to travel around the country to see, not the crack-whore that toured post hiatus.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Yes I Did, Bart. Yes I Did.

Great point TJ, Trey definitely hit all the runs and laid down the infamous Trey-licks like it was 1997 all over again.

I wanted to hear a Drifting and maybe even the Sledgehammer he's been tossing around, but yeah, he did play just about everything.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

Dude, I got bored and fell asleep at work and dreamed that I was in Yankee Stadium for Game 7 of the World Series. And then Phish came out to play the national anthem, and the shit was sick, like I was fucking puking. Then all the hotdog guys start throwing beans out for fee, then all the popcorn guys start slinging bags of dankity-dank nuggs all over for free. And the national anthem was so sick I blood farted and the crowd was going crazy. Then the game started but Phish just kept playing, and the Yanks were like, "Dude, that shit is like phat!" And they start bombing home runs like everywhere. But the scoreboard dude is so fucking bizzaked, he gives all the runs to the other team. Dude, I don't even know who it was. So in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks have to mount this sick rally, and the whole time Trey is just whaling away on Funky Bitch. And then the bases are fucking juiced, and the crowd is fucking WASTED, and here comes A-Rod with the Yanks down by 3. And then, just as 2001 is fucking peaking, and the lights are going fucking IN-sane, A-Rod cranks one so deep it fucking hits the moon. Then the moon shatters and rains down on the crowd, and everybody is like, "Dude, that was like way, WAY far off the sickest chain that's ever been forged."

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

I had almost the exact same dream, except mine was at Fenway with Terrence Mann.

Ease his pain.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger ethan said...

hey ace - which do you rank higher: love of phish or love the yanks?

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Don Fiedler said...

Dude, Bart. I was at that game! It was so fuckin' awesome cause afterwords, when we were getting on the 4-train to come home, my buddy Nozz called it the "Foreskin" which pissed off this hater from the bronx and he pushed Nozz onto the tracks just as the train was pullin' in. But, from out of nowhere, Trey and Jorge Posada swooped in, propelled by a magic, flying foam finger. Trey played wicked guitar licks and cut the electricity to the train so it started to slow down. Then Jorge stopped it by getting into a magic catcher's crouch and pushing on the train. It was fuckin' awesome and Nozz was like, "Dude, thanks Trey and Jorge." And they were like, "no problem" and Jorge threatened the Bronx guy like he did to Pedro before Pedro nearly killed Zimmer.

And Nozz was totally like, "Trey, you're awesome, I want to BE you."
And Trey was like, "I don't know if you would want to be in my skin."
And I said, "I think he wants to be in your foreskin."
And Jorge said, "I definately do...I'm a switch-hitter."
And then we all laughed, like at the end of He-Man when Orko says something funny. It rocked.


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