Side Project Spotlight: Phish

Words By Nicholas Stock (
Photos By Daniel Talbot & Nicholas Stock

There are two kinds of side projects: one that is an ongoing passion for a member of the band, and another that is like a burning ember that flares up and is soon gone. Phish is the bright and shining center of the jam world, so it makes sense that its members would be involved in both of these types of groups.

The first originally began as a simple flare up under the name Eight Foot Fluorescent Tubes with Trey putting together a group of local Vermont musicians for a show at Higher Ground on April 17, 1998. Trey Anastasio Band, as it was referred to early on because it had never been given a proper name, is a passionate outlet for the man who gave his name for their moniker. For a short time, it was also known as The Two for Five Band. Trey Anastasio Band or TAB has taken on a ton of different lineups beginning as a trio and ending as a ten piece band. They reformed in 2006, officially adopting the TAB name. Some incredible musicians have performed in this band such as Jennifer Hartswick, Ray Paczkowski, Cyro Baptista. I’m not going to go through the individual lineups mainly because it’s been an ever-evolving organism of sound out of the mind of Trey. The last two years have seen a solidified lineup with Trey, Jennifer Hartswick, Russ Lawton, Tony Markellis, Ray Packzkowski, Natalie Cressman, and Russell Remington. Beginning last winter, they returned to the 1999 format of an acoustic first set and an electric full band second set. They just wrapped up a fall tour ending their run at The Bear Creek Music Festival. I got the chance to see them last year at The Ogden on March 2nd.

News of Trey playing a two-night stand at the 1,500 person capacity Ogden swept through the fan base like a wook’s body odor through a tightly packed crowd. It wasn’t long before people were devising their best plans to gain entrance. Amy and I did it the old fashioned way. We got in line in front of the venue early on a Saturday morning. We were able to easily procure two tickets to the Wednesday night show. Time flew by and the day finally arrived. Amy caught a ride down and we grabbed some dinner before making our way to the Ogden for the show. As we walked in, no one said anything about my camera but I realized in the hubbub I had not gotten a wristband. As I went back to acquire one, I was told by a man in black that my camera was not allowed inside. “But it’s already in,” I said. No dice. So he told me I could take it back to my car, but the nice officer there offered to stash it in the box office for me. I was not too happy to give it up but at least they were accommodating. We found a spot to the left of the soundboard on the guardrail. We were in place by 7:15 PM and just tried to hold our ground as the rest of the masses made their way inside. It was nice to mingle a bit while everyone was waiting for show to start. Trey made his way to the stage with only an acoustic guitar around 8:20 PM. He opened with a subdued “Sample In a Jar”; here is the rest of the setlist from PT:

Set I: Sample In a Jar, Mist, The Horse > Silent In The Morning, My Friend My Friend, Runaway Jim, Carini, Wilson, Shine a Light, Wading In The Velvet Sea, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Hey Ya, Push On Til the Day

Set II: Caymen Review, Done, Done It, Valentine, Money Love and Change, Drifting, Small Axe, Burn That Bridge, Mozambique, Simple Twist Up Dave, Windora Bug, Goodbye Head, Sand, Show of Life

Encore: Birdwatcher, Black Dog

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The entire first set felt like a building wave that crashed over us about midway through. “Mist” was elegant but again very slow. The momentum began to shift with “Horse” into “Silent”. We ventured into the darkness with “My Friend” before “Runaway Jim” blew off the training wheels. “Carini” and “Wilson” were the peak of the wave for me. I just felt like the relatively quiet crowd that was easy grooving on the acoustic jam finally woke up. “Shine a Light” was awesome, and I will never get tired of Exile selections. For “STFTFP” Trey commented that he had been thinking backstage about what it would be like to have an acoustic guitar player with a horn section. He happened to have the tools at his disposal so he brought out Jen, Russell, and Natalie to join him. It honestly sounded pretty cool. There is nothing like filling out the sparse sound of an acoustic guitar with three horns. Trey brought out the rest of the band for a fun take on OutKast’s “Hey Ya” and a massive set ending “Push On Til the Day”.

The second set was very much a TAB show. They opened with the now pretty classic “Caymen Review”. By this time, the room was absolutely packed to the brim. I feel like there are certain songs by Trey that venture into an almost rockabilly sound, and “Done, Done” is one of those songs. “Valentine” was just okay but “Money Love and Change” was incredible, reaching into the Type II territory. It might have been the jam of the night. “Drifting” was pretty weak, but the instrumental “Small Axe” was cool. “Burn That Bridge” again was just okay and “Mozambique” pumped the crowd back up a bit. “Simple Twist Up Dave” truly got the juices flowing again. Given the debacle involving Ustreamer simpletwistup on night 1, this may have been a nod to him. “Windora Bug” was fun but not earth shattering, but “Goodbye Head” was solid. “Sand” was massive and really enjoyable when backed by a strong horn section. “Show of Life” was a questionable show closer, but I will say that Trey must have learned something from that Alpine Valley “Bug” last summer. It really doesn’t matter what song you choose to close with as long as you blast the backend out of it. And on “Show of Life”, TAB did just that. They encored with a lounge-y “Birdwatcher” and an amazing display of musical prowess with “Black Dog”. Jen belted out the lyrics on the Zeppelin classic and it was truly a huge punctuation mark for an all-around great show. We made our way back up to Fort Collins with visions of a ginger dancing in our heads.

The TAB show was a great night of music, a demonstration of the ever-evolving sound and vision from Trey. My next and final example is a one-off event from a much more subdued and quietly powerful member of Phish. Titled the Big Easy Blowout and called by some “Page McConnell and Friends”, it was a chance to see Page outside of the realm of Phish. His solo projects of Vida Blue and his self-titled solo project are his two most well known groups outside of Phish. This would be a different sonic journey. The Big Easy Blowout took place in January of 2008 as a three-night run put on by Symbiotic Music Production with the goal of raising funds for the Tipitina’s Foundation and the New Orleans Music Clinic. In the end, these events raised well-over $16,000 for these great New Orleans charities. Featuring Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, Russell Batiste, Papa Mali, Reed Mathis, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, it was an eclectic group with a wide range of experience. John Bukaty was doing the live painting for the run and Euforquestra was opening up all three nights. I caught the two shows at The Boulder Theater and Cervantes. The music was stellar with an amazing rhythm section of Batiste and Mathis keeping it tight and the melody of Mali and McConnell creating a sweet dynamic. This impromptu super group with members of Euforquestra sitting in throughout both nights was a sight to behold.

Bringing the sound of NOLA and funky goodness to the Front Range began as a vision and ended as a musical experience that brings a smile to my face whenever I look back on it. The set lists were similar both nights but the jamming just kept getting better and better. The Cervantes’ show saw so much awesome it’s hard to narrow it all down. From the Bill Wither’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” to the The Meters’ “Cissy Strut”, and that was just within the first three songs. Big Chief came on and off the stage like a NOLA version of Donna Jean singing “Fire Water” and “Early In the Morning”. They nailed Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” which showed how well these members of the jam community can come together for a great cause. The peak had to be the encore of the “Lovelight” into “Not Fade Away” into “Hey Pocky Way” and closing with “Iko Iko”. They came out sans Page for a super jam with all the members of Eufroquestra to wrap it all up. It was classic Mardi Gras music that gave me so much to be thankful for. It was impressive to see Page hop into this new group of musicians, all of which other than Batiste he had never played with live. Everything I heard from the Euforquestra boys led me to believe that he was genuine and incredibly nice throughout the run. He even took the time to sign my Pollock print at the Boulder show.

Take a look at the MoBoogie video of “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”:

So here we have two incredibly different side projects. One a road tested, ever shifting lineup out of the mind of Trey, and the other a one-off run of benefit shows lead by the Chairman of The Boards. Side projects are a funny concept sometimes. They are an outlet for something missing from their main group and sometimes they are a special event that may never happen again. Stay tuned as we continue to look as these various performances and how they come together.


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