Noodling to Mediocrity: Trey @ Jones Beach

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Either I’m regressing in my Trey Fluffdom or the former Phish geetarist’s new band has regressed in talent. I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both, although I’m not sure it’s totally the band’s fault as much as it’s the decline in the quality of songwriting.

After the Cincy show in May, I wrote a glowing, positive review of 70 Volt Parade, citing gobs of potential and the ol’ Benefit of the Doubt theorum. But after this weekend’s show at Jones Beach, I feel like eating those words with an oversized spoonful of some Hoping It Gets Infinitely Better, Fast special sauce.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some incredible musical highlights from Saturday night’s show, and I came home with a huge smile on my face. But most of what I enjoyed was not 70 Volt Parade — it was Trey playing with Gov’t Mule on Jerry’s That’s What Love Will Make You Do, it was Warren Haynes playing 46 Days and Push On ‘Til the Day with 70VP and it was Trey’s impromptu three-song acoustic set (and hysterical Slayer anecdote) instead of taking a “short break.”


I don’t mind Trey’s old, new stuff, songs like Cayman Review, Alive Again and Night Speaks to a Woman, the latter of which was clearly the highlight of the night and high point of every solo show at which he’s played it. And I’ll admit I even really like Shine, a song that will definitely be played on the radio when the album debuts. But several of the man’s new, new songs are just terrible. Flat-out awful. Unpassable, inexcusable garbage that should make him ashamed to keep writing songs.

New tunes like Air Said To Me, Invisible and Wherever You Find It — these are all songs that should be shelved immediately. I used to joke about all the covers he played on the last tour; now, I’d take an entire set of covers over this crop of uninspiring originals. And he had been playing so well with Warren on stage right before Wherever You Find It, only to shake his hand, point him offstage and make a raucous crowd sit back in their chairs.

I mean, can’t we forcibly sit this guy down and play him Reba or You Enjoy Myself or David Bowie, then play him one of these newer, more atrocious pop ditties? Wouldn’t he have to look us in the eyes and truthfully confess his sins? I used to think Secret Smile was a bad Phish song, but after hearing this current crop of fresh Trey tunes, that song is a masterful opus by comparison. It’s amazing to me the same man that wrote The Curtain With and Fluffhead as a dorky teenager is writing such dreck as an experienced and accomplished musician.

And maybe it is the band as well. After all, Trey traded in three uber-skilled musicians for a bunch of minor leaguers and two back-up singers. And while it’s great to see Jen back in the band, adding her impressive pipes to the mix, and it’s great to see the dead weight on bass replaced by a better musician in Tony Hall, I can’t shake the feeling that Trey is messing around with these scrubs for no good reason when he could be doing so much more. It’s no coincidence the best parts of the night came when Warren joined him on stage, the only time he was obviously pushed by comparable talent.

These guys are good, but they’re nowhere near greatness. As such, I’ll see them in New York, but I won’t travel for them. My buddy Lukas said it best: “There was a reason that the entire upper deck (and even the upper corners of the lower deck) were empty on Saturday night in New York, and there was a pack of fans outside the gate at 7:15 begging us to buy their tickets – in the orchestra, no less – for $20 or less. 70VP is a band that plenty of people are enjoying, but not a band that’s compelling people to tour or reach Phish-levels of geeky obsession.”

With all that said, I still had an incredible time and consider the show to be well worth the price of admission: We got out of New York City in the summer, we sat on the beach for an hour or so, parked ourselves in the lot for another two and we saw many enjoyable and dance-able songs like Gotta Jiboo, Goodbye Head, a kick-ass Sledgehammer and the ones mentioned positively above.

But for four or five songs I actually felt compelled to sit down in my seat, and sit down I did. Forty-plus Phish shows and never once did I park my ass in the seat, never once did it cross my mind. I’m not getting older, I’m just getting bored.

And now, for lack of anything better to do, I think it’s time to give 70 Volt Parade a new name. Pick one of the following or add your own:

1. Top 40 Volt Parade
2. Trey Anastasio’s Affirmative Action Funtime Band
3. Ernie & The Equal Opportunity Employers
4. Rachel Phelps and The Still Shitty Cleveland Indians
5. Dave Matthews Band North
6. Look at Me Solo and The Back-Up Boys
7. The Why Are All These Kids Sitting Down Sextet
8. 7 Fan Parade
9. Big Red & The Imposters
10. Caffeine-free Diet Processed Phish-like Substitute Lite with Splenda.

11. Mr. Lost It Completely
12. Crosseyed and Painful
13. Johnny Covers and The One Original
14. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better
15. Ernest Goes to Crap

(Special thanks to the always-merciless fans on Phantasy Tour for the last handful of new band name suggestions.)

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    Ernest Goes to Crap
    Someone stole mine…

    I just had to say that the second one is clearly the best. I laughed out loud. Excellent [in Mr. Burns voice]

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    Ernest Goes to Crap
    Someone stole mine…

    I just had to say that the second one is clearly the best. I laughed out loud. Excellent [in Mr. Burns voice]

  • Paul

    First of all, the new songs. I wasn’t at the show, but I have listened to it (thanks to the generous folks at bt.etree.org). I think you have to listen to the new songs for a while before you can really evaluate them. I remember when I was younger, going to Phish shows around the time Billy Breathes came out, and being upset when they would play Theme, Taste, Waste, Character Zero, or Price Caspian. I still think Price Caspian sucks, but I grew to love those other songs. Same thing with their last album, Undermind. I thought it was horrible when I first heard it, but after a while, A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing, Undermind, Scents And Subtle Sounds and Nothing started to grow on me. Now I’m not saying I love Air Said To Me, Goodbye Head, Dark and Down, Invisible or Shine, but I’m going to give it a while before I pass judgement on the songs themselves.

    As for the band, here’s my one liner to describe it. It sounds closer to Eric Clapton than it does Phish. I understand 70VP != Phish, but I don’t even think I would even catogize 70VP as a Jam Band. A jam band creates improvizational music as a group, one member listening to the others and reacting to it. This is more like standard rock music in that it seems like everyone is just following Trey’s lead. There are no jams, just solos. There is no interaction between the musicians until Warren gets on stage. I think I am basically agreeing with what you are saying here, no one in the band is challenging Trey. I think Trey needs to follow Pat Metheny’s “always be the worst guy in every band you’re in” theory.

  • Paul

    First of all, the new songs. I wasn’t at the show, but I have listened to it (thanks to the generous folks at bt.etree.org). I think you have to listen to the new songs for a while before you can really evaluate them. I remember when I was younger, going to Phish shows around the time Billy Breathes came out, and being upset when they would play Theme, Taste, Waste, Character Zero, or Price Caspian. I still think Price Caspian sucks, but I grew to love those other songs. Same thing with their last album, Undermind. I thought it was horrible when I first heard it, but after a while, A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing, Undermind, Scents And Subtle Sounds and Nothing started to grow on me. Now I’m not saying I love Air Said To Me, Goodbye Head, Dark and Down, Invisible or Shine, but I’m going to give it a while before I pass judgement on the songs themselves.

    As for the band, here’s my one liner to describe it. It sounds closer to Eric Clapton than it does Phish. I understand 70VP != Phish, but I don’t even think I would even catogize 70VP as a Jam Band. A jam band creates improvizational music as a group, one member listening to the others and reacting to it. This is more like standard rock music in that it seems like everyone is just following Trey’s lead. There are no jams, just solos. There is no interaction between the musicians until Warren gets on stage. I think I am basically agreeing with what you are saying here, no one in the band is challenging Trey. I think Trey needs to follow Pat Metheny’s “always be the worst guy in every band you’re in” theory.

  • http://slacklalane.blogspot.com Ace Cowboy

    “I think Trey needs to follow Pat Metheny’s ‘always be the worst guy in every band you’re in’ theory.”

    Well said, Paul. I firmly believe this, too, and it’s a point I was trying to convey in this post. You said it much better than I did, though. I think Dave Matthews clearly subscribes to that theory, and it’s worked out well for him.

    Normally I agree about waiting for songs to develop…but it’s different with Phish and 70VP. Phish songs weren’t poppy ditties with weird correlating jams, they were well-composed songs that led into these beautiful jams, and when they developed it was magic. I really don’t see the same potential in this crop of music, but you are right — we should wait and see. Maybe I’m jumping the gun.

    On another note, it really does pain me to bash Trey like this. I’m not a typical “hater” — I fluffed the crap out of the May tour and I trust he knows what he’s doing. On Saturday he made me laugh, he made me dance, he’s still one of my favorite people on Earth. But this is so clearly beneath him, ya know? I’m just so disappointed he doesn’t see this! Dude, get with some talented musicians and make that magic again, quit wasting time with something you just know is not on your level.

    Well, that’s how I see it.

  • http://slacklalane.blogspot.com Ace Cowboy

    “I think Trey needs to follow Pat Metheny’s ‘always be the worst guy in every band you’re in’ theory.”

    Well said, Paul. I firmly believe this, too, and it’s a point I was trying to convey in this post. You said it much better than I did, though. I think Dave Matthews clearly subscribes to that theory, and it’s worked out well for him.

    Normally I agree about waiting for songs to develop…but it’s different with Phish and 70VP. Phish songs weren’t poppy ditties with weird correlating jams, they were well-composed songs that led into these beautiful jams, and when they developed it was magic. I really don’t see the same potential in this crop of music, but you are right — we should wait and see. Maybe I’m jumping the gun.

    On another note, it really does pain me to bash Trey like this. I’m not a typical “hater” — I fluffed the crap out of the May tour and I trust he knows what he’s doing. On Saturday he made me laugh, he made me dance, he’s still one of my favorite people on Earth. But this is so clearly beneath him, ya know? I’m just so disappointed he doesn’t see this! Dude, get with some talented musicians and make that magic again, quit wasting time with something you just know is not on your level.

    Well, that’s how I see it.

  • Paul

    I hear what your saying about Trey. It must be what Bulls fans felt like when Michael Jordan retired to go play basketball. Jordan eventually came back and won 3 more NBA titles, so hopefully Trey will eventually pull off some sort of similar triumphant return.

  • Paul

    I hear what your saying about Trey. It must be what Bulls fans felt like when Michael Jordan retired to go play basketball. Jordan eventually came back and won 3 more NBA titles, so hopefully Trey will eventually pull off some sort of similar triumphant return.

  • http://slacklalane.blogspot.com Ace Cowboy

    I know you meant baseball, and yeah, that’s exactly what it feels like to me. Maybe his heart wasn’t in Phish, and I respect that…but don’t waste your talent fooling around with a bunch of minor leaguers!

    In fact, I posted those new band names on PT and got some good input from the angry PTers over there. One of them said he should call the band “Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.” That got me laughing pretty hard.

  • http://slacklalane.blogspot.com Ace Cowboy

    I know you meant baseball, and yeah, that’s exactly what it feels like to me. Maybe his heart wasn’t in Phish, and I respect that…but don’t waste your talent fooling around with a bunch of minor leaguers!

    In fact, I posted those new band names on PT and got some good input from the angry PTers over there. One of them said he should call the band “Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.” That got me laughing pretty hard.

  • Scotty G

    Ace-I can’t really tell if you liked or disliked the show, as you jump around so much from one extreme to the other.

    From “hoping it gets infinitely better” to “incredible time -well worth the price of admission”, I’m lost (not that that’s anytrhing new”.

    Why is everyone expecting a Phish-like experience when we all know that’s not happening, at least not yet. Are our expectations too high in such a short time?

  • Scotty G

    Ace-I can’t really tell if you liked or disliked the show, as you jump around so much from one extreme to the other.

    From “hoping it gets infinitely better” to “incredible time -well worth the price of admission”, I’m lost (not that that’s anytrhing new”.

    Why is everyone expecting a Phish-like experience when we all know that’s not happening, at least not yet. Are our expectations too high in such a short time?

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    I know I have super high expectations of Trey, but I think that’s because I know he’s capable of extremely good music. It’s just that simple. If his music sucks tonight, believe me, I’ll let him have it…

    Expect some pics, too. They said you can bring in cameras….

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    I know I have super high expectations of Trey, but I think that’s because I know he’s capable of extremely good music. It’s just that simple. If his music sucks tonight, believe me, I’ll let him have it…

    Expect some pics, too. They said you can bring in cameras….

  • Scotty G

    I guess for me it’s like Bobby Weir writing “Victim or the Crime” or “Corrina”, the 2 worst songs he ever wrote or sang. How can I hold that against him after everything he’s given us?

    Or maybe I’m just not ready to sit in judgment of Trey, even when it’s obvious he’s struggling with his band and his songwriting.

    I just can’t imagine how difficult it must be to wake up one day after 21 years and have to write songs for a whole different band with a different sound?

  • Scotty G

    I guess for me it’s like Bobby Weir writing “Victim or the Crime” or “Corrina”, the 2 worst songs he ever wrote or sang. How can I hold that against him after everything he’s given us?

    Or maybe I’m just not ready to sit in judgment of Trey, even when it’s obvious he’s struggling with his band and his songwriting.

    I just can’t imagine how difficult it must be to wake up one day after 21 years and have to write songs for a whole different band with a different sound?

  • http://slacklalane.blogspot.com Ace Cowboy

    Scotty, I don’t mean to judge Trey, it’s just very easy to do with the advent of the Internets. I still love the guy, but I just don’t get what’s going on right now…hence the back and forth.

    And the show was worth the price of admission, but that doesn’t mean it lives up to the greatness he’s capable of. I sat on the beach, I hung out in the lot, Mule was great, the acoustic miniset was cool…it was a fun day and yes, worth admission. But that show was far from greatness.

    Let me ask you this, as a big Dead fan — what if Jerry had quit the Dead full time in the late 80s (about the same point on the Phish timeline), and went touring around as JGB but with far inferior musicians, singing and writing these pop ditties with weirdly attached jams? Wouldn’t you be a bit confused and disappointed?!

  • http://slacklalane.blogspot.com Ace Cowboy

    Scotty, I don’t mean to judge Trey, it’s just very easy to do with the advent of the Internets. I still love the guy, but I just don’t get what’s going on right now…hence the back and forth.

    And the show was worth the price of admission, but that doesn’t mean it lives up to the greatness he’s capable of. I sat on the beach, I hung out in the lot, Mule was great, the acoustic miniset was cool…it was a fun day and yes, worth admission. But that show was far from greatness.

    Let me ask you this, as a big Dead fan — what if Jerry had quit the Dead full time in the late 80s (about the same point on the Phish timeline), and went touring around as JGB but with far inferior musicians, singing and writing these pop ditties with weirdly attached jams? Wouldn’t you be a bit confused and disappointed?!

  • Scotty G

    I would be, no doubt. And I’d be wondering what the heck he was thinking of.

    But I would trust Jerry knew what he was doing, and I would give him the benefit of the doubt – at least until he got his feet wet with the new musicians. Many out there are ready to lynch before the trial is even over.

    In no way am I clumping you in with all the negativity that’s out there. Your reviews have been nothing but truthful and straightforward. And I know how much you’ve respected Trey for all these years.

    As mentioned above, I guess I’m just not ready to accept the fact that he’s not even putting out decent music as a whole.

    I loved his Bonnaroo set, while others, well, you saw the reviews.

    I can’t wait till he comes full circle, and realizes his potential once again. Do you think that day will ever come?

  • Scotty G

    I would be, no doubt. And I’d be wondering what the heck he was thinking of.

    But I would trust Jerry knew what he was doing, and I would give him the benefit of the doubt – at least until he got his feet wet with the new musicians. Many out there are ready to lynch before the trial is even over.

    In no way am I clumping you in with all the negativity that’s out there. Your reviews have been nothing but truthful and straightforward. And I know how much you’ve respected Trey for all these years.

    As mentioned above, I guess I’m just not ready to accept the fact that he’s not even putting out decent music as a whole.

    I loved his Bonnaroo set, while others, well, you saw the reviews.

    I can’t wait till he comes full circle, and realizes his potential once again. Do you think that day will ever come?