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 (Oh man, I feel the urge to kick Trey right in the groinal area) > 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, a super-sweet tune). But seriously, they tear Cincy to shreds every time they’ve come through, and the last time I saw them there I vowed never to miss a Queen City show. 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 full of the butterflies that make you feel like you could pee your pants at any minute.
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 s*** 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 really good, 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 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.