Saturday night was a homecoming of sorts for embattled jam king Trey Anastasio.
Playing mostly older songs and a few new ones, Anastasio delighted the sold-out Palace Theatre crowd with his trademark guitar jams and easygoing stage presence.
Early on in the concert, Anastasio paused the music for a moment to address his adoring fans and explain how the Capital Region became his adopted hometown in the wake of his 2006 drug arrest.
Anastasio playfully referred to the “legal entanglements” that necessitated his move to Saratoga Springs, but didn’t specifically discuss his arrest near Lake George on felony drug charges. (He was required to live locally for 14 months while completing a court-mandated drug program.)
“This is a really special show for me tonight,” Anastasio told the audience, which cheered his every word and guitar solo.
Anastasio made a special acknowledgment of the many friendly people he met while living in Saratoga. He spoke fondly of the relationships he made here, and estimated that he knew more than 100 people in the crowd Saturday night.
“I was made to feel by everyone in the community so incredibly welcome,” Anastasio told the crowd. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone here and everyone in the area.”
‘In your backyard’
Anastasio further delighted his local fans by mentioning that his time spent living locally yielded a crop of new songs for his current road band and also “that other band” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to his seminal jam band, Phish, which broke up in 2004 but is soon to reform. Now when fans hear one of his new songs, Anastasio said, they can take special pleasure in knowing it has local roots.
“You can damn well bet it was written in your backyard,” he said to a roar of approval.
With that, Anastasio plowed forward with a performance that signaled he’s well on his way to reclaiming his spot at the top of the jam-band world. After a nearly two-year hiatus from touring, due to his legal troubles, Anastasio only recently returned to the road for his current eight-concert tour. He’s clearly thrilled to be onstage again, singing and playing guitar with renewed vigor. Gone are the harsh, atonal sounds that sometimes emanated from Anastasio’s amplifier in the final few years of Phish.
Despite a generally tepid first set, Anastasio and his bandmates — including Saratoga Springs’ Tony Markellis on rock-solid bass – came to life with a pumping, pounding, set-closing version of “Push on Till the Day” from Anastasio’s self-titled 2002 album. Mostly subdued up to this point, Anastasio started smiling broadly and bouncing on one foot. He and Markellis started really feeding off each other, driving the jam higher and hotter every few seconds. As he walked off the stage at the end of the set, Anastasio pumped his fist to the crowd in celebration.
Anastasio and company — known collectively as Classic Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) — easily carried their momentum into the second set with “Valentine,” a new song that seems to delve into the issues of addiction and recovery, and a stellar version of the road-tested “Simple Twist Up Dave.”
TAB finally hit full tilt with an extended version of “Gotta Jibboo,” off Phish’s 2000 album “Farmhouse.” Here, bassist Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton paved the way as Anastasio and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski worked the crowd into a near-trance with their deft handiwork. Throughout the Palace, fans twirled and swayed and grooved — many with their eyes closed.
Anastasio then served up a special treat for longtime Phish fans — four solo acoustic songs highlighted by the Phish standard “Bathtub Gin” from 1990. The band left the stage while nearly everyone in the house was still “singing” the “Bathtub” refrain to the best of their abilities.