Making a rare stop north of the border to end the first leg of their tour, the Trey Anastasio Band were loose and full of energy in front of a rafter-packed Sunday (May 7) crowd.
Moving through a choice selection of tunes from Anastasio's various projects — including fan favourite "Cayman Review," the Tropicalia-hued workout "Curlew's Call," trombonist/vocalist Natalie Cressman's terrific cover of "1977" and Phish deep cut "Sand" — the 75-minute first set was filled with exuberant playing, but not many surprises.
Then again, the TAB aren't really a "surprises" kind of band. They are, at their roots, a dance act, a band designed to ride the furious rhythms of drummer Russ Lawton, master percussionist Cyro Baptista, organist Ray Paczkowski and bassist Tony Markellis. They don't often head off in search of weird spacey jams, nor do they typically feature extended soloing from any of their members. Unlike Phish (Trey Anastasio's day job, as it were), they're less mind, more hips. And on that score, they deliver a monster show.
Toronto fans were treated when, towards the end of the first set, Anastasio explained that at each stop on the tour the band had been playing a song by a local act. Unfortunately, (but endearingly and kind of wonderfully) the band's first take on Broken Social Scene's "Cause = Time" was a mess, and they had to abort it a minute in. Undaunted, if a little sheepish, Anastasio promised to get it together and try again later, which he did, to open the second set, with glorious results.
The entire second set was a barnburner, packed with delicious grooves and smart, fun covers. A version of the Band's "It Makes No Difference" featured a stunning saxophone solo by relative newcomer to the band James Casey, doing his finest Garth Hudson impression. A delirious "Gotta Jibboo" and a fun and funky version of the ass-shaking "Alaska" were highlights, the latter especially so, as it was dedicated to Casey's mum who had flown in from… Alaska. What are the odds?
The show culminated with a rocking take on Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused," featuring outstanding vocal work from trumpet-playing vocalist Jennifer Hartswick. She and Anastasio traded licks — her on vocals, he on guitar — until their two "voices" melded as one. It was a powerful, sensual and jaw-dropping performance of a song I would have told you I never needed to hear again.
The bottom line: It was a thrill to see this kind of show. Two sets, a ton of room over the course of a long evening to dance, to wander around the hall, to meet up with old friends and to lock in when the music really got hot. So few concerts feel like this.