According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate is defined as “to work jointly with or together, especially in an intellectual manner” and for music fans, we love this word. Whether it is put to good use within the members of our favorite bands or through the avenue of the surprise sit in, everyone in the audience loves a good gelling and these instances are usually what make up the fabled stories of our musical adventure. When one considers the collaborative effort through the lens of improvisational music, the end result has a giant question mark looming over it. Some unions have led to fracture, others to legend, but regardless of the outcome, there are characteristics that are essential for any. Improvisational music is just that, improvisational, and in the live setting there is no safety net, the contributors have to believe that everyone will be at the right place at the right time to catch the change, the note, the head, the whatever in that full attempt to make magic. It requires trust and belief in the moment and that the moment itself is all that is to be had and if one or more push the expectation or dwell on the minutes passed, the target is muddled and often lost. Verbosity aside, to collaborate with anyone is a leap of faith and the belief in the all good with the hope for the incredible is what glues the musical universe together and keeps us coming back for more.
When the August announcement that the Trey Anastasio Band and Goose were going to be hitting the road together, the excite-o-meter got floored. First, Trey never tours with anyone and as we all know, he doesn’t have to. Second, from the excitement and aftermath of the magic of Trey sitting in with Goose at Radio City Music Hall, everyone was begging for more. Lastly, when it was announced that there would be nightly collaborations, it was a shoo-in that this eight night outing was certainly something not to be missed.
On a personal note, having photographed Trey and the jamband scene since the 1990’s, I knew I couldn’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity and for this experience, I employed my own art of collaboration to make the magic happen. Planning it out and trying to work around my occupation, family, and living in Colorado, I pondered which venue would be the best as I was going to have to travel to the East Coast for the goodness. I perused capacities and placed my sites on the UPMC Event Center in Moon Township, PA. Lauded at 4000 full, this one was the smallest venue of the tour and landed almost exactly halfway through the eight gigs, allowing for any kinks to be worked out by the time of my arrival. Also, with a name like Moon, I figured this one might just have a little something extra, whether it was the performance, the poster, or both.
With the time and financial pressures of the holidays, I knew I needed to reduce costs as much as possible and my plausible solution was to fly in and fly out within 24 hours and bypass car rental and hotel expenditures altogether. The only question was “how the hell am I going to do that, especially since I don’t know anyone on the moon!?!?!” Here comes collaborative effort part one. At Dick’s this past summer, night three, I got in line to get the poster as this was my 10-year-old son’s first show and I would be damned if I wasn’t going to turn him on to my addiction for collecting merch from events I have attended. When I got to the ghost town of a gate, there was only one guy ahead of me and of course we start talking. We shared stories of standing in and starting lines to get front row, to get pictures, to basically get the experiential reward from all the energy we put into this endeavor, and from the get-go, we just clicked. He was joined by the lovely Amanda. This good lady is bubbly and quiet at the same time and comes off as very unassuming. She has attended hundreds of phish shows since 1994, but she would never boast about or reduce her experience to statistics. Her inner light shines through and she is just a ray of positivity that anyone would want to be around. Sharing our backgrounds, I ask where they are from and they extol that they are heralding out of Ohio and by the time the gate opens and we are making the mad dash, we had exchanged info and open invitations to each other for free housing should the need ever be there.
Shappy is a stout gentleman with wide smile and an open-door heart who has been riding this experience for decades. For him it is an experience and when he shares stories, it is often served with a smile and joyous laugh alongside his great sense of humor. He is good people. In light of these characteristics, I reached out to him and asked if he was going to attend the Pennsylvania show. He stated he was on the fence, but that if I was traveling for it, he would certainly go, prompting me to ask how far he lived from the venue, retorting within a couple of hours. Again in an effort to save time and expense, I asked him if he would be willing to pick me up from the airport, take me to the show, and then drop me off afterward to sleep in the airport so as to catch a 5:00 am flight back home. He of course agreed and then proceeded to tell me I was nuts and that he was too old to be doing something like that, to which I agreed, knowing I would pay at least for a day following the whirlwind expedition. With this news, I booked my flight departing at 5:20 am day of the show and returning at 5:00 am the morning after. Travel plans, check!
For the week of the show, I knew I would be covering Leo Kottke, Taboose, and Victor Wooten all within five days and knowing the time I typically invest in writing reviews, I figured I would need some help here too. Enter Jon “The Writing Muscle” Russell and his lovely registered nurse wife Felicia. These two have had the Goose fever for some time and travel to places far and wide to see as many shows as they can. It is a wonder that their children haven’t had to change their names from GD songs to more avian influenced ones, like Canadian and Beak. This family also has a long-standing history with Trey and Phish so I thought who better, being college educated and full of statistical information, to help me produce the review so I could focus (pun intended) on the photographic component of this outing. I reached out and they stated excitedly that they were in. Writing endeavor plans, check!
At 2:30 in the morning on the 15th, I set out from Northern Colorado heading south on I-25 and everything is clear sailing: stars are out, no traffic, speeding towards the amazing, without a care in the world. Then, 20 miles from Denver, out of nowhere, snow flurries and already two to three inches of the white stuff as far as the eye can see blanketed the interstate. Semis are driving at 50, other cars have their hazards on, and I am not believing my eyes. I start fretting if my plane is even going to take off as I get closer and closer, the snow not letting up but rather intensifying. Maxing out at 50 mph myself and white knuckling it down the road, I try to remind myself that it all works out the way it is supposed to and that the more chaotic the journey, the better the story. Pressing on, I finally arrive to DIA, covered in snow and its million lights reflecting off the low hanging, burdensome clouds, again thinking I have a delay at the least and hearing my wife’s nagging but correct voice in my head: “You should always take a direct flight on show day so you don’t miss your connection”, a statement brought on by my choosing of a two-hour layover in St. Louis in order to save a few bucks on the way to the Moon.
I walk into the airport and check the board for the flight status and shockingly, everything is reading on time. I pull out the phone and reaffirm and every light is green lit. I can’t believe what I am reading but I certainly took the good news and made my way to the gate. The plane took off as scheduled and from the air, one could see that the snow had been going for some time, as the break in the clouds from the Mile High to the Gateway to the West revealed a white landscape with more clouds as far as the eye could see eastward. Landing in St. Louis, the backdrop was more of the arctic same and I continued to cross my fingers for no delays and, with Christmas magic in the air, the boards, the phone, and the Southwest reps all assured that things were moving forward on schedule. This fact not only proved to be true, but the final plane landed in Pittsburgh thirty minutes early!
Making a quick stop in Iron City at the famous Fiori’s Pizzeria and ordering more pizza than we could eat, Shappy and Company boxed up the leftovers and made our way through the slushy highways that connect all east coast cities to our final lunar stop. Arriving at 4:30 pm, my driver and I made our way into the venue, expecting to be met with the typical line of fellow poster freaks, especially with the release of the crescent moon image of the show poster for the night, and were shocked when literally the numbers amassed to less than 25. We quickly asked around to make sure we were in the right place, questioning patron and employee alike, and finally felt assured that luck was just on our side this fine wintery day.
Doors were advertised as opening at 5:30 and they did, but we were only allowed to advance about 50 feet into the venue, as Goose was still in the middle of their soundcheck. Minutes stretched and as there was another line at the lower part of the venue for GA ticket holders, many around questioned if the other line was getting in early, if there were going to be posters left, etc. and the paranoid-induced grumbling began. With the restlessness, the ticket scanners using hand held devices figured they should put their time to good use and scan the first handful of fans in the four lines so when we finally were allowed to enter we would be one step closer to done. Immediately, one of the scanners isn’t working and this infusion just added to the already unsettled feeling. A manager, sensing increasing distress, stood on a nearby bench and exclaimed in a booming voice, “Good evening, everyone. I have been warned by the venue, the tour, and the performers that you all are crazy about your posters and I want to assure you that no one else is getting in right now. We will open both the GA line and this one when the soundcheck is over. We are working on the broken scanner so please have patience and you will all be able to get your posters very soon.” The crowd laughed and smiled at the poster crazed remark and we went back to enjoying our conversations.
Nearing 5:55, the 25-person line had now filled the space we were in and extended out the door and without a scanner hitch, the four-lined dog race was set loose on the track. Making it to the merch table, poster seekers set in from the two entry points and it was clear that the venue had kept their word and all was good in the land of collectibles. Knowing I had to meet with the media handler, Shappy handed me his poster and I took our scores, heading back into the continued downfall of fluff for the poster drop off and pick up of my gear before heading down the hill to the media entrance.
Walking in, I was quickly met with another set of metal detectors and security, and as they eyeballed my rather large backpack with the unstated phrase “You can’t bring that in here”, I quickly relayed my position as a member of the press, which physically changed the gentlemen’s expression in an instance, as he told me to wait. Shortly thereafter, a nice lady with a kind smile approached, asked my name, and radioed my contact to meet. She then escorted me to the ticket window so that the nice man could print my ticket and “save us time” for when the rep, Mackenzie, would arrive. Five minutes pass and this enthusiastic twenty-something with a mile wide smile introduces herself and escorts me to the nether regions of the venue to the media room. I asked how many photographers would be here for the night and she reported me, the house photographer, and one other who may or may not show up as this person, obviously out of their gourd, had not reached out per the advanced instructions as we quickly approached the 6:30 pm cutoff time for media to be escorted to the floor.
When that magical time came, it was only me and Nick the house photographer and in light of this photo duo, the joy of the moment grew, knowing that few would have the opportunity to photographically commemorate this special night, a dynamic that after 25 years makes me giddy. Escorted to the floor, we were met by probably the nicest tour manager in existence. Kanute (sp) greeted all of us with a smile and a handshake and a welcome, touting a gentle presence in light of his broad-shouldered build. He quickly ran down the rules and thanked us for being there and asked if we needed anything. Assuring him we didn’t, he wished us a good shoot and turned back into the shadows.
Finally, the lights went down to the full house’s energized reception as Goose took the stage and Jon “The Writing Muscle” Russel took to the pen:
To kick things off with some warm island vibes on what was likely a chilly night in PA, the band chooses “Butter Rum” to get the evening started. This one opens with Peter Anspach and Rick Mitatoronda both on guitar. On a typical night, drummer Ben Atkind responds to Rick's "Hey Butter Rum" call in the song, but for this crowded house, the audience took care of that instead, and in retrospect, there is some uncertainty whether we've heard a call and response from the crowd on this song before. This opener had some stellar guitar and keyboard solos, and once Peter switches back to keys, the jam built up pretty well with some nice guitar work from Rick before dropping back into its end. Maybe it was just me but I feel like I heard a mythical Phish style “Woo” at the end of the song as well.
“Creatures”, the song that literally got me hooked on Goose, got the number two slot and I loved every minute of it. Rick kicks off the vocals with some auto tune just for all the haters in the crowd as this is a heavy auto tune song. Peter hops back and forth between keys and guitar for the more structured beginning. Rick's vocals felt more soulful and a little more even paced and patient than usual. The jam part had a slower build as well. I really think playing with Trey on this tour has helped Rick and the band take their time and be more cognizant in the jams, instead of machine gunning everything. Rick certainly seems more willing to slow it down and take a back seat with the rest of the band as the moment unfolds. Peter got into some synth sounds near the end while the band built up their usual tension and release moments throughout.
Somewhere around 15 minutes in, they downshifted things even more before a nice segue into the instrumental “Moby”. This one is from Goose's Ted Tapes, a conglomerate of jams they really liked while recording and practicing in the studio and seems to be a band favorite, it being the most commonly played song/jam from that release. This one really flowed nicely out of the “Creatures”-born jam and had some good interplay between Rick’s guitar and bass work by Trevor Weekz. The crowd really seemed to get into the buildup before the song ended. As a phish phan, this one has always felt like a "What's the Use" type song to mellow things out after a good jam and appeared to have the house feeling good in its wake.
For only the second time on this mini-tour, “All I Need” kept the progression going nicely. The necessity piece got off with a pretty standard beginning, included an abbreviated drum solo from Ben and lit up with some nice work from Peter on the keys. Once the band hit the jam portion, the members once again downshifted, demonstrating more of the patient Rick characteristic referenced during “Creatures”. For these ears, this slower jam contained a strong “Dark Star” vibe, resulting in that early 70's spacey Dead quality and was quite beautiful to hear. The jam then builds back up into what is more typical for “All I Need” with some nice work from the rhythm section of Jeff Arevalo. The improvisation eventually turns frenzied and wild near the end before they drop back into the song and finish up the lyrics. Solid version of this classic Goose tune.
Between the bearded fans and the snowy outside, “Yeti” seemed like a no-brainer for the evening. Rick said "Cool" before Trevor let loose with the normal Yeti bass intro, a definitive piece that makes this one unmistakable for anything else once the bass starts up, just like “Down with Disease”. This song is from Peter's original band Great Blue that he brought over when joining Goose. Peter really gets into the guitar work here and was on his knees Hendrix style at the edge of the stage driving the front row crazy as he grinned with joy and putting his wireless guitar setup to good use.
At about six minutes in, the jam starts to get darker and born out of the chaos, up pops The Johnson Brothers’ cover “Get the Funk Outta My Face”. This one also contained another nod to the haters with the refrain of "If you don't like our music, then you don't have to choose it". Rick and Peter traded some guitar licks before Rick signaled for a bass solo from Trevor. This is a fun cover but it could have been even better if the Trey horn crew had come out to give it even more flavor.
At the finish of the funk, Peter invites his pal Trey up on stage to play a few and begins the collaborative part of the set with “This Old Sea”. This song is a real tear jerker, Felicia, my darling wife, was crying before the lyrics even really started. Beautiful guitar interplay between Rick and Trey before the multi-part vocal harmonies with Rick, Peter, Trey and Jeff. Grabbed more tissues here because Trey really adds some heart and soul to this one, both on vocals and guitar. Jam starts out mellow and blissful with Rick and Trey trading off licks. The jam builds slowly with the two guitars feeding off of each other. At some point in the jam, you forget how sad this song is and just get into the groove. The band hits a little funky stretch for a bit but then moves back into a more rocking feel. The jam just keeps building until Trey and Rick are taking turns melting faces. Trey hits a patented long note before the tension finally breaks and he starts using some of his Sci-Fi Soldier effects as the improv gets really weird and ventures off into type 2 territory before turning to the set closer “Empress of Oreganos”.
This fun-filled gospel type song gets everyone moving and Trey and Rick keep with the trading licks theme throughout. Peter gets his jazz hands up in the air to signal it's time for the crowd to get involved and clap along, "Oh what a day to be living!". Trevor gets a nice slow soulful bass solo before Peter takes a turn on the keys. Song builds back up before Rick and Trey really take over and bring things to a close with a soul-bending revival ending.
With the final notes, the band members share hugs all around to end the set while the crowd cheers on the amorous presentation before the stage undergoes the trade out transformation for TAB.
With a short thirty minutes or less intermission, the lights darkened once again, and as I stood poised ready in the pit, Jon Russel was at home writing:
Trey entered from stage right first with the rest of the group in tow. No James Casey tonight as he is off the road getting cancer treatment. Instead, renowned saxophonist and song writer Kenneth Whalum will be sitting in to kick brass for the evening. I think I should preemptively state that I love to watch Cyro and all the crazy shit he plays so if there are too many mentions of what he is banging on, you will know why.
The TAB set started with “Everything’s Right”. This solid opener got the crowd going and just sounds so good with the horn section and back-up vocals. Cyro lit the crowd crazy with some scuba flipper clapping, thinking nothing of it by the look on his face. The jam section was nice and spotlit the horns. Whalum sounded great and filled Casey’s position nicely.
The fun instrumental “Mozambique” continued the horns showcase. Russ Lawton and Dezron Douglas laid out a solid temporal structure while everyone else bobbed over the top. “Camel Walk” followed and the arrangement albeit different form from the phish original sounds really great, smoother if you will. Although I can’t say “Camel Walk” without the “Dun Dun Dun”, the sleeker structure is welcomed and cool to hear. I love this one with the horns, adding a completely different feel to it vs the phunk Phish versions.
“Cayman Review” calypsoed in with an extended intro and had the whole room, including the band, dancing. We finally got to hear some more distinct bass here, but overall, the TAB command needs to turn Dezron up in the mix. Cyro slips on his evening wear washboard for this and by the end, Trey is dancing all over that stage.
Continuing the island vibe, more classic TAB came down the pike with “Alive Again”. Cyro really gets into the whistle on this one and got his walkabout on, firing the crowd up from the front of the stage. Trey puts in a mellow solo with some nice interplay with Ray on keys and the horns before Russ and Cyro drum solo it out before they wrap it up.
Slow things down for a minute and letting Trey croon for the people, “Love is What We Are” gave everyone the chance to take in the moment. Like Goose’s “This Old Sea”, this one can have you reaching for the tissues depending on how it hits you, just ask my wife. Just a beautiful Trey ballad and I think everyone really likes the backup vocals which round it out and gives it some life.
The always recognizable “Gotta Jibboo” infused the room with dance once again. This is one of the songs that makes you miss Tony on bass. This is certainly not a knock on Dezron as he is great, but “Jibboo”, “Sand”, and “First Tube” always make me think about Tony. TAB gives it the usual treatment with some jamming throughout. Trey threw in a few delay loops at the start, nothing like this song has had in the past, but then moves away from it pretty quick.
The instrumental “Olivia” got the jazzy horn treatment before shifting into a spooktacular “Ghost”. TAB has certainly found something with “Ghost”, doing their take on the song justice. Not saying it's better than Phish, but usually it's not even close, and for this evening’s performance, the gap was narrowed even further. The backup vocals and horns really brought some punch to this one and gave Trey space to explore. Cyro had all kinds of haunted sounding items to play here, including, chains, bells, and other randoms and utilized them all as expected. The jam gets darker while building up to “Simple Twist Up Dave”. Natalie “Chainsaw” Cressman and “Big Red” have some nice interplay in this one, with some great back and forth action. Jen Hartswick gets a turn next, more of a true trumpet solo and less back and forth with Trey. A little more drum break from Russ and Cryo gets out the megaphone for a bit and fires up his tower of drums before they move back to close out the song.
Trey’s latest release from Mercy, “Hey Stranger” gets some air time next. This one is moody and an automatic favorite for many. Backup vocals really fill this one out and “The Milkman” Ray throws down on the Clav effects. Short, sweet, and groovin’, this new sultry sample leads it with a strut.
Powerhouse staple “Money, Love, and Change” came out swinging. Trey leads the jam with some nice guitar work which builds up to a strong finish, the horns egging him on and burning the place down.
Classic TAB rocker “Push on ‘Til the Day” got anyone left sitting to their feet. Trey went full rockstar for this one, including twisted faces, head bobbing, and notable dance moves all the while melting the audience’s faces. For those phishy people in the crowd, anytime you get a turkey ham and back of the worm reference, you know it's a good song.
“Sand” was the song of choice for the collaborative part of Trey’s set, Rick and Peter taking their respective places on guitar and keys and getting settled in. Originally planning on doing something different, Trey changes his mind in the moment about what song to play, classic Trey, and Peter has no idea what they are going to do as Trey wears that impish grin of his. Trey gives James Casey a shout out of love and healing before they start and thanks Kenneth for filling in. The first part is a standard read, but then Trey slows things way down after the vocal part of the song and swaps licks with Rick for a lengthy bit. The midsection eventually builds back up in typical “Sand” fashion over driving rhythm before returning to its normal groove, leaving listeners and players alike wrought with joy at its end.
For the encore, Trey goes solo acoustic for “More” and “Backwards Down The Number Line”. “More” done solo has a different feel with just Trey, doesn't build up quite the same, but it has more heart and soul to it. Nice version.
“Number Line” started off strong and had the audience singing along. Towards the end, Trey flubbed the lyrics and had to stop to laugh at himself, stating,” You all don’t know what goes on in this crazy brain of mine” as the room erupted in thankful awareness of all the wonderful craziness we have been gifted with. Trey picked back up where he left off and had the audience singing stronger along for the finish, bringing a noticeable joy to his face.
For the closer, Trey invites everyone including the whole of Goose back on stage to close out the night with one more. Everyone in their respective place, Trey chimes in, “I can’t even begin to describe how fun this tour has been. It really has been unbelievably great.” He then proceeded to go around the stage, asking everyone if they were having fun. Jen and Natalie then take a moment,” We are feeling really ill-balanced. If anyone wants to come over to our side, you can visit”, prompting Cyro and Trevor to leave the drum encampment and migrate to horn row armed with percussive instrumentation. The final choice was tour first “Suzy Greenberg''. Once started, Peter got to sub for Fishman and do the vocal fills about neurologists and seemed to enjoy the heck out of it. For anyone who ever stated they wanted to see a “Suzy” with horns, this one made good on that wish. Definitely a fun version of the song. Cyro was yelling and walking the stage from end to end since he gave his percussion kit over to Jeff and Ben from Goose. Peter and Ray traded runs on the piano and organ solos from the keyboard pit. Trey and Rick took time to shred it out before the house rhythm got the syncopation spotlight accompanied by Hartswick for a solo that would carry on until everyone else jumped back in for the final stanza.
Hanging it all up with a big rock finish, the band smiled, some bowed, and Trey took a moment to venture over to Rick and Peter and give them hugs, before the sum left the stage, smiling and as filled as the 4000 they left behind.
Walking out into the cold, all who exited were using the same accolades: amazing, incredible, pleasantly surprised. I jumped back into the car with Shappy and munched on leftover pizza as we headed down the highway to my floor space at the Pittsburgh International Airport, the sum of us smiling from the inside out as we reflected on the good living we had experienced over the last few hours. Even now as I sit here writing this, my face is filled with a smile not only from the chance collaboration I got to take in, witnessing great music produced by the old and new schools coming together, but also the collaboration that I was a part of because of others like Shappy, Jon, Felicia, and Amanda, all of whom I met and connected with because of the leap of faith it takes to join in on this musical flight of fancy. Long live the improvisation of life and the open hearts of the kind and let us all remember that at the heart of collaboration is community.