|Aug. 7th, 2004 @ 01:02 pm Trey Anastasio: Plasma|
|Album Rating: 4 out of 5 stars|
One of the most common comments from a fan of Phish and its side projects is that their live albums fail to truly capture the live atmosphere. Well, the search is over -- it's been done on this album. Having been to several of Trey's shows since 2000, I can honestly say that the musical performances on this album are as energetic and musically precise as they are live.
Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) began as a stripped down bass-drum-guitar trio in the late 90's, playing simple groove tunes and old classic rock favorites like "Ooh Child" and "I Can See Clearly Now." In winter 2001, a horn section was added, but they had difficulty connecting, and the shows were mostly a musical outlet for Trey's incredible guitar skills (so needless to say, there are some bootleg performances that are worth finding). Trey composed a number of songs for the band (some of which Phish recorded as well) and, surprisingly, TAB toured again in summer 2001. They had improved considerably and pulled in a few more members. During the shows, Trey actually began conducting the band as he played, demonstrating hours of band practice. He began to shift from being the musical focal point of the band, limiting his extended solos, to a band member himself, creating a musical texture acting as a unit. In 2002, they released Trey Anastasio and toured yet again, improving considerably on the last tour. Plasma is a compilation of selected songs played in late 2002/early 2003, after which Trey went back on tour with Phish.
The only song that Plasma shares with 2002's Trey Anastasio is "Night Speaks to a Woman," which is so stretched-out on Plasma that it is unrecognizable. "Night Speaks" opens up the second disk of the album, which consists of four "jams." Unlike Phish jams, TAB jams consist of Trey leading the band through a series of key changes and tempo adjustments, a number of connected grooves and riffs. Fortunately, there are enough musicians to keep this approach fairly interesting, but there are a few moments when the riffs become recognizable, even in the context of different songs. All in all, this disc is worth every penny of what it's worth, especially some of the dark, disturbing moments during "Sand."
The first disc plays more like a studio album with fairly concise songs and jamming which focuses on one instrument at a time, rather than on the band as a whole, like the second disk. Some of the songs that Trey uses as filler in concert, he uses as filler on this first disk, like "Small Axe." It's a nice instrumental, and it breaks up a live set very nicely, but on this album is just disturbs the flow. Some of the extended jamming on "Curlew's Call" is similiar. Fortunately, songs like "Plasma," "Magilla," and "Mozambique" make up for these relatively boring moments, which are why the album gets 4 instead of 5 stars. TAB has been playing some of the songs on the first disc for years ("Mozambique," "Small Axe," "Every Story Ends in Stone") but this is the first time they've been released. These songs, along with the other newer ones, comprise a unique listening experience which is worthy of praise from a musical community where great live albums are rare.