Minnesota Phish fans needed a fix.
The jam-band extraordinaire -- on hiatus from 2004 to 2009 -- hasn't performed in the Twin Cities since 2000. So for Phish-heads, the appearance of frontman Trey Anastasio's on-again side project, Classic Tab, on Saturday night at the jam-packed State Theatre was a bit like a curler finally getting to compete in the Winter Olympics.
It may not have been a gold-medal performance (Anastasio was more consistently impressive in 2005 at the Orpheum with his then-side project 70 Volt Parade) but Phish-heads got what they needed: a marathon concert featuring nonstop dance-inducing grooves, funky jams and long-winded guitar passages by the most giddily grinningest guitar player of all time.
The repertoire during the two-set, 200-minute concert included a few Phish pieces (mostly done solo on acoustic guitar to the thrill of the singing-along throng), several selections from Anastasio's solo CDs and a killer cover of "Black Dog" that might have prompted fans to rename this septet Red Zeppelin.
The Led Zeppelin classic, which ended the second set, featured trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick on lead vocals with carrot-topped Anastasio facing her, his muscular-for-the-first-time-all-night guitar coaxing her on. With her big, wailing voice, she out-Zepped Heart's Ann Wilson, probably the best known female Zep interpreter. Trombone and saxophone added a bold texture. And the whole experience produced Anastasio's biggest grin of the night.
That cover was a highlight partly because it was a stronger song than most of what Anastasio writes. His tunes tend to be more about grooves than melodies, about a series of vague images than stories and about musicianship instead of vocalizing. A praiseworthy exception was "Alaska," a syncopated, horn-accented New Orleans piano funk that was almost as smart-alecky as Randy Newman (rhyming Alaska with Nebraska) and as deeply funky as Little Feat. It also brought some smoking guitar from Anastasio.
If the 45-year-old jam-band god was trying to assert his bona fides as a guitar hero on Saturday (Rolling Stone ranked him 73rd on its 100-greatest guitarists list in 2003), he came up short. His approach to solos was mostly to find a cool guitar line and play it over and over again. For the crowd, there was joy in repetition but, frankly, limited virtuosity.
Still, he found appealing flavors -- and many more colors than Phish does -- including swamp rock with a Bo Diddley beat on "Money, Love and Change," Paul Simon-like "You Can Call Me Al," horns on the spinningly funky "Ether Sunday" and the buoyant bolero rock of the after-midnight, instrumental encore "First Tube."
With this fix from the king of Phish, grinning fans carried on in the Phish-head tradition - with hugs, handshakes and a hit of their favorite substance.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 • firstname.lastname@example.org