Guitarist Trey Anastasio's live album, Original Boardwalk Style, progresses just the way a live performance should. Its early tracks demonstrate the varied assets of The Undectet and, as the subsequent cuts unfold, the sequencing serves to exhibit the subtleties of the material as well as the musicianship.
Recorded at the New Year's 2006-7 run at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, the album displays a distinct thread of continuity with Anastasio's previous solo efforts, most obvious here in the direct self-expression of "Alive Again." But almost equally significantly, the CD constitutes something of a reconvening of the big band with which Anastasio has spend the most time apart from Phish.
The eleven-piece ensemble, its rhythm section crucially bolstered by the great Jeff Sipe on drums, works its way through material familiar to those who have followed Anastasio's solo career. In some cases, however, material is rearranged to both rework it and stretch the band's capabilities. Far from the rock conventions of its studio counterpart, for instance, "Shine," features uplifting horns on the refrain that render the tune much more dramatic and much less formulaic.
The most conventional arrangement here may be "Mud City," its pumping horns redolent of R&B that suit its simple rock and roll changes. Yet it ultimately approaches a fever pitch not unlike the frenetic "Mr. Completely" that ushered in 2007. A rousing climax as crowd-pleasing as it sounds to be exciting for the band, all of whom are singing along by the cold stop, it's in sharp contrast to the reflective opener, "Drifting," where lyrics from a reverie give way to interludes that complete the dreamlike mood, as Ray Paczkowski's rippling piano lead to Jennifer Hartswick's wordless vocals.
Liquid guitar from Anastasio enters almost imperceptibly during this interval and ends it at an ever so slightly more intense level, as befits the subsequent "Plasma." On this near twelve-minute track, as Anastasio's guitar burns ever hotter, the horns generate their own momentum, the end result a remarkable ebb and flow of group interaction.
The clarity of Garry Brown's original recordings, not to mention the finely tuned mixing by Anastasio and Ben Collette, allows the listener to hear small touches, such as the synthesizer washes, as that track concludes. Such detail makes this disc worth coming back to and also represents the meticulous thought that clearly went into the concept of Original Boardwalk Style.
Personnel: Trey Anastasio: guitar, vocals; Tony Hall: bass, vocals; Ray Paczkowski: keyboards; Jeff Sipe: drums; Christina
Durfee: vocals, synthesizer; Jennifer Hartswick: vocals, trumpet; Peter Apfelbaum: saxophone, flute; Russell
Remington: saxophone, flute; Jeff Cressman: trombone; Dave Grippo: saxophone; Cyro Baptista: percussion.