TAB vs MGB

Someone over at the Online Phish Tour wrote an article about why the Mike Gordon Band (MGB) is better than the Trey Anastasio Band (TAB). It got to me. I’ve seen both, though I’ve seen TAB many more times. I’ve listened to both enough to know that the general sentiment is wrong. Now, I know I recently wrote a post about the most recent TAB tour. Some issues will be rehashed, but it’s not quite the same.

Comparing TAB to MGB is comparing apples to oranges. While the leaders of each of these bands might come from the same band, they are very different musicians and individuals, and it shows in their individual bands. The biggest argument made is that Trey has been a sloppy guitarist since Phish returned in 2009, and Scott Murawski is an awesome guitarist. I can’t argue against either point. They’re both correct. Trey has been sloppy since Phish came back. However, Trey has not been sloppy the majority of the time. Scott is an awesome guitarist and it’s great that the author finally realized that, after admitting to brushing him off as a “generic jamband guitarist”. They’re both incredible guitarists. He concentrates on the Mound MGB did in Denver. One thing he ignores, however, is that Scott wrote two blog posts where he discusses Mound (here and here). If you read them, you see that he has struggled with it. They nailed it in Denver, but who’s to say they won’t another time? After all, it was sloppy in Eugene. Trey nails songs all the time, but sometimes they get away from him. It happens. It’s live music. That’s what it’s all about. If you spend too much time concentrating on someone nailing a single song, you miss the bigger picture.┬áThe one argument against Trey that I really disagree with is that his tone is out of control. During TAB shows, Trey takes the lead, getting things going, and then lets the others have their turn. He’s not always in the spotlight.

The bigger picture is that TAB and MGB, which one can only assume is the main premise behind the article, are two completely different bands. He compares pricing and venue choices. Yes, Mike is touring more out west than he is in the east. He did a bunch of east coast shows in November. TAB skipped around a lot, concentrating in the northeast. That’s where he’s more likely to sell out shows. Ticket price is discussed. Trey is the bigger draw, so it’s more expensive. That’s completely normal. And he talks about mixing up the setlists more. Yes, Mike does that. He’s got different songs. Scott has different songs. His band is more diverse than Trey’s. People tend not to go on TAB tour and they’re playing for those at the show, not the people listening from home.

I enjoy both bands equally, but for different reasons. Mike’s shows are loaded with his quirkiness. They’re more like a small little known band playing small clubs. TAB is Trey’s playground. He uses it to find new songs for Phish. He perfects songs for Phish. He goes out and just wants to have fun. There’s no major jamming because there’s no need. It’s short and concise, as it should be. TAB used to jam for longer. It got boring. Mike uses his shows to experiment a bit more on his own as the leader. It rounds him out as a musician.

I have a very strong feeling that when Phish returns this summer, we’re going to see Trey stepping back a bit more, allowing the others to shine and lead the jams. I have a feeling we’re going to see Mike take the lead more often. I have a feeling we’re going to see more Mike tunes played. What I don’t think we’re going to see is Trey being sloppy as much as this guy thinks he will be.

Overall, it’s a weak article that lacks any direction and makes silly comparisons. I realize it’s just one guy’s opinion, but he could have at least made his argument a bit better. He finishes it with comparing the two bands, but throughout the article, he ignores the bands and concentrates solely on the guitarists. I’m sorry, but if you want to compare the bands, compare the bands. If you want to compare the guitarists, compare the guitarists. Do not, however, start with one and then use the other as your reasoning. It takes your article and argument nowhere. And definitely don’t compare one MGB show to the entire TAB tour.

2 thoughts on “TAB vs MGB”

  1. While I do not disagree with what you say, I found the TAB setlists utterly boring save the acoustic surprises, and I’m completely stoked for the Mike shows as they come pouring in. It has everything to do with the fact that the TAB shows sound mostly the same for years and have very few legendary high points, while the Mike shows are feeling pretty unique. Take that for what you will.

  2. TAB has been around a lot longer. I do see your point. I got really bored with the 8-10 piece TAB. They were good, but their jams got too long for the band. They went nowhere. I’ll ignore the stuff that happened since then (70 Volt Parade), but when TAB came back without the horns, they were on fire. Last year’s tour was great, but repetitive until he threw in the acoustic section (which he did after I saw him). I think this year’s tour was all about the acoustic set. The electric set, while good, wasn’t great. However, he introduced some great tunes and redid some others (Ocelot is amazing from TAB, better than Phish, IMO).

    By contrast, Mike hasn’t toured much with the same band. He’s had different bands and different projects. He’s also using his tours, as I said above, to experiment more, while I think Trey is using it to hone some tunes and just blow some steam, keep the cobwebs out, etc. Trey is concentrating his efforts on the acoustic set, as seen by the varied setlist for that set compared to the electric set. And since he had to rehearse all of those songs acoustic, often playing the parts from all 4 members of Phish, he couldn’t concentrate quite as much on the full band stuff, making it more repetitive from show to show. Mike, on the other hand, had lots of time to rehearse full band (he also had more time than Trey between MSG and the start of his tour).

    The legendary high points of TAB shows come from the acoustic sets these days. I don’t have a problem with that. I want to see/hear more acoustic stuff from them. It’s a new sound and can still have that “Phishiness” as seen in some of his solo stuff as well as the Fest 8 acoustic set.

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