Trey Anastasio, virtuoso guitarist and former frontman for the explosive jam-rock quartet Phish, has made a career out of bending rules and minds.
Although Phish fans still mourn the loss — the band amicably called it quits in late 2004 — Phish set a new standard for improvisational rock music with richly composed arrangements, hard-driving Anglo-funk and wild onstage theatrics.
Currently celebrating the recent release of his third major solo studio album, "Bar 17," Anastasio kicks off a West Coast tour this week, with a run of shows that includes a two-night stand at The Warfield.
"After Coventry, which was the last Phish show, I pretty much went into my studio up in Vermont, and just started writing. I was writing, writing, writing, with a lot of turbulence happening," Anastasio said. "Some of the songs on ‘Bar 17’ were written before the songs on [2005 release] ‘Shine.’ Both of those records might as well have come out as one big, giant record."
Despite their common origin, even a brief listen reveals a striking contrast between the two. The relaxed-tempo rhythms and sometimes deeply personal lyrics that make up much of "Bar 17" stand out sharply against the pop-influenced hooks and snappy production of "Shine."
"I think it was mostly a matter of presentation," Anastasio said. "Ultimately, they’re songs, and they all mean a lot to me. So I play all those songs. I sometimes have a little bit of a rough time with records, because ... when I write, I feel like I’m writing for the repertoire. Records for me are a little bit of a snapshot of what was going on at that time, but ultimately, the songs are there to be played live."
If each record is a snapshot, a flipthrough Anastasio’s photo album would be quite a journey. The recordings have varied wildly throughout the years, from the mischievous playfulness of Phish and the brass-band backdrop of his early solo work, to the darkly hypnotic rock trio Oysterhead and the stargazing, blues-infused pop music we’ve heard in more recent years.
But with this broad spectrum of projects, at least one thing has remained constant: Anastasio’s musical presence and pyrotechnic ability on the guitar make for an unforgettable concert-going experience.
"I’m gonna try to bring it all to the table for the West Coast," Anastasio said. "A lot of people e-mailed me, and said that things seem to happen on the East Coast a lot. I wanted to bring the horns back, so we’re bringing them back the night before The Warfield."
No stranger to The Warfield, Anastasio’s shows there have included numerous surprises, including guest appearances by members of Talking Heads, the Grateful Dead, and on one memorable occasion, fellow guitar legend Carlos Santana.
"The Warfield has lots of great memories attached to it. It’s a great room … just the right size for rock ’n’ roll, and just the right setup. The people are right in your face, I just love it."
Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Contact: (415) 421-8497 or visit www.ticketmaster.com