Trey Anastasio officially launched his solo career in the spring of 2002 with a self-titled solo album, supporting it with a tour in the summer that reunited him with Phish, who released an album toward the end of the year, just when Anastasio played another round of solo shows. It was a busy year for the de facto Phish leader, and its aftershocks are captured on Plasma, a double-disc live album that samples from concerts and soundchecks he played with his solo band throughout 2002. Songwise, it's a hodgepodge of new songs, cuts from the solo albums, Phish tunes, and a cover of Bob Marley's "Small Axe," so it's less a faithful reproduction of a concert than it is an aural diary of a year, which is probably a better way to represent his music in 2002, since it was a bit of a crazy quilt patchwork. Better that, though, than the lazy, ramshackle nature of Phish's reunion Round Room, which sounded far more tossed-off than this. The scattershot nature of this reflects the restless nature of Anastasio's muse during this time, how he feels alive and engaged when he's working on a sprawling, all-encompassing platform. Trey Anastasio focused that desire into perfectly realized, crystallized pop songs as sophisticated as Steely Dan. Here, he blows that tight focus and sharp arrangements wide open, stretching out all these tunes to length of Phish improvs but, of course, with a ten-piece band in tow. Instead of being overworked and busy, the arrangements breathe and the music sounds livelier than any recent Phish live record (apart from the archival records, naturally), as well as more adventurous. While it would be inaccurate to say that every second of the 20-plus-minute versions of "Night Speaks to a Woman" and "Inner Tube," along with the 16-minute "Sand," is captivating, they have something equally as important: momentum. These are jams that go places, often very interesting places, and they suggest numerous possibilities for Anastasio to go in the future. Considering that Round Room sounded so haphazard, it's nice to have this record out since it functions as a counterpoint to that meandering record, proving that even if Phish has entered a weird phase, Anastasio is thriving outside of the group.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2