On Wednesday, May 22, Trey Anastasio revived his orchestral repertoire with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops at the 2,446-seat Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C., for his only scheduled orchestral appearance in 2013. Anastasio was joined by NSO principal pops conductor Steven Reineke, performing orchestrations by Don Hart.
“First Tube” led off the show, as it had in all six previous orchestral performances, excepting it’s symphonic debut on 5/21/09 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when it closed the first set. Trey appeared extremely loose as he enthusiastically leaned into the first of his solos of the night, rushing ahead of the orchestra before settling into a sustained groove. The Anastasio/Marshall composition “Frost” from Trey’s 2012 release, Traveler, offered the only orchestral debut of the evening, with Trey delivering a sweet and delicate vocal performance.
A typically stunning version of “Divided Sky” revealed to the attentive listener layer upon layer of masterfully delicate fills of strings and percussion, vividly fulfilling through Don Hart’s masterful orchestration Trey’s original vision of the song. “Divided Sky” in this setting – world-class orchestra, impeccable acoustic confines, silent crowd, allowing total concentration and connection – is truly something to be experienced and not described; it has been the emotional highlight of each of Trey’s orchestral performances this observer has had the privilege to witness.
“Let Me Lie” followed, another staple in this context since its 9/27/08 orchestral debut. Before "Goodbye Head" Trey said that he had written this song with his elder daughter when she was nine years old, and with a slight sigh of resignation, noted that now she was going off to college. While “Goodbye Head” has oddly yet to see the light of the Phish stage, it has been a staple in the TAB touring arsenal since 2005, and made its orchestral debut on 2/9/12 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
“Guyute (Orchestral)” made its tenth orchestral appearance, a journey that began with Trey’s orchestral world premiere with the Vermont Youth Symphony on 2/2/01. Combining elements of what lives in the Phish repertoire as “My Friend, My Friend” as well as all of “Guyute” proper, “Guyute (Orchestral)” saw Trey break a string on acoustic guitar, but he soldiered on and the performance was otherwise flawless.
The proceedings then took a minor turn when a young lady – who was, perhaps, over-served – in the first few rows took the opportunity of a short break to insert herself into the spotlight. This interlude was, of course, unfortunate. Though in the context of the evening as a whole, for those in attendance with whom I spoke it was truly an inconsequential blip that could not possibly tarnish such a special evening. Trey exhibited total class in handling the situation the best he could, offering to dedicate the subsequent “Water in the Sky” to her as bounty for the person to return to her seat. Moving on, the set concluded with a decidedly loose, swinging and fun interpretation of “Stash” that saw conductor Steven Reineke jamming out on the podium and cueing the crowd through the “Stash” claps. We didn’t need the cue, but it certainly helped to channel the decidedly loose atmosphere.
The delicate dance of intermission logistics between venue staff and crowd during Trey’s orchestra events have yet to be ironed out. Phish fans have been conditioned over decades that “fifteen minutes” means “forty minutes;” but the intermission at these events is actually fifteen minutes, and people get stuck in the bar lines. The solution employed at other venues was draconian – no seating during the performance – which is a bummer if the first song is, say, a 35-minute long “Time Turns Elastic” that you don't get to see. In this case, seating was allowed after the second set began; good for those wanting to return to their seats, though not so good for those trying to listen to the extremely quiet and delicate first movement of “TTE” (“Song at Dawn” and "Ruby Shaded Sea"). The crowd did settle eventually, as Trey and the NSO performed the nine parts in three movements of “Time Turns Elastic,” the "centerpiece of Trey's writing during his time off from the road" in 2007-08.
A breather between the two anchors of the second set, Trey dedicated “Brian and Robert” to the song's co-author, Tom Marshall, who was in attendance. Then the set’s culmination, “You Enjoy Myself.” It is a fool’s errand to pick the “best” orchestral version when your choices are among all world-class ensembles, but this one was special as it featured the fulfilment of a life’s dream for hard-core Phish fan, professional musician, phish.net contributor and Mockingbird Foundation board member Andrew Hitz, a.k.a. drewphish on twitter. Drew was dropping bombs on tuba that would have made Mike Gordon proud, and his beaming smile from the back row lit up the room. Not content with a display of individual cluelessness in the first set, the crowd briefly joined in en masse during the pre-vocal jam section of “YEM” with a perplexing crowd clap. Dudes. But Trey quickly waved off this bizarre display of doing-it-wrong with a quick hand gesture before he launched into his sublime concluding vocal jam that hinted of Jon Anderson in his prime.
“The Inlaw Josie Wales” provided a simple punctuation to this magnificent performance, which was followed by two curtain calls, and included Trey bringing his collaborator Don Hart to the stage, concluding a night of profoundly fulfilling music by one of the most important artists of our time. This performance showcased a core repertoire of great complexity yet ethereal beauty, and witnessed Anastasio at the top of his game on acoustic guitar and vocals where he has demonstrated tremendous advancements in the last few years, as well as demonstrating exquisite tone control on electric guitar. One can only hope that these orchestral performances will continue in the future; it is a genuine privilege to witness and should top the bucket list of any serious Phish fan.
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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