Wednesday 05/29/2013 by pzerbo


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, 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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, comment by Midcoaster
Midcoaster Wow. Great review. My wish is that Trey would come to perform at one of Maine's concert halls--say Collins Center for the Arts--so that us "out of the way" people could witness this. I appreciate the description of crowd dynamics, here, as I could now picture this in more detail. Truly a bucket-list performance for me. Who knew Trey's palette would would color such wide swaths one day?
, comment by itorra
itorra will this concert ever go on LivePhish ?
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd Great review, @pzerbo. When the show was announced, I had a hard time justifying taking two days off work and booking flights and a hotel for one evening of music.

In retrospect, I'm having a hard time justifying *not* doing that.
, comment by tweezer
tweezer @itorra said:
will this concert ever go on LivePhish ?
This concert was not recorded for release. ;)
, comment by Just_Ivy
Just_Ivy Great review, @pzerbo! It was definitely a special experience and I walked out with a new perspective that I really wasn't expecting to get. The arrangements of familiar songs like Divided Sky weren't at all like I imagined they would be. More than simply "Phish songs played by an orchestra", it was like a whole different experience. I found it really refreshing...and totally awesome :) I'm so glad I went.
, comment by Shoney_Fluff
Shoney_Fluff What a great show. Almost as good as Trey and the Scorchio Quartet in Princeton in 2010. So glad I got to see the whole orchestra play. Kennedy Center was perfect setting (with the exception of the nitrous yoyo's outside after the show). I would love a recording but doesn't sound like there is one. Definitely recommend seeing Trey with an orchestra, simply sublime.

Thanks Trey!
, comment by SoStupendous
SoStupendous Couldn't go, but at least I can live vicariously through the great review! Does anyone know if there are any orchestral performances that have been released officially on Live Phish or elsewhere? I would love to hear some of these songs not recorded on an iPhone.
, comment by fluff_hen
fluff_hen Excellent recording of the LA Philharmonic show:

Thanks for the review @pzerbo!
, comment by SoStupendous
SoStupendous @fluff_hen said:
Excellent recording of the LA Philharmonic show:

Thanks for the review @pzerbo!
Thanks! @joyjoy

Man... and I almost saw the LA one live! #missedopportunity
, comment by Rebicculus
Rebicculus Wow, this review actually has made me reconsider and try to get to one of these next time he plays one. Great job.
, comment by thehurricane
thehurricane went to the la phil one and the layers of sound was amazing, that concert halls sound was unlike anything I had ever heard. When I looked at the set list for the ones before la, trey played that beatles suite with the end. Does anybody know why he played it back east but then only played josie wales for an encore in la?
, comment by feckless_animus
feckless_animus @tweezer said:
@itorra said:
will this concert ever go on LivePhish ?
This concert was not recorded for release. ;)
Are you sure? Most orchestral halls keep mics set up (usually hanging above the stage) so that concerts and rehearsals can be easily recorded. The end result may not be the same quality as something that would end up on CD, but it would certainly be better than the mic on an iphone (or even a taper's rig).
, comment by Ez_and_not_so_Fast
Ez_and_not_so_Fast @feckless_animus said:
@tweezer said:
@itorra said:
will this concert ever go on LivePhish ?
This concert was not recorded for release. ;)
Are you sure? Most orchestral halls keep mics set up (usually hanging above the stage) so that concerts and rehearsals can be easily recorded. The end result may not be the same quality as something that would end up on CD, but it would certainly be better than the mic on an iphone (or even a taper's rig).
I agree with you about the mic on a telephone. But usually orchestras record in a closed hall without audience. The gain is up so high on those mics so they can pick up the dynamic range of all of those acoustic instruments that someone hollering can just drown out everything else. If they were to record it with the audience in house they'd need to set up floor mics and possibly put up sound shields.

Outdoor recordings might provide an alternative to this because the shouting would dissipate rather than reverberate. I saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform at Ravinia once, a Brahms piano concerto, and that was recorded live. Respectful audience, though, I guess.

I'd like to see the entire band play with an orchestra.
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