Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall, Herman
Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: Tim Wade (TheEmu)
Last Update: 2011-10-03
Certain images are common in songs from lyricists Tom Marshall and Scott Herman. Many songs refer to water (“All of These Dreams,” “Anything But Me,” “Friday,” “Limb By Limb,” “Waves”) and time is also frequently a subject (“Friday,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan,” “Vultures”). One thread, though, which weaves its way through most of these songs is frustration – think “Water in the Sky.” Sometimes communication is frustrated, sometimes freedom is longed for but denied, and often the speaker thinks of acting but instead stays in place and waits. “Curlew’s Call” juxtaposes the theme of frustration with uplifting melodies and percussion lines to create a song whose music and meaning are equally complex.
TAB, “Curlew’s Call” – 2/14/10, Red Bank, NJ
At first glance, “Curlew’s Call” seems to be focused on the changing seasons, symbolized by the migratory wading bird that is the song’s namesake. The Curlew, though, is incidental to the picture that is painted by the song’s speaker, who is waiting for a reply. He is hopeful that spring will bring change, a relief from the “sullen winter skies” that have more to do with silence than weather. As days turn into months, as spring turns into summer and then winter, and as his “life is sailing by,” the speaker waits and waits “a little more.” No answer is ever given, though, and the lyrics bring the speaker back to spring, where the song’s first lines are repeated and the waiting begins again.
Waiting anxiously for a response and being greeted only with silence is certainly a maddening situation; yet the music which accompanies this scene remains uplifting and hopeful. “Curlew’s Call” is elevated by dancing cymbals and filled with the darting and weaving of various horns and Trey’s guitar. In its best performances, such as the version from 10/24/02 captured on the album Plasma, the effect is not unlike a flock of birds which swirls in a dance that is complicated and yet far from chaotic. In order to reconcile music which inspires this kind of joyous movement with lyrics about mute obstinance, it’s necessary to rethink the speaker’s attitude. Perhaps he is a foolish, eternal optimist…or maybe this is the year he’ll get his answer. The listener is ultimately invited to hope that even the most taciturn winter can be broken by spring.
Debuting in the fall of 2002 (the second TAB tour as a dectet) and appearing in almost every show of that tour, “Curlew’s Call” is a wonderful example of the band’s approach during this period. With Cyro Baptista joining the rhythm section, a groove foundation was formed which would propel Trey, Ray Paczkowski’s keyboards, and the five-piece horn section in dizzying examples of improvisation. The song is perhaps not as well-suited to a smaller lineup, as it was only played twice during 70 Volt Parade shows (on 11/15/05 and 12/6/05). “Curlew’s Call” then disappeared for most of the following year before popping up in the Undectet’s 2006 New Year’s run, on 12/29/06 and 12/31/06. The song then roosted for a time but migrated back to frequent rotation during the 2010 tour. Whenever “Curlew’s Call” flies away its fans will surely listen and await its return, hoping not to be frustrated by silence.