Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
"Discern" is a musical metaphor that operates on several levels. At face value, it captures in lyrical form the experience of threading your way through a darkened auditorium on the tortuous path through the crowd that leads back to your seat. Quite often the disorientation that results from the intense lights and sound coupled with the chaotic and constant motion of the crowd can become overwhelming: at times like these “the pathway through the darkness” is easily lost. This “darkness” operates on a deeper level at the universal scale. Here of course the darkness in question is evil. The appropriate pathway would then be a life lived righteously. The barely discerned whisper and the face in the mist that are merely the “ebb and flow and eddies in, a tidal wave of sound” are the power of soul as expressed in the world around us. The darkness of the world can at times be overwhelming, but by discerning the words and symbols of the all-knowing force that drives the cosmic wheel, we can locate the righteous path to the “higher ground.” This concept can then be carried from the highly spiritual to a more mundane third interpretation: one that perhaps gives the second side of a one-sided argument. The righteous path through the darkness of disagreement is sometimes difficult to discern through a wall of angry words or a misty veil of tears. Often it is best to stay low to “the contours of the ground” and wait for the “tidal wave of sound” to sweep on by.
The original composition of “Discern” as debuted by Trey Anastasio on 5/24/02 in San Francisco, CA, features a horn introduction. In the Phish debut of “Discern” which followed a late second set “Carini” on 7/8/03 the horn intro was replaced with Page’s piano. The original intro with horns was repreised as a stand-alone cut on Trey's 2004 offering Seis De Mayo; a complete studio version including the horn intro appeared on Trey's 2006 release, 18 Steps. The composed portion of “Discern” which accompanies the lyrics has the vague feel of a Broadway show tune amalgamation of the introductions to “Walls of the Cave” and “Pebbles and Marbles.” Apparently the song was one of what may be a number of tunes that were left off Round Room. Indeed, “Discern” recalls the starlit feel of much of Round Room.
Each of the live performances to date has consisted of the composed section, followed by an approximately six minute jam, and then a reprise of the composed section. At the Chula Vista debut the jam heats up rather quickly, as Trey eschews melody in favor of a series of wrenching, wailing runs. The 8/2/03 second set IT performance of “Discern” features a jam segment that evokes images of gigantic whales swimming in the ebb and flow and eddies in the tidal “Waves” that follow. Following IT “Discern” receded into the mist for the duration of 2003. "Discern" has yet to return.