Kill Devil Falls
Historian: Chris Bertolet (bertoletdown)
Last Update: 2014-01-23
Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall succeed as songwriters for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that their songs leave plenty of room for interpretation. That said, a few of their tunes are not so playfully ambiguous, and most observers seem to agree that "Kill Devil Falls" is not a secluded cascade of Jamaican Rum, a town on a map, or a stop on a pub crawl, but a pointed metaphor for the seductive oblivion of addiction that Trey came to know in recent years.
Like most Anastasio/Marshall compositions, "Kill Devil Falls" is a truly collaborative work both musically and lyrically, and Trey contributed much of the self-referential verbiage here. As the song begins, our narrator returns home from a long bender in Kill Devil Falls and is obtusely stunned to find that his love has up and left. He promises her that he'll mend his ways ("this time will be different") but holds out the possibility that he might break that promise ("until I do it again"). While this turn of phrase left some fans scratching their heads about Trey's commitment to sobriety, such is the recovering addict's dilemma: he must acknowledge his own weakness before finding the strength to overcome it.
Musically, "Kill Devil Falls" is "Chalk Dust Torture" all grown up, a full throttle blues-boogie blast that spills into what is typically a guitar-driven jam section. It saw its debut in Jones Beach on 6/2/09, and was the first of numerous songs on the Summer 2009 to be played by request. Quite possibly, the fan who made the request was among several who had heard the tune sound-checked just days earlier through the bullpen fence before the tour opener at the venerated Fenway Park in Boston.
Thus far, the distinction of the most adventurous and intoxicating "Kill Devil Falls" to date belongs to the version from Bonnaroo on 6/12/09, which clocked in at over 15 minutes and explored shadowy, introspective terrain. While most versions cover similar territory, a few that have pushed boundaries include 6/22/10 Great Woods, 5/27/11 Bethel Woods and 6/22/12 Cincy. For a compact but fun take, check out the appearance from 5/13/10 (broadcast 6/9/10) on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
"Kill Devil Falls" 10/30/10, Atlantic City, NJ