Ray Dawn Balloon
Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: Pete Mason (PhanArt)
Last Update: 2011-11-09
The song that would eventually be titled “Radon Balloon," the fifth track on Oysterhead’s The Grand Pecking Order, has seen a development from a short acoustic instrumental on TAB’s 2001 winter tour, into a multi-instrument song with Oysterhead that fall. Played on solo acoustic guitar and originally entitled “Waves” (though not the Phish song found on Round Room), it debuted on 2/21/01 at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. When the song reappeared with lyrics at Red Rocks on 7/18/01 it was rechristened “Ray Dawn Balloon” and would remain a semi-regular part of TAB’s rotation through the end of 2002, mostly as an instrumental. In the interim, bass and drums were added and the fully-realized song (now called “Radon Balloon”) was performed sixteen times on Oysterhead’s Fall 2001 tour, and then one final time at their one-off performance at Bonnaroo in 2006.
The song made its first appearance with lyrics as “Ray Dawn Balloon” on 7/18/01 at Red Rocks. The band left the stage save for Trey, who put down his electric and picked up acoustic before saying to the audience: “Can you hear that out there? I’m gonna to do a song, I just felt like doing, this is actually going to be on the Oysterhead album that is coming out. And you heard it here first! Its called ‘Radon Balloon.’” Trey then starts to play the intro but stops short after five seconds to interrupt himself, “Let me just say one thing, I used to play this without lyrics and it used to be called something different (‘Waves’) but now it is ‘Radon Balloon’ . . . because it’s on the Oysterhead album!” The audience cheered in response as Trey finally started this well received (sort of) debut song. This was also the first official mention of any of the songs on the upcoming Oysterhead album.
With a spacey intro from Trey, distortion and vibrato, the studio version of “Radon Balloon” on The Grand Pecking Order develops into an acoustic led instrumental, with chimes, bells, cowbell and kick drum used for percussion and a steady bass from Les Claypool, until Trey breaks into the lyrics, repeating “Radon Balloon” as the song continues to follow the fairy-tale-esque soft rhythm.
The song itself is in the lullaby spectrum of Trey’s songs. Similar to “Driver” or “Mountains in the Mist,” “Radon Balloon” is about a balloon that floats from the mountains of the west, drifting in the air, suspended in the atmosphere, with Trey narrating the trip as it floats by. The balloon disappears in the end, with Trey calling out to it. Listen intently and you can hear a sad song of lament for a floating away balloon, teasing the owner as it drifts. When played live with Oysterhead, Les Claypool and Stewart Copeland combine to set the rhythm for a more powerful version that is broader with improvisation at close to seven minutes for live versions. Trey stretches out the area in between the first and second chorus, venturing into Type II area (specifically the 10/21/01 version) before returning to the song proper. The cymbal crashes are louder and at times can overshadow Trey’s singing but the strength of the trio is heard distinctly in these live versions.
Of the sixteen times “Radon Balloon” appeared with Oysterhead, all but one occurrence was adjacent to either “Psuedo Suicide” and/or “Army’s on Ecstacy,” perhaps an odd coincidence or perhaps to give pause before or after two songs with heavier jam potential.
Oysterhead, "Radon Balloon" – 6/16/06, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival