Most baseball players dream of playing in the World Series, most actors dream of winning an academy award and most musicians dream of performing their compositions at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. Last night, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio got to fulfill that dream when he took the stage with the most legendary orchestra in the world at arguably the most famous venue in the world and he made the most of the opportunity.
[All photos by Benjamin Slayter / Slayter Creative]
Anastasio and the Philharmonic performed two sets filled with songs that sounded so natural in this setting you would’ve thought they were originally written with an orchestra in mind. Israeli conductor Asher Fisch clearly understood the Trey/Phish experience and did an exceptional job of infusing playfulness and frenzy into the performance from the beginning of the First Tube opener through the end of the If I Could encore. There was so much going on between all of the different parts each section of the orchestra brought to each song that it was literally mind blowing trying to take it all in. Luckily a mobile recording truck captured each and every note for posterity.
From the moment you walked through the entrance of the iconic venue and saw more balloons on 57th street than at a toddler’s birthday party it was clear this wasn’t an ordinary night at Carnegie Hall. There was hooting and hollering from the moment Anastasio walked on the stage but most of it was good natured and the orchestra seemed to get a kick out of the love and appreciation that was being showed towards them at nearly every opportunity.
READ ON for more of Scotty’s thoughts and Ben’s incredible photos of Trey Anastasio and the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall…
The performance started right on time with a percussion-fueled First Tube. The arrangement of First Tube left plenty of room for Anastasio to add flourishes to the lush melodies the orchestra was laying down. Trey kept it simple only employing a few basic effects allowing him to blend in perfectly with the Philharmonic. Besides nailing 99.9% of the complex material he was playing , what was most impressive about Trey’s guitar work was his volume control. He would literally adjust the volume between each phrase even going so far as to play his Languedoc unamplified when the music required it. Hearing First Tube – a tune that was originally written and performed by a trio – expanded to such marvelous heights set the bar high for the evening.
Each song the ensemble performed contained new segments right next to the familiar parts Phish fans know and love. For instance, The Inlaw Josie Wales started off with a dramatic intro that led into Trey fingerpicking the traditional intro on his signature Martin acoustic. Brian and Robert contained sweeping string arrangements that made a pretty song beautiful. What also made Brian and Robert a highlight was Big Red’s vocal delivery. Anastasio’s voice became unbearably raspy and inconsistent during the mid ’00s, but happiness and healthiness has Trey singing better than ever. Water In The Sky and Let Me Lie also benefited from the singer’s clear and emotive vocals.
As the concert went on Anastasio seemed to become more comfortable clearly taking in the moment, cracking smiles and knowing nods to the friends and family that filled the first few rows of the orchestra. His grin was particularly wide as the Philharmonic nailed the most difficult segments of Divided Sky with ease. Meanwhile, Big Red’s fingers glided across the fretboard just as easily. You could tell he had put plenty of time into perfecting his parts. The orchestral version of Guyute that includes most of My Friend, My Friend ended the first set on a glorious high note.
After a quick intermission, the second set started with the New York City debut of Time Turns Elastic. As opposed to the other tunes played on this night that were written for a rock band and later reworked for an orchestra, Time Turns Elastic started out as a nine-section heavily orchestrated epic that was truncated for Phish. As the Philharmonic navigated through all nine sections and three movements of the half-hour long composition it was clear we were hearing the song as it was meant to be heard. The instrumental sections that were cut from the version of TTE Phish plays broke up the rapid fire delivery of lyrics that hinder the quartet’s take on it.
A quick Let Me Lie followed and also benefited greatly from the lush orchestration. Anastasio praised the audience and the performers before thanking everyone for supporting the Kristine Anastasio Manning Memorial Fund which his family started to pay tribute to his sister who passed away in May. The crowd was just as thankful as Anastasio was and responded with multiple standing ovations. The thanks would be taken to a whole new level as Trey kicked off the best song of an evening filled with incredibly played tunes – You Enjoy Myself.
The song Anastasio would give his left nut to play was completely re imagined with all sorts of wonderful melodies added to each nook and cranny of the piece. Trey needed to hit each and every note to keep up with the orchestra and he delivered in a big way. It seemed as if each member of the ensemble had their part in making this version of YEM special and even the incredibly stoic Philharmonic members cracked smiles when the trombonist let loose with a few angular notes that imitated the “boy, man, god, shit” section of the tune.
No one was sure how the musicians would tackle the jams but the orchestra played a repeating pattern that gave Anastasio space to let loose with a number of Santana-esque riffs. At this point all civility was out the window as the audience couldn’t restrain themselves from howling in approval and would could blame them? We were in uncharted territory.
Big Red put down his guitar after tearing it up for a bit and stood at the front of the stage with a smirk on his face. The percussion section and the strings simulated the Fish/Mike duel leading into a quick silence before Trey started singing wordless melodies backed by the orchestra. That’s right, they didn’t ignore the vocal jam. It was unbelievable how much thought and love went into rearranging the classic Phish tune for the large ensemble. The evening was already a huge success but this version of You Enjoy Myself was next level. Check it out as soon as possible.
Three or four more standing ovations followed before the group dusted off one more chestnut from the Phish repertoire – If I Could. The string arrangements from Hoist were expanded with both Trey and the Philharmonic’s harpist playing off each other beautifully through the guitarist’s solo. What a fitting ending to one of the biggest moments in Anastasio’s career. As the crowd shuffled out of the ornate venues all sorts of superlatives were flying around with some just shaking their heads in glorious disbelief about what they just witnessed.
That glowing vibe mixed with a completely different energy when the audience hit the streets to find the Nitrous Mafia peddling their wares in front of Carnegie Hall. It was disgusting, especially when I came back an hour later to find 7th Avenue between 56th and 57th littered with balloons. Even that poor display couldn’t take away from what was a magical evening for Trey Anastasio and the fans that have supported him through thick and thin just to capture moments like last night.