Trey Anastasio & BSO | 05.21 | Baltimore

Words by: Nick Boeka | Images by: Kenny Pusey

Trey Anastasio & the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra :: 05.21.09 :: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall :: Baltimore, MD

Trey Anastasio & BOS :: 05.21 :: Baltimore
On an otherwise normal, sunny, temperate and inviting Thursday in Baltimore, I arrived downtown to meet many old faces I hadn't seen in years. I happened to be on the East Coast celebrating the wedding of two close college friends, best man in the wedding party, and organizing the customary bachelor/ette parties. Trey Anastasio of Phish happened to be performing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on the exact same night, and we'd long ago arranged for everyone to start the evening with the performance before partying with the groom and bride for the rest of the evening. Only the second ever performance of Time Turns Elastic, I knew early on that this was not to be missed after seeing the leaked videos of the debut.

The stars were aligning and even before rounding the corner and seeing the architecturally exquisite Joesph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall there was a palatable buzz in the air. As I came to the front doors there was a small crowd in front discussing upcoming tour plans, reconnecting with old friends and plenty of free tickets to be shared, ensuring that anyone in the area could come together and experience this rare event.

Inside the Hall, the sounds and reverberations are so finely tuned that every noise can be heard distinctly and clearly. It's an audiophile's wet-dream, and surprisingly, the crowd - mostly comprised of Phishheads, many even dressed for the symphony - was able to respect the space and control urges to sing-along, clap or cheer, and saved it for the perfect moments. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, after a tuning led by concertmaster Jonathan Carney, was quickly joined by Conductor Marin Alsop and Anastasio. Trey, dressed in a dark suit, clutched his Languadoc guitar and stared out at the audience, noticeably moved by the sights around him. As the room slowly quieted down, Alsop raised her baton and the room quickly ripped open with "Divided Sky." Only the second time that this arrangement had ever been performed, the room was eerily silent, even during the quiet middle section where Anastasio strikes his signature line. Alsop showed immediate enthusiasm as she bounced through the more lively section, where the orchestra joined Anastasio for the outro melody.

Trey Anastasio & BOS :: 05.21
The energy that immediately engulfed the room during this opening was so electrifying; you looked around and saw faces so entranced and moved by the music that you also couldn't help getting absolutely overwhelmed. After the nearly 16-minute epic rendition of the Phish classic, the musicians all came to a syncopated stop, and the room erupted in thunderous applause amplified by the perfect acoustics of the Hall. Honestly, I don't know whether the BSO have ever received such an ovation, but the look on some of their faces was priceless as they stared from their lit positions in appreciation of our glee. Anastasio led the Orchestra through several Phish songs, including a slowed down and touching rendition of "Water in the Sky," offered in memory of his sister Kristy Manning, who recently lost a battle with cancer, and dedicated to her surviving son Jason.

All of the orchestrations were done in collaboration with Don Hart, whom Anastasio has collaborated with on projects like Trey albums Shine, Bar 17 and 18 Steps, since the pair first met in 2004 while preparing for Anastasio's Bonnaroo performance with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. Hart extends the tones and melodies that have become synonymous with the Phish sound and seamlessly converts them into individual pieces of a puzzle only able to be constructed by the 60-piece orchestra in the half bowl behind Anastasio.

The first portion of the performance closed with the debut orchestration of "First Tube," which offered Anastasio an open section to improvise and explore, before signaling to Aslop to bring the song to a close. Again the loudness of applause and cheers was enough to stand the hair on your head straight up!

Green where you tumble and roll in these fields
The shapes of the bodies that shift in the sun
While the blossoms all scream and it sleeps around me
The earth in these memories heals around me

Trey Anastasio & BOS :: 05.21 :: Baltimore
After a short intermission, Anastasio performed Time Turns Elastic for only the second time ever in its East Coast premiere. Comprised of nine songs in two movements, the 28-minute work goes in and out of orchestrated arrangements and sung lyrical songs. The arrangements are more in a fugue style, with very long and complex melody lines, rather than traditional chord progressions that repeat with regularity. Think of "Oh Kee Pah" multiplied by 60 different voices, all riding down the same river but in different areas of the stream. The sound travels as a group, and it is in the ebbs and flow that the colors of the song take hold. June 9, 2009, the release date for the Time Turns Elastic album, marks the culmination of Anastasio's dream to "release the same piece, one version fully orchestrated and one version arranged for Phish." Many fans have already tasted the latter version with the teaser video, released earlier this week.

Throughout the evening, Anastasio took opportunities to thank the BSO for performing with him, and inadvertently proved to the audience their supreme prowess by starting "Let Me Lie" in the wrong key (he forgot to set his capo), and upon immediate instruction from Alsop, the orchestra had adjusted to the exact (though still incorrect) key that Anastasio was playing in. After a moment of realization, singing in an unfamiliar range, Anastasio turned and bowed in respect to the now chuckling members of the orchestra and joked with the audience that he "was just testing them," which caused us to relax with laughter. The last song of the set was "Guyute," which has for many years, been played at every performance with any orchestra Anastasio collaborates with, and is the final track on the instrumental album Seis De Mayo. The song itself is perfect and almost requires the full power of an orchestra.

Closing the evening was an incredibly moving rendition of "If I Could," where the strings filled in the powerful piano lines typically played by Page McConnell with Phish. When the members of the orchestra rose from their seats, signifying the end of the evening, I gathered myself to meet up with my large group, each of us quietly and solemnly expressing the impact the performance had on us. It was so refreshing to see Anastasio inspired, happy and engaged with the audience in a setting that is so rarely experienced these days, at least by most rock fans. If by chance time should turn elastic near you, this is a performance not to be missed.

Trey Anastasio & the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra :: 05.21.09 :: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall :: Baltimore, MD
Set I: The Divided Sky (electric guitar, strings), Brian and Robert (vocal, electric guitar, strings), The Inlaw Josie Wales (acoustic guitar, oboe, strings), Water In The Sky* (vocal, acoustic guitar, winds/strings), Pebbles and Marbles (electric guitar, orchestra), First Tube** (electric guitar, orchestra)
Set II: Time Turns Elastic (vocal, electric guitar, orchestra), Let Me Lie (vocal, electric guitar, strings), Guyute (electric guitar, orchestra)
Encore: If I Could (vocal, electric guitar, harp, strings)
*In Memory of Kristy Manning, dedicated to her son Jason.
**First time played

The videos are a little shaky, but you get the gist:

Pebbles & Marbles

Water in the Sky


Time Turns Elastic

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[Published on: 5/28/09]

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