Words by: Scott Bernstein
Trey Anastasio :: 2.8.18 :: Mayo Performing Arts Center :: Morristown, NJ
If one was to add up all the time Trey Anastasio has spent with an electric guitar on stage and in rehearsal, it’s still likely that the total doesn’t match the amount of time the Phish frontman has spent strumming an acoustic at home, on tour buses, backstage, in hotel rooms and other places. Anastasio has talked in the past of always having a guitar in hand no matter where he was from his teenage years forward. Fans had a rare chance to get to know that side of Trey’s musicianship during a brief three-show solo acoustic tour last year that marked his first full concerts in that format. The run was a success and Anastasio began a more lengthy solo acoustic tour last night at the intimate Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, New Jersey.
The stage setup was as simple as it gets: one wooden chair and a few pedals. Anastasio switched between a handful of acoustic guitars throughout the evening provided by long-time tech Brian Brown. The set design was tasteful but inventive as a backdrop was placed behind Trey in which images of what looked like the top half of a golf ball were projected on the backdrop at times. Lights with varying colors pulled out the texture of the moon-like half-oval, especially during the few solos the guitarist took. The New Jersey native utilized a looper so he was able to jam with himself. Anastasio used the looper at times last year, but seemed more comfortable now and eeked out weird and wonderful layers of sound over which he soloed.
While Trey’s 2017 acoustic tour setlists were all over the place, he stuck mainly to Phish classics in Morristown. Anastasio opened with “Blaze On,” which led into the first instance of the guitarist soloing with the help of the looper. “Backwards Down The Number Line” made those in the capacity crowd celebrating a birthday feel particularly special, while “Miss You” came with a beautiful dedication. Trey shouted out Basking Ridge, the nearby town where Phish keyboardist Page McConnell grew up, after Page told him to do so during a recent conversation. Anastasio then discussed the people in his life that have passed away, some more recently than others, including Page’s father Dr. Jack McConnell, his best friend Chris “CCott” Cottrell and his sister Kristy. Not only did the guitarist dedicate “Miss You” to those he had lost, he also recognized many in the audience had lost friends or family members recently and also dedicated the Big Boat ballad to them.
Trey also acknowledged Page by performing “Strange Design,” a song McConnell sings with Phish. Next up was “Twenty Years Later,” which was followed by a “Wolfman’s Brother” that contained the most interesting improvisation of the night. “Everything’s Right,” the evening’s lone solo acoustic debut, also saw the guitarist employ a looper to good effect.
Throughout the concert, Trey Anastasio mixed songs with stories and often told the tales to buy time while swapping guitars. A trio of funny tales included one in which Anastasio recounted a recent trip to Maine to visit Jon and Briar Fishman. The red-headed musician learned at the Fishmans’ dairy farm that cows needed to be pregnant to produce milk and polled the audience to see who else knew that fact.
Anastasio also told the tale of a phone ringing at the Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta backstage in the band room right after Phish had concluded their encore. Trey picked up the phone and it was the mother of a first-time concert attendee who had gotten separated from his friends. Always a good guy, Anastasio told the worried mother “I’ve got this” and proceeded to hop on a golf cart with Phish’s Director Of Security at the time, John Langenstein, and managed to find the teenager. Trey took the concert virgin backstage, where he received a hero’s welcome. A venue van then dropped the youngster off just outside of the view of his gathered friends. The audience cracked up throughout nearly every line of the story. Anastasio additionally made fans realize their bad days may not be so bad, considering some fish have to deal with being invaded by a parasite called the tongue-eating louse.
“The Inlaw Josie Wales” is the rare Trey Anastasio song that was birthed in the solo acoustic format. Anastasio debuted the instrumental at opening night of his first ever solo tour in May of 1999. He told the crowd he would let them name the beautiful tune but eventually came up with the variation/pun on the title of Clint Eastwood’s 1976 western The Outlaw Josey Wales. Phish performed “Inlaw” a number of times in 1999 and 2000, but it has yet to be played by the quartet since October 6, 2000. The guitarist has fit it into solo orchestral performances and acoustic interludes at TAB shows, yet last night’s rendition was just the second in any format of the past four-plus years.
Anastasio was tuning for a song when his fingers came across the beginning of “Sleeping Monkey.” When the crowd reacted with glee, Trey decided to play “Page’s favorite song” if the audience would sing it. The assembled masses in Morristown came through and delivered the lyrics with gusto, as they did for the call-and-response portions of the “Limb By Limb” that followed. “Waste” was performed beautifully before Trey left some in the audience in tears with a story about his recently deceased friend CCott. The guitarist said he’s usually able to be optimistic or face any terrible situation with a smile, but couldn’t help but feel it was just wrong to lose his best friend to cancer at such a young age. Anastasio spent time at Cottrell’s bedside during his final days and wrote a sublime instrumental. The guitarist described the feel of the as-for-now title-less song as “Saudade,” a Portuguese word that translates to “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia.”
Trey ended the set on a more upbeat note as he strung together “Bathtub Gin,” “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Back On The Train.” Each featured an intense solo laid down by Anastasio over layers of looping sounds. The night was over well before 10 p.m. after an encore of “Bouncing Around The Room,” “Push On ‘Til The Day” and “More.” One of the lines of the auto-biographical “Push On” is “Pete threw a bomb and he rang the pole.” The guitarist stopped the first known solo acoustic version of the tune since its acoustic debut for a radio station in 2002 right after that line at which point he told the story behind it and informed the audience “Push On” documents a special, adventure-filed and wondrous time in his life. Apparently “Pete” is longtime Phish Monitor Engineer Pete Schall, who left the band’s employ in 1996. Schall had an incredible arm and threw a “bomb” to a man that almost caught the perfectly-placed football. Except first, the receiver ran into a telephone pole. Trey described the horrific sound of the receiver running at full speed into the pole as a “ringing” tone.
Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center was the perfect place for a Trey Anastasio solo acoustic show, which had a vibe and feel unlike most other settings in which the guitarist has performed over the years. It felt as if attendees had a seat in Trey’s living room or were sitting around a campfire with Big Red. The capacity crowd was well-behaved, at least in the area where this writer was seated, and hung on nearly every word and note. A lot of care went into picking the venues for these special performances and Trey seemed to have put plenty of time and effort into preparing for the run. Next up is a visit to Ithaca’s State Theatre on Friday night.
Videos Captured By LazyLightning55
Full Show Audio (Captured by Noah Bickart and Shared by Jam Buzz)
Set: Blaze On, Backwards Down The Number Line, Miss You, Strange Design, 20 Years Later, Wolfmans Brother, Everything’s Right, The Inlaw Josie Wales, Sleeping Monkey, Limb By Limb, Waste, “Saudade,” Bathtub Gin > Chalk Dust Torture > Back On The Train
Encore: Bouncing Around The Room, Push On Til The Day > stops to Tell the story about the “Pete threw a bomb and rang the pole” line and doesn’t finish Push, More