In the late ’70s, when Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio was 14, he went over to his friend Eric’s house and hung with his pal and Eric’s two older brothers. The brothers, whom Anastasio pegged as aged 18 and 20, held court in a garage, where they had a motorcycle sitting on cinder blocks. After offering the young Trey a sip of their beer and a taste of their “dirt weed,” the brothers started revving the engine of the motorcycle and then blasted Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” through their stereo. Trey had his hair blown back as he was incredibly enthused by the sounds of the engine screaming and Mountain guitarist Leslie West’s powerful riffs. Anastasio knew right then what he wanted to do with his life, we wanted to become a rock star. The guitarist told the story to a crowd that hung on every word at the tiny Sanders Theatre on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Saturday night.
The 19-song performance on Saturday was the third concert of Trey Anastasio’s longest solo acoustic tour yet. Sanders Theatre, which holds approximately 1,166 attendees in tight quarters, opened in 1876 and is famous for its acoustics. The sound at the venue was pristine and perfect for the format of Anastasio mixing stories with solo acoustic performances of songs he’s written for Phish dating back to the ’80s and running through more recent fare. While the tour is only three shows old with six to be played, the guitarist is starting to settle in on the rotation he plans to use as nine tunes were tour debuts while ten had been performed at one of the first two shows of the run.
Two of the biggest differentiators between shows on Trey Anastasio’s current solo acoustic tour will be the stories he tells and the venues he plays. Both of those elements aren’t huge factors with Phish as Anastasio barely said a word during the band’s recent New Year’s Run and the quartet’s upcoming summer tour only features venues the band has performed at previously. Sanders Theatre was new to Trey and apparently to many attendees. The guitarist was in awe at the sound in the room and the area held special meaning to him as his late sister Kristy attended Harvard. Concertgoers sat in rows of seats similar to church pews that were set up in 180-degree style, meaning there truly wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and bringing Trey into close contact with his fans.
Up first was a song that has become an anthem/staple of Trey’s acoustic performances since his initial run last March, “More.” However, this time around Anastasio threw a curveball by opening with the song. “46 Days” gave the guitarist his first chance of the evening to show off his looping skills. Trey set a loop of a rhythmic pattern and one of bass-y runs and then soloed over top of them. Along the way, the New Jersey native scatted along with the riffs he was playing, something he’s done multiple times each night this tour, but never to as impressive effect as during “46 Days.”
Soon thereafter came the beautiful and rare “Anything But Me,” a gorgeous ballad Trey wrote for inclusion on Phish’s 2002 album Round Room that was played regularly in 2003 and 2004, but has only been performed twice since by the quartet. “Anything But Me” was a fine fit for the solo acoustic format. “Waste,” “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Blaze On” each featured Anastasio scat-soloing, but in different ways: the former saw him sing the guitar solo he normally plays during Phish versions and the latter two saw him offer variations of lyrics and the song titles while he strung together strong riffs.
The evening’s funniest story came ahead of “Miss You,” as Trey told the tale of Phish drummer Jon Fishman’s fascination with wheatgrass. Anastasio lived with Fish and Phish sound engineer/luthier Paul Languedoc in the late ’80s. At one point the drummer became obsessed with wheatgrass to the point where Trey came home one day to find Fish giving himself a wheatgrass enema. “The Line” followed “Miss You” and is another song that sounded better stripped-down than with full Phish arrangement. After “The Line,” the guitarist’s voice was filled with emotion as he talked about his friend Chris “CCott” Cottrell’s final days.
Cottrell recently died and Trey was among those who kept vigil at CCott’s bedside as cancer started to take his life. Anastasio would gently play guitar for Chris as he began to fade and Trey wound up writing a melancholy instrumental while witnessing his friend’s final moments. The guitarist debuted the song at Thursday’s tour opener in Morristown, but in Cambridge revealed its title is “Til We Meet Again” as Trey hopes he’ll get to see this powerful figure in his life at some point in the great beyond.
One of the many highlights from Trey’s visit to Cambridge was his unplugged arrangement of “Free.” Anastasio used his looping device to impressively lay down rhythms, wild sound effects and other layers over which he let it rip. A singalong “Sample In A Jar” gave the well-behaved audience a chance to let loose and then Anastasio shocked and awed with his acoustic arrangement of “Maze,” which had only been trotted out once prior and was filled with more creative looping. The same could be said of the “Twist” that followed and gave way to the tender “Wading In The Velvet Sea,” a song Page McConnell sings with Phish.
Anastasio talked numerous times about the incredible acoustics at the Sanders and at one point said he would take a request. He joked about hoping fans would request “Jennifer Dances,” but did eventually play both “The Lizards” and “My Friend, My Friend” in response to shouts from the audience. Trey was helpful when the capacity crowd sang part of the “Lizards” melody and said, “I can’t believe how many chords that song has” after finishing it. The guitarist went on to say something along the lines of “Page usually plays all of those chords and I get to dance around” in reference to Phish versions.
The guitarist ended the 105-minute main set with a joyous “Chalk Dust Torture.” He finished the song unlike the version two nights prior when he segued into “Back On The Train.” Anastasio returned for an encore that started with a stellar rendition of “Tube.” Trey took his time during the loop-filled solo before ending the tune and kicking into “Backwards Down The Number Line.” For the finale, Anastasio began “Wilson” and the crowd sang the name of the song back at him in typical fashion. The noise of a sold-out audience screaming “Wilson” was a loud and forceful one that led to a full-blown, shit-eating grin from Trey Anastasio. From the looks of the faces of most of those leaving the venue, he wasn’t the only one who had a great time at the Sanders Theatre on Saturday night.
Watch full show video captured by Josiah Babcock and check out the full setlist below:
Set: More, 46 Days, Brian & Robert, Anything But Me, Waste, Wolfman’s Brother, Blaze On, Miss You, The Line, Till We Meet Again, Free, Sample In A Jar, Maze, Twist > Wading In The Velvet Sea, The Lizards, My Friend My Friend, Chalk Dust Torture
Encore: Tube, Backwards Down The Number Line, Wilson