Five weeks ago, Phish rang in the new year at Madison Square Garden, the band’s 17th show at the New York City venue in 2017 alone. Thursday (Feb. 8) night, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio radically downsized and headed 35 miles west to the tri-state suburb of Morristown, N.J., where he opened the first night of his nine-date solo acoustic tour at the tiny Mayo Performing Arts Center (capacity 1300).
Perched on a wooden chair and surrounded by a handful of guitar pedals, Anastasio delivered a wide-ranging set that clocked in just under two hours, turning rocking Phish songs into more compact acoustic numbers, ballads into more somber affairs, and in a few instances, he got a bit experimental.
Perhaps the biggest surprises of the night were the emotional moments peppered throughout. On two occasions, Anastasio introduced songs as dedications to people he recently lost: “Miss You” and an untitled John Fahey-style instrumental that he said he recently wrote while one of his closest friends succumbed to cancer. To describe the feelings behind the song, Anastasio, getting visibly choked up, referenced the Portuguese concept of “saudade,” where nostalgia and deep longing is compounded with the notion that you’re about to lose something.
Those moments were sandwiched in between a handful of funny ones, too. He told stories of recently discovering why a cow produces milk (they’re pregnant) and how fascinated he’s become with a tongue-eating louse, a bacteria that eats fish tongues. He also nearly brought himself to tears laughing as he told the crowd about a time in the late ‘90s, when he helped a 16-year-old kid who attended his first concert — a Phish show in Atlanta — reunite with his friends. He checked in with the kid’s mom, the next day, too – who confirmed she thought he was on “the pot.” And then there was also the time he watched a guy at soundcheck run into a telephone pole (see below).
Other highlights included looping effects on drawn out versions of “Wolfman’s Brother” and the opener “Blaze On,” a crowd sing-along during “Sleeping Monkey,” and the rare instrumental “The Inlaw Josie Wales.” And without the aid of bandmates or a big arena-sized soundsystem, he played with the phrasing in his voice throughout the evening as well. The set closed out with trio of fan favorites that segued into each other seamlessly: “Bathtub Gin,” “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Back on the Train.”
Anastasio has performed solo sporadically over the years, but in March 2017, played three well-received shows in the Northeast. This tour expands to 9 shows over the next 10 days, with every gig sold out.
This spring, he’ll be back on the road with the Trey Anastasio Band with a handful of shows in the Midwest that snake down to New Orleans. And Phish will resume touring this summer, starting in mid-July and running through Labor Day Weekend.
“Backwards Down the Number Line”
“Brian and Robert”
“Twenty Years Later”
“The Inlaw Josie Wales”
“Limb by Limb”
“Chalk Dust Torture”
“Back on the Train”
“Bouncing Around the Room”
“Push on Til the Day”