November 10, 2006

An Exploration in Musicianship

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Orange and red rays slice spotlight laser beams slowly through the crowd upward to the magnificent iron lattice work ceiling of Barton Hall as we all pause for a moment. The crowd coagulates and — as if planned — chimes in, becoming part of the musical production at hand. On stage, Trey Anastasio stands, guitar in hand, grinning from ear to ear, enveloped in a moment of bliss.
This interplay between performer and audience was more than a cute trick. This reduction of the separation between musician and listener is the kind of thing Trey lives for, as anyone watching could tell. The free-form jam left the band energized. Up next: rockin’ “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Barracuda” covers which shook Barton Hall to its foundations*.
Barton Hall is a venue imbued with a deep sense of history for those involved in the Jam seen (“Dead Heads,” “Phans” — you pick the label). It was here in Barton Hall in 1977 when the Grateful Dead played what is often cited as one of their best shows in a touring career which lasted nearly 30 years. As I looked around Barton Hall Saturday night, I thought that only the wearer of the most faded tie-died T could possibly have been here at that performance now 29 years in the past.
Trey has a long history on the Internet: his old gig Phish, along with the Beatles and the Grateful Dead, was one of the first bands to have a Usenet group (the precursor to today’s Web). On Saturday, message boards were on fire in eagerness of the last Trey show of the season. Some anxious fans were anticipating guest appearances; others were debating the most appropriate Dead cover. One fan captured the mood perfectly:
Vtchiller> so you are saying Trey is not aware of the famous GD show and won’t be on a high ready to rage? Not to mention, it is the end of the tour, he is going to kill it my little friend. Check it.
Trey was feeding off the energy of the crowd from the first moment of the second set. The first set was strong: “Night Speaks to a Woman” was a great opener and “Simple Twist Up Dave” set a new standard on the funk-meter. The first set was also the introduction of many to trumpet virtuoso Jen Hartswick. However, you could read in the audience that an intangible ingredient was missing from this set.
When Trey responded to the crowd-requested acoustic cover of the high-energy rocker Wilson to open the second set, it was clear that something special was afoot.
Next, the acoustic went out, and the rest of the band came in to lay down a solid foundation of “Spin” before setting a course into the uncharted waters of the extended jam. After introducing several new themes, Trey dropped one more: this time a catchy eight note rhythm which quickly hooked bassist Tony Hall. After exchanging a glance with Tony, the eighth note suddenly dropped out.
Then it started, spreading through the crowd like a fire. First, it was just a clap on the blank eighth beat. Then the clap became a whoop. One vocalization became two and the band ran with it, jamming along with the audience. Before rolling into a high energy finish, Trey gave props: “You guys wrote this song … I love it.” As far as this reporter can tell, every person in Barton Hall danced from this point until the end of the show.
The energy flowed right on into a three song rock-standards section. “46 Days,” a track off Phish’s last pre-mortem album set it off, complete with a deep, groovin’ bass solo. Right after “46 Day,” the band flowed from “Voodoo Child” into “Barracuda” and then “Cincinnati.” As the encore, we were given excellent an “Heavy Things” and “First Tube.” The no-holds-known end-of-the-world rising theme of “First Tube” lifted Barton Hall about 10 inches above Garden Street.
Gracious thanks to Benjamin Scott-Killian for an incredible recording of the show. Trey allows the non-commercial recording of shows, so check out!
* Aficionados will note that we haven’t heard a live “Voodoo Child” from Trey since May ’99, and that this was the first “Barracuda” we’ve ever heard live.