Friday, May 22, 2009

Time Turns Elastic

As Matt mentioned last night, the penultimate destination of my road trip was a stop in Baltimore to see Trey Anastiasio (the frontman of Phish), play with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. If you aren't familiar with Phish's music, you might think this would be an unlikely match. That's probably because you didn't know that all four members of Phish are classically trained musicians and that many of their longer songs are tightly composed and would be well suited to an orchestral backing.

I've seen symphony performances before at SPAC, but never at a concert hall specifically designed for acoustics. We lucked into some pretty good seats - first row of the lower balcony - which certainly enhanced the experience as well. Above the stage at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall there were bowed wood panels, and on the ceiling there were giant half spheres with a slot down the middle that looked like flat head screws. The doors where you entered your section were closed and soundproof, each balcony was it's own little pod, the ledges of which were gently sloped and aimed (not surprisingly) right towards ear level. Each one of these design features were put in place solely for acoustical purposes, and last night, they were put to their full use.

There was a stringed band playing in the entry way across from a cocktail bar and the crowd was an interesting mix of dreadlocks and blazers, summer dresses and t-shirts. Trey walked on stage with conductor Marin Alsop, wearing a black suit and blue dress shirt, a pretty drastic departure from his normal stage attire, and was met with a rousing applause.

Standing in front of the orchestra and off to
Alsop's left, Trey then picked up his spruce-topped Languedoc, which was plugged in to a modestly-sized Fender amp, and delved into Divided Sky. The tone was clean and and carefully balanced with the mostly stringed arrangement. The crowd sat quietly through the roughly 10 minute version of the song but erupted with what I'm guessing was the loudest applause in the history of the venue when Alsop halted the strings. These being mostly Phish fans, the typical clapping was backed by plenty of "Wooohooo!!!"s and "Yeah, Trey!!!"s. It was a breathtaking moment, and one that made it impossible for me to suppress a smile.

Next came the mellow Brian and Robert (which I simulcasted via iPhone to Sampson), followed by the short, acoustic The Inlaw Josie Wales. Trey then took a moment to thank the crowd and said how honored he was to be able to do something like this.

The most emotional moment of the night came when he dedicated the next song to his eight year old nephew. Three weeks ago his mother, Trey's sister, Kristy Manning lost a long battle with cancer and they played a beautiful rendition of Water In The Sky in her honor. As I listened, I couldn't help but think back to the heartfelt post that Matt wrote earlier in the day and appreciate one of those times when life comes together - when for a short while it all seems to make sense. Last night was one of those fleeting moments.

The title song of the show was called Time Turns Elastic and was a 13 minute opus consisting of 9 shorter, interwoven songs that they played at the beginning of the second set. Next came what they call "Guyute" the orchestral composition of what is from Trey's album Seis De Mayo, and starts and ends with the intro from My Friend, My Friend. I recorded all 12 minutes of it on my phone, but haven't figured out how to get it off. The encore, If I Could, hadn't been played live in almost nine years.

Here is a link to the full setlist.

By the time I get back to New York this afternoon I will have logged over 2,000 miles on my Grandma's Mercury Sable and slept in 5 different states in 6 days. We ran into all sorts of pitfalls and obstacles and very little went according to plan, save for the show last night. I was lucky to have a traveling companion who in addition to being easy going, was a top notch iPhone navigator and text-retary who rolled with the punches at every juncture. We've been friends since Semester At Sea, so that last part came as no surprise. She's not a Phish fan, but I prepped her a little bit while we were sitting in traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Expressway and unless she was bullshitting me (unlikely), she came away almost as impressed and satisfied as I was.


  1. Jay - nice review, looks like a fantastic time - glad it all worked out! Mom

  2. I would have been far more impressed if it read "slept with 5 different women in 6 days."

    Glad you had a good time. Now hurry back before I post another novel here.