Backwards Down the Number Line: A Live Trey Blog
It’s been about one year, three months and 27 days since Trey Anastasio’s last official performance, and we’re ready for a geekout the likes of which have not been seen since Phish busted our “Harpua” way back in the pre-post-jam era of ought three. But, as luck would have it, we’re sitting in a wi-fi accessible field in Rothbury, MI waiting for Big Red himself to take the stage for his first full performance since graduating from drug court earlier this spring. In case you pretended to check out of the Phish scene after the last Trey Anastasio Band gig at Langerado 2007, here’s what you missed: Page put together both a band and a new album, Mike is ready to release his first proper solo release since 2003 and Fishman has been dividing is time between a series of outings with Yonder Mountain String Band, family tour, and, apparently, co-opting Relix’s Rothbury studios for some quality time with an MTV film crew and his can of sugar free Red Bull (now that is post-jam). In terms of Trey, to the best of our knowledge he’s only made five public appearance since Langerado: a guest spot with Dave Matthews Band at SPAC, a surprise gig with Phil Lesh in Glens Falls, a cameo at the Jammys, a sit in with Robert Randolph at Jones Beach and an intimate acoustic set for students in upstate New York’s Road to Recovery program. Oh yeah, and everyone from Rolling Stone to Stereogrum assures us we’re getting a Phish reunion for Hanukkah.
Internet willing, we’re going to spend the next hour or so live blogging during Trey’s set, crossing our fingers for a 3/4ths Phish reunion (both Mike and Fishman also played this weekend) and trying to figure out why I suddenly slip into the second person when I get nervous n excited. Until then, I’m going to continue to roll my eyes while my podcast co-host Benjy tunes his guitar to the tune of “Stash.” Hippie.
4:20: For a “fallen rock star,” people are pretty excited to see Trey. In fact, the minute Trey arrives onsite the rest of the weekend’s performances are almost rendered side-stage attractions (though my friends assure me that if Jennifer Aniston sits in with her current +1 John Mayer, it will be the most trafficked article in Relix history). It’s strange how you don’t appreciate people until they’re gone. But there’s no time for deep thoughts in this Dazed and Confused fantasy, so I assume my prime bouncing position (knees arched, smile turned up).
4:30: “Get Back on the Train” I could probably write a thesis and/or really long PT post on why this song is Trey’s unofficial theme, but I’ll cut things short by saying it was a fitting choice to open his first performance in 15 months.
4:34: “Brian and Robert“ This song has always been one of my favorite latter-day Phish ballads. This afternoon Trey seems to place particular emphasis on the line “All alone the life you lead/A silent diner where you feed/Bow your head pretend to read.” Long gone are the days of silly lyrics and no setlists. Trey has something to say this afternoon.
4:37: “Water in the Sky” Another choice Ghost track. Trey seems to emphasize the song’s bluegrass undertones this afternoon. In fact, this song wouldn’t sound out of place at the quaint, dusty folk fests my parents used to bring me to as a kid. People still scream when Trey sings the line “filter out the everglades,” which makes me smile. It’s nice to know that the Phish language still exists, especially since most of the people sitting in my general vicinity are screaming out of tradition, not memory. The song’s sweet little outro also makes me smile.
4:40: Trey speak: “It feels really good to be here, thanks so much.” Trey looks really healthy—-not as skinny and pale as before Coventry.
4:41 “Secret Smile” I never minded this song, but the crowd’s energy dips and my mind begins to wander. Some guy a few rows ahead of me is holding a sign that says, “Mike still says no.” I remember liking “Secret Smile’s” string intro on Undermind, but don’t remember exactly what it sounded like.
4:44 “Driver” I keep thinking Trey is going to bust into “Friend of the Devil,” but he plays “Driver” instead. My first thought is “Phish could make a great kids album when they come back.” I’ve never paid much attention to the line, “I’m moving through this life and I’m thinking about the next/And hoping when I get there I’ll be better dressed,” but it’s an interesting statement on growing up and slipping into your adult shows (and clothes). I was watching a Phish DVD the other day and had this strange thought that the worse Trey dresses, the better he performs (Youth Symphony performances not included). But then again, maybe I’m just saying that because the New Yorker in me thought it was a good idea to wear a collared shirt and jeans in 80 degree weather.
4:47 “Inlaw Josie Wales” Trey picks up a different guitar and plays “Inlaw Josie Wales.” I totally forgot about this song, but it’s a nice interlude. For some reason it reminds me of the “media blitz” that surrounded Farmhouse’s release, which seems like nothing in an era of reunion rumors and Kanye rants.
4:50 “Farmhouse” The afternoon’s biggest cheer so far. Trey replicates Mike and Page’s backing vocals by singing the song’s chorus a few extra times. Sure it’s no “Harry Hood,” but I love this song in all its Bob Marley glory. Trey has come a long way as a vocalist since he wrote his first real ballad for Rift. He used to sing softy to show emotion, but now he knows how to use his voice as an instrument. Maybe something good came out of his strange forte into Shine-y pop/rock after all.
4:53 “Let Me Lie” I guess we all knew we’d get at least a few solo cuts and, after 23 minutes of pure Phish, I can’t really complain. The “leave me way up here” line also makes sense given Trey’s introspective mood this afternoon. It is also a sign of just how personal his songs became during his darkest days post-Phish—-though that line about him taking his shirt off and riding his bike still kind of freaks me out in that “I just walked in on my older relative in the bathroom” kind of way. His voice is also starting to crack, a sign he’s been off the road for a while and/or not used to singing this much..
4:56 “Sample in a Jar” The crowd erupts and the guy standing next to me screams “here we go.” In 1994 this was Phish’s sellout song, but now we greet it like an old friend. Time is a funny thing. After a tentative beginning, Trey shifts into full rock-star mode and powers through the song’s last few verses. The crowd erupts again and my screen starts to melt. But that could be because someone shot me with a bubble gun. Can’t a blogger catch a break? I thought hippies were peaceful.
5:00 Trey Speak Two: Oddly enough there is a town near Rothbury called Whitehall. Nodding to his arrest in Whitehall, NY, Trey says, “I’m happy to be back in Michigan. I woke up in the car on my way here and the sign read Whitehall and it was a very scary moment. I had no idea I was going to wake up 18 months later back in Whitehall, but I’m happy to be here.” There is an awkward moment of silence which Trey laughs off by saying, “most of you probably don’t know what that means, but this song is for the people of Whitehall”
5:01 “Mountains in the Mist” Another great ballad chosen for lines like:
"several times, unconsciously/I’ve stumbled upon the path,” “I guess I’m just an obstacle/A thing to overcome”
"the moment seems to hang and float/Before me with no end’ ‘till I’m released, awaken beast/I’m on the road again.”
"A fleck of dust up in the sky/Where tiny clouds go sailing by/Pull me down today”
I’ve never taken the line “but now I’m soaring far too high” as a direct reference to the members of Phish, but it makes sense in retrospect.
5:05 “Wading in the Velvet Sea” Not sure why Trey feels it necessary to play a song he wrote for Page, but I’m not going to complain. My friend makes a now obligatory comment about crying at Coventry.
5:08 "Sleep Again" Win Butler once sang, "sleeping is giving in, so lift
those heavy eyelids." It would be the ultimate post-jam segue if Trey
did a medley of those songs.
5:11 “Waste” A classic from Phish’s most mature album. Someone screams when he sings the word “outlaw” and a beach ball goes flying across our patch of grass, but my mind drifts to the first time I heard this song back in high school. I was in English class and I heard the song’s refrain outside my window during a boring class on the fundamentals of grammar and spelling that, in retrospect, I probably should have paid better attention to. It still makes me smile all these years later.
5:15 We temporally interrupt this moment of introspection to bring you Mike Gordon. He arrives onstage wearing his purple pants from the Jammys and carrying a headless electric bass. Someone screams “stop beating around the bush.” Trey says he and Mike are going to play two new Trey/Tom originals and jokes “if only we could find a drummer and keyboard player.” As if to prove that Phish will not be a nostalgia act, he then says, “but it’s got to start with the songs, so you can be our test audience.”
5:18 “Backwards Down the Number Line” The first new Phish song since 2004? Tom mailed Trey this song on his birthday and it might be the most Phish sounding song I’ve heard since “Grind”: quirky lyrics about friendship, obtuse references to growing up in New Jersey and a cool breakdown that will no doubt be stretched out when/if this song sees the light of day. The line “all my friends come backwards down the number line” is prime fodder for lot shirts and future Facebook status updates. In fact, I’m going to beat the rush and change my status to “Mike Greenhaus is going backwards down the number line” right now! Trey says he taught both these of these songs to Mike five minutes before their show.
5:21: “Alaska” Another new original whose intro kind of sounds like “Clone.” Like “Backwards Down the Number Line,” it sounds very Phishy, which reminds me just how un-Phishy Trey’s recent solo work actually sounds. The word “eskimo” in particular is such a Phish-sounding lyric that I’m surprised it’s never popped up in a Trey/Tom song before. Trey says, “take it Cactus” before Mike’s bass solo. People already seem to favor “Alaska” over “Number Line,” but that’s just because it feels new and fresh compared to its six minute older brother.
5:26 “Chalkdust” A great crowd pleaser featuring the afternoon’s only real “jam.” Mike and Trey offer a dual guitar/bass solo not unlike the Allman Brothers Band twin guitar peaks. Mike’s sleeveless t-shirt and purple pants also affirm my abovementioned fashion statement.
After the show, we all run over to see Mike’s new band on one of Rothbury’s smaller stages. He plays a bunch of great new songs and covers a number by “Ya Mar” authors the Mustangs. While weighing the pros-and-cons of paying $5 for a piece of matzah pizza, I see Trey pop out of the wings and move a bit closer to the stage and a bit closer to erasing all my journalistic integrity. It looks like Trey left his electric guitar on the east coast, so Mike’s great new band jams for a bit while they round up a backup axe. Mike has never looked so charismatic onstage and his bass is sounding more pronounced then ever. He talks about love for a minute, before saying, “I love my new band and I love my old band too.” Trey finally finds a guitar and takes the stage for a jam with Mike’s band. They then bust into a tight version of “Meat” that remains loose and funky, and Jon Fishman makes his way onstage for the song’s final jam segment. Mike proceeds to introduce his bandmates and special guests, before turning to Fishman and screaming “Fish” into the microphone. Though still missing a page, the group runs through a version of the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” that’s tight enough to ensure that my text message inbox fills to capacity. As if retain a spec of my New York indie-cred, I pull up the Brooklyn Vegan on my laptop, before shutting down and running to Gov’t Mule in hopes of another Phishy cameo.
Well that’s it. Looks like the internet prevented me from posting this as Phish was almost reuniting, but those were my “in the moment” thoughts. Hopefully I’ll figure out how to actually live blog before Trey finds a drummer and keyboardist to play “Backwards Down the Number Line” with him and Mike.