Trey has always been, and always will be the most important member of Phish. He is the lead dog, creative spirit, and identity of Phish. He is most responsible for the success and failure of jams, sets, shows, and even eras. Usually in order to gauge how well the band is playing, you just need to guide your eyes and ears towards the red head on stage.
Trey is Michael Jordan to me. I hate using this cliche analogy but I cannot think of anyone better to compare him to. When Jordan came into the NBA, he was the most raw, incredible athlete I had ever seen. He dominated the game with his pure athleticism and his will for success.
When I listen back 80’s and early 90’s Phish, I think many of the same things with Trey. Trey was so incredible early on, that Phish became a force and something to see, based on the incredible talents of Trey. The dexterity and overall skill which Trey possessed in his early 20’s is mind blowing. Add to the fact that his creativity of songwriting and ability to push the band where no other band had gone, and you have a musical genius for the ages. Jordan had athleticism and a drive for success, while Trey was a creative force with a desire to push Phish into different places no band had been before.
For great examples of just how bad ass Trey was make sure to check out Emil’s picks here…
Of course as we know both Jordan and Trey hit rough patches. Jordan with gambling, losing his father, and turning to baseball. Trey with ummm well you should all know how that went.
Both men had achieved so much so early, then faced some serious adversity. What comes after the adversity is just as interesting as all the success that was achieved before it.
Jordan came back from baseball and was a different player. He could not rely on his pure athleticism to dominate the game anymore. He reinvented himself as an even more fierce competitor and honed the parts of his game that he could control. Jordan’s high flying above the rim show was replaced with a post up game and deadly turn around jump shot.
Jordan had to change his approach in stride with the changes to his body. The result was a smarter and equally as deadly player who won another 3 championships. He wasn’t the highlight reel, dunk in your face player of his youth, he was now a crafty brilliant master of the game. Both versions were incredibly effective and I loved both them.
Trey’s road back into my heart has not been as smooth and there is still a lot to be written about it. When 2009 started, Trey (like Jordan) had to reinvent himself. No longer playing with foreign substances in his body, and with much slower dexterity, Trey was never going to be the same guitar player he was in his youth. Add to the fact that his bandmates had played in other bands and grown in confidence, Phish was going to be a different band. The band was going to be more balanced with any member leading the way in any given jam or night.
Many of us longed for the old days of Trey melting our faces. We hated the ripcords, even inspiring the term “Trey-chord” as he would abort chances to grow a jam, for a harsh segue into a new song all too often. I am certainly not saying that everything from the first couple years of this new era were poor Trey performances. Quite the contrary actually! I will happily play a number of 3.0 Ghosts were Trey leads and peaks beautifully. My overall point is that these highlights were often too sporadic. The problem with four equal members in the band is that sometimes it is difficult to know who should step up and lead.
Phish incontext of the entire band was getting better and better. The jams became incredibly rhythmic and when they clicked it sounded like one instrument on stage. Trey, all this time was learning to effectively mesh his personality and style with this new era of Phish. It clicked masterfully during the magical run of Dick’s 2012.
2013 certainly built on the success 2012. Phish as a band was in an outstanding place. Every night they brought some excellent jamming. Yet I still felt for the most part, Trey hadn’t found “IT” to take them to the next level.
Then Fall Tour 2013 hit. The first hints of my rekindled love for Trey began growing during the third night of the Hampton run. In an incredible high energy set, that featured a stripped down “Tweezer” some outstanding melodic riffs during “Golden Age,” and set closing “Slave to the Traffic Light.”
Rochester had some nice moments but it ultimately fell into jams where nobody lead the band where they needed to go. It was a step back (although better than most give it credit for). Glens Falls would be the show that would shape the direction of this fall tour. With a small venue, a legendary Halloween show, and Trey’s history with that area, Glens Falls had a lot going for it.
When “Back in the U.S.S.R.” first hit Trey’s guitar, things changed. The vibe inside of the Glens Falls Civic Center was unlike anything I remember being a part of. It seemed to be one of the better crowds I can remember. People cheered, were dead quiet, danced like there is no tomorrow, hugged, smiled, and created love all at the perfect time. It was impossible not to feel it. Coming out and playing one of the stronger first sets of this era, Trey was bouncing, smiling and seemed to have an extra step in both his playing and body language. You could tell how much this show meant to him in everything he did.
The moment where his playing (and the entire tour) changed and went next level for me was in the second set “Seven Below.” After a “Rock and Roll” that everyone in the building thought was going to be a monster, Trey audibled and began “Seven Below.” “Rock and Roll” did not develop as yet again nobody stepped to the forefront. Right from the beginning of the “Seven Below” Trey takes charge and tries to set the pace. He doesn’t find anything above average until about the 6:00 mark (also huge credit to the rhythm section for providing him the foundation) where Trey’s playing becomes inspired.
I remember hearing and watching him grab a hold and make this “Seven Below” memorable. From that point forward he annihilates the rest of this set. Trey plays an inspired solo in “Alaska” before his “Twist” masterpiece. Moving between ass kicking guitar to gentle blissful playing, each note seemed like the perfect one. His playing during the brokedown blissful section in “Twist” is something that will always be etched in my mind with many of my happiest memories. Yet my favorite moment was yet to come…
When “Harry Hood” appeared late in the second set and with my approval of Trey’s playing that night, I had high hopes. What transpired was everything that is right with the world. “Hood” will always be one of Trey’s chances to shine brightest. In Glens Falls he was the F’ing North Star. The jam floated an entire fan base into heaven before he punctuated with the most memorable “Hood” peak in quite some time. I had tears at that moment. It was one of those perfect moments and the perfect times that leaves an entire crowd breathless. Everyone I looked at had happiness written all over their face. It was a bridge between the old times (both in Trey’s playing and the venue) and the new. The moment was perfect the way “Harry Hood” can sometimes be.
The energy that was infused into Trey at Glens Falls would carry on throughout the next 7 shows. The New England run showcased that momentum. Trey showcased this energy with a beautiful rendition of this blogger’s favorite song. This Ghost was of the holy variety, amidst a set of rhythmic exploration. Yet my favorite example of my rekindled man crush on Trey would be found a couple days later in Reading.
When “Down with Disease” starts a second set, big things are always expected. The jam can go a variety of different ways. On 10/29/2013 it was defined by a 5 minute trek into one of the most beautiful places my ears have ever been. At the 15:55 mark of the LP release, Trey first strums the melody that I hummed for days after. When it first hits your ears, you know immediately it could be something special. The beauty is once Trey plants this seed, he waits for it to grow. Big Red knows the power of the band around him now. He lets that “ice cream” (yes I am quoting myself) lick breathe and evolve. It takes the band little to no time to sync up and just when Trey is certain everything is perfect…
At 17:07, Trey lets his inter Duane Allman loose and just fires rays of sunshine down from the mountain top. Nothing can floor an audience like Trey Anastasio in these moments. Joy, Love, Unity, Belonging, Redemption, Power, Utopia, and Perfection are the notes they are created from the guitar of Big Red. As much as I have loved what Phish has done, and is doing, when Trey plays like this, time stands still. I will always remember the happiness I felt during that solo, and the warmness that filled my heart from Mr. Anastasio’s Languedoc.
Thank You Earnest “Trey” Anastasio! I couldn’t be more excited to watch and listen to the you at a new peak in your career. Cheers to many more years and all the memories Trey!
(I can go on and on about the “20 Years Later” and especially about the “YEM” from Reading not to mention the insane amount of outstanding playing from Trey in Atlantic City. But for the sake of brevity I am going to leave it here. I am happy to chat with any of you about it!)