Trey Anastasio has gone through a lot in the past few years in terms of losing loved ones. At the same time he has been going through quite a creative period that has been having fans clamoring for as much new music as they can get their ears on. Trey’s most recent loss was his childhood friend Chris Cottrell to cancer and the music that spawned from this loss is the current project Ghosts of the Forest. Last night at State Theatre in Portland, Maine, Trey, along with the band he put together for the album and this short run of shows, debuted the entire album, as well as some other songs. This review will not be reviewing the songs, but more so the feeling of the evening.
From the moment everyone stepped on stage there was, despite the lyrics being very dark and full of sadness, an amazing amount of joy. The smiles being exchanged between every member of the band to one another gave the feeling of being a fly on the wall of a practice session. Everyone was so relaxed, which of course shows how much they practiced for this, but also how great friends they all are. This was the first time some of them have played a complete set together, despite some of them knowing each other for almost 25 years. Near the end of the show Trey introduced every member with a story of how they met and how long they have known one another. It was quite the ramble, but it was truly touching how close he is to every member and that they are all family now.
Speaking of family, during the same ramble, he spoke how gracious he and the band felt about the audience in attendance. During the whole evening, the 1900 or so people in the sold out venue were quiet, attentive, and joyous about the brand new music they were hearing. Trey definitely felt this and really gave it to the crowd in his thank yous, evening clapping for us. If there is one thing that has happened the past few years in the Phish community, as well as the various solo bands, there has been this thankfulness from everyone. Trey seems to be taking everything to heart lately, with all of the losses recently, and has been wanting to show his love for everyone still here.
Watching an elated Trey nod to Jon Fishman on a drum fill or a wild tempo or egg Ray Paczkowski on a solo last night on either his hammond organ or various other keys was very endearing. The same looks went to Tony Markellis as he kept the low end going on bass or Jennifer Hartswick and Celisse Henderson on backing vocals. Speaking of the backing vocals, Jennifer and Celisse brought so many little accents and colors to the songs debuted last night. Their wailing at times really got the audience to go wild and brought in elements of gospel music as well as soaring Pink Floyd harmonies.
The lighting last night was also having it’s debut. A very cool looking cut out sat right behind the band, with vertical lighting behind that and to it’s sides. What wound up happening was an amazing 3-D effect with the lighting making it look the like the cutouts were changing right before our eyes. At times there was even an Escher quality to the lighting behind the cut outs. During one song, a very dark rocking tune that felt particularly heavy with lyrics about a noose around the neck, Trey was projected in the lights in one of the coolest effects of the evening.
The lyrics in all of the songs were very direct, not something that Trey would write in the past, but has been doing much more recently. It definitely has to do with the death of his friend, but also just getting older and seeing that life is finite. There were lines about being turned into energy and traveling the stars, letting go of pain and suffering, memories of past good times, waiting to see loved ones again, and ghosts being around all of the time. The lyrics were heavy and from the heart, and at least on this night the audience really appreciated them. Like I said earlier Trey acknowledged this at the end of the night, but to be part of the crowd was such an amazing feeling. This tour is definitely a way for Trey to process it all, but there are many in the crowd who have lost someone close to them as well, and if you let yourself open up at these shows, you will also be able to exercise some of the demons and get through the loss as well.
Article: Bryan Lasky