“This is a good direction,” Trey Anastasio said through a grin on Tuesday night at the Beacon Theatre. “I’ve played in both directions in this room. Faced a little of that way, faced a little of this way. I like this way.”

After his eight-week Beacon Jams livestream residency in 2020—during which he performed to an empty house while facing backstage—Trey was finally looking out toward the venue’s seats, and a sold-out, fully-vaccinated New York City crowd was looking back. It was the first time since March 2020 that the theater had been filled to capacity.

“Welcome, everybody. What have you guys been up to? Anything new happen? Fun stuff since Mexico?”

The tongue-in-cheek quip was met with a surge of knowing cheers—the main element that had gone missing throughout Trey’s pandemic residency at the hallowed New York theater.

Tuesday’s show marked Trey’s first time in front of a Manhattan crowd since he was retrieved from above the Madison Square Garden stage by the original Rescue Squad on New Year’s Eve 2019, but the atmosphere in the Beacon felt less like “catching up” with someone we hadn’t seen and more like “checking in” with a person who has been there every step of the way through some hard times.

Anastasio has remained acutely tuned in with his fans throughout the coronavirus rollercoaster, from Dinner and a Movie to Sigma OasisBurn It Down to December, daily quarantine videos to the evolution of Lonely Trip. This is a guy who last year spent his New Year’s Eve playing chess with us online, happily acquainted us with his pet cat, and shared with us the highs of the Beacon Jams and the lows of losing a friend and bandmate.

The acoustic Trey banter at the Beacon made clear just how closely he’s kept in touch. He called out (and briefly serenaded) a celebrity in the crowd—Beacon Jams darling Heather MacDougal—and the building erupted with genuine excitement. The last time Trey played for an audience, Heather was just another face in the crowd. Now, it’s certain that her name will ring out on Phish lots for years to come.

He joked about the 46 Weeks Later parody video they had made for the Halloween-week Beacon Jam, and all the 2020-vintage inside jokes that went into it. He gushed about how the now-familiar pianist Jeff Tanski had “saved his life” as a fellow New Yorker during the pandemic.

He also performed in a configuration that was unheard of in 2019, welcoming Tanski and the Rescue Squad Strings (Katie Kresek and Maxim Moston on violin, Rachel Golub on viola, and Anja Wood on cello) for much of the show. Their soothing, thematic presence felt so comfortable after weeks of Beacon Jams that it was easy to forget that most of the full-capacity crowd—myself included—had never actually seen them perform live.

“Strangest pandemic ever,” Trey surmised. He wasn’t wrong.

The fluid ensemble sounded beautiful throughout the night, working through a list of seasoned Phish favorites as the crowd sang along.

The set was a crowd-pleaser through and through, from solo sing-alongs like “Everything’s Right”, “AC/DC Bag”, “Backwards Down The Number Line”, and “Ghost” to flowing orchestral arrangements of favorites like “Brian and Robert”, “Stash”, “Mercury”, “The Lizards”, “If I Could”, “Pebbles and Marbles”, and “Harry Hood”.

A loop-jammed, string-and-piano-assisted “Wolfman’s Brother” brought a subtle, full-moon stage light up behind the sextet, and a stunning rendition of “What’s The Use?” cast its signature enchanted silence over the audience, all dynamics and emotion.

During “Blaze On”, Trey put some extra emphasis on “the worst days are gone, so now the band plays on,” ensuring the audience caught its timely new layer of significance. Trey remembered his late bassist and longtime collaborator, Tony Markellis—whom he had last seen on that very stage on the final night of The Beacon Jams—during “Sand” and the climactic, show-closing “First Tube” as Tanski held down Tony’s rumbling bass parts on piano with reverence.

In the end, however, it wouldn’t have mattered what Trey Anastasio and company played at their return to the Beacon Theatre. What everyone in the crowd will remember about this night wasn’t on the charts—it was in the air. The music was lovely, but the meaning was everything. Welcome home.

Trey Anastasio returns to the Beacon Theatre tonight, June 23rd for his second and final night. From there, he’ll link up with Oysterhead—an act as voraciously alternate to the Tanski/Strings ensemble as one can get—at The Peach Music Festival over July 4th weekend before finally reuniting with Phish in late July.

Click below to check out a selection of videos from Tuesday night’s Trey Anastasio show at the Beacon Theatre and scroll down to view the setlist and some photos from the performance courtesy of photographer Andrew O’Brien.

Trey Anastasio w/ The Rescue Squad, Jeff Tanski – “Fluffhead” – 6/22/21

[Video: Joey Zoldan]

Trey Anastasio – “Ghost” – 6/22/21

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

Trey Anastasio w/ The Rescue Squad, Jeff Tanski – “Brian and Robert” (partial) – 6/22/21

[Video: jackstrawfromwichita]

Trey Anastasio w/ The Rescue Squad, Jeff Tanski – “The Lizards” (partial) – 6/22/21

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

Trey Anastasio w/ The Rescue Squad, Jeff Tanski – “What’s The Use?” – 6/22/21

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

View Videos

Setlist [via phish.net]: Trey Anastasio | Beacon Theatre | New York, NY | 6/22/21 

Set One: Everything’s Right [1], AC/DC Bag[1] > Backwards Down the Number Line[1], Fluffhead [2], Brian and Robert[2], Stash[2], Ghost[1], Shade [3], Mercury[2], The Lizards[2], Dirt[3], Sand[3], Wolfman’s Brother[2], Blaze On[1], What’s the Use?[2], If I Could[2], Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.[2], Pebbles and Marbles[2], Harry Hood[2]

ENCORE: More[1], First Tube[2]

[1] Trey on acoustic guitar.
[2] Trey on acoustic guitar; with the Rescue Squad Strings and Jeff Tanski on piano.
[3] Trey on acoustic guitar; with Jeff Tanski on piano.

This show featured Trey on acoustic guitar. Fluffhead, Brian and Robert, Stash, Mercury, The Lizards, Wolfman’s Brother, What’s The Use?, If I Could, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S., Pebbles and Marbles, Harry Hood, and First Tube featured the Rescue Squad Strings (Katie Kresek and Maxim Moston on violin, Rachel Golub on viola, and Anja Wood on cello) and Jeff Tanski on piano. Jeff also appeared on Shade, Dirt, and Sand. After Fluffhead, Trey briefly sang Heather McDougal Song, as Heather was in attendance.