Going into Night 6 of The Beacon Jams on Friday, we were as much in the dark as we were five long weeks ago when Trey Anastasio first embarked on his virtual residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre. The first four installments presented something of a reliable format, but when Trey shifted gears to start the run’s back half and resurrected Ghosts of the Forest on Night 5, the possibilities once again became wide open. Would Trey revert to the streamlined, five-piece Trey Anastasio Band lineup we saw for the first four weeks, or would we continue down the rabbit hole of the many, many Trey projects from through the years? What we got was neither of those things, and both of them.

With the exception of a night off for the esteemed percussion partnership of Russ Lawton and Cyro Baptista on Ghosts of the Forest night last week, one thing has remained constant throughout the run—once a new player enters Trey’s Beacon bubble, they tend to stick around. Rather than pulling an established project from his bag of tricks, Anastasio gathered a new-look outfit comprised of familiar faces from the last five Fridays. While Jon Fishman did not return to the Big Apple, The Beacon Jams Night 6 lineup saw the de facto house band of Trey, Russ, Cyro, Ray Paczkowski (keys), and Tony Markellis (bass) return to action with the various established accoutrements (Jeff Tanski, the Rescue Squad Strings) as well as the game-changing addition of the three Ghosts of the Forest night backup singers, Jennifer HartswickCelisse Henderson, and Jo Lampert.

Even before we knew what the band would look like on Friday night, fans tuning in via Twitch could surmise that this would be another excellent show—how could you have thought otherwise when the sounds of Trey, Tanski, and the Rescue Squad launching into a show-opening “You Enjoy Myself” accompanied the familiar Beacon Jams intro animation.

Throughout the run, we’ve seen Tanski and Trey reimagine a number of beloved Phish classics, from “Stash” to “Divided Sky” to “My Friend, My Friend” to “What’s The Use?“. With Trey diving ever-deeper into his repertoire as the weeks roll on, we had been hoping that “YEM” would get the same treatment. This version didn’t disappoint, as Tanski and the strings added a new layer of theatrical elegance to the seminal Phish composition’s intro segment. But wait, there’s more…

As the song approached its big climax, Ray appeared over Trey’s shoulder as he made his way to the keys and the camera panned out from the guitarist to reveal Jen, Celisse, and Jo—clad all in black in contrast to their GotF whites—facing Trey as they adapted the song’s words: “Boy… Woman… God… Shiiiiit.” While streamers hollered from their respective couches and kitchens over the singers’ commanding entrance, the rest of the core band members took their seats. By the time we hit the song’s funky “Wash Uffizi” refrain, a 13-piece band was thoroughly enjoying itself on the Beacon stage. The singers peppered in “Firenze” fills and “Boy, Man, God” vamps, the strings weaved in an out, the band dug into a deep groove, and Trey unleashed his well-honed “YEM” fireworks with palpable glee. Then came the requisite vocal jam, augmented by tasteful staccato adornments from the Rescue Squad and more melodic direction than usual thanks to Jen, Celisse, and Jo. It’s not often that the vocal jam is a highlight of a given “YEM”, but this one surely fits that description. Watch the whole thing below:

Trey Anastasio – “You Enjoy Myself” – The Beacon Jams Night 6 – 11/13/20

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

Trey welcomed the vocal trio back for a second week as the ensemble took a moment to catch its breath. “Thank you, Angels Three,” he smiled, his eyes drifting toward the chat feed. “I love that they sang ‘woman,’ too,” he responded to a commenter.

Anastasio thanked fan-run groups like PhanArt, Addicted to Phish, and Phish Tour 2014 for their donations as the strings made their exit and Russ kicked into the beat for “The Silver Light”, the Lonely Trip tune Trey released back in April along with a comical video of him drumming on rolls of toilet paper. The song was one of the few from Trey’s string of quarantine releases that had been played live before the shutdown, but the upbeat jam still sounded fresh as the Beacon band dove in.

Contemplating the time of year, a commenter asked the band about their favorite part of fall. When Jo offered up the changing colors of the leaves, Trey half-considered it. “That’s kinda predictable,” he said. “I was gonna say that when I think of the fall, I think that this is a man who grabs the skunk by the tail.”

“These days,” Ray interjected with some silver linings, “Having something predictable is good.”

Trey grabbed his acoustic guitar as he dedicated “Winterqueen” to a viewer who had woken up early to tune in from Dubai. Once again, the “Angels Three” shined, elevating the song with harmonized countermelodies of oohs and ahhs. More than anything, Hartswick’s beaming presence has been missed during this run, and the whole band seemed to respond with excitement at her re-entry into the TAB lineup on Night 6 of The Beacon Jams.

 

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Some cheeky banter with a commenter about how the singers would “RAGE” a “Moma Dance” ensued (“What’s a Moma Dance?” asked a faux-clueless Lampert) before the band obliged. Here, they stretched their legs for the first time on the evening, each player and singer making crucial additions to a satisfyingly soulful whole. Once again, and consistently throughout the night, the singers took the familiar tune to thrilling new heights.

After a shoutout to vocal arranger Carmel Dean and the ever-present laundry-folders tuning in, Trey engaged a commenter for perhaps the most “interactive” exchange we’ve seen thus far from The Beacon Jams. When Twitch user “Mango Hands” lodged an official request for more cat photos, Trey vowed to acquiesce. “I’ll tell you what, Mango Hands. This is how interactive this is. I will do you one better. I will get up tomorrow morning and post a cat photo video specifically for Mango Hands, which I will construct because I have so many. It’ll be a montage of Joey pictures, and it’s gonna be called, For Mango Hands.” True to his word, Anastasio did just that on Saturday morning. Watch “For Mango Hands” starring Joey Anastasio below:

 

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After some “fake football” crowd noise—perhaps a wink at the recent fan excitement over Phish songs making their way into pro sports broadcasts—the band jumped into “Kill Devil Falls”, a song whose lyrics eerily mirror the feelings of a virtual audience long-quarantined. Of course, the actual addiction-and-recovery parable at the center of “KDF” strikes even closer to the residency’s core mission of raising funds for an addiction treatment center in the underserved and addiction-stricken Vermont via the Divided Sky Fund.

Responding to a comment from the parents of a child lost to addiction, Trey faltered slightly as he struck a more somber tone. “I understand what Matthew went through, and those of you who know about this experience… It’s one that I had. You’re a sick person trying to get well and not a bad person trying to get good, and it’s really hard. That’s what we’re trying to do here. When I needed help—and I needed it, badly—I couldn’t stop to save my life, and I got help. There was help available to me. And what we’re all trying to do here is create a situation where maybe some other people can get the help that they need. That’s an appropriate time to see that comment up on the screen, after that song. That was the story.”

The ensuing “20 Years Later” was dedicated to Trey’s longtime songwriting partner, Tom Marshall, and his wife, both of whom celebrated their birthdays on Thursday. Tanski and the Rescue Squad retook the stage from there to help Trey with the world premiere of a brand new, post-Lonely Trip song, “Mercy”, a short and sweet tune that aligned with Anastasio’s recent affinity for water- and light-based thematic imagery. The strings added lovely little touches of dissonance, while Cyro offered up tasteful bell hits.

The full-crew Beacon “Light” that followed carried its symbolic resonance with grace as lighting director Marc Janowitz painted the vast, empty house with white and yellow spots. The band and the Angels Three ceded the stage for the next number as Trey and the strings delivered an emotional rendition of “Summer of ’89”. A full-cast “Joy” came next before the Rescue Squad made their final exit.

The rest of the night bought us some of the loosest, most free-wheeling segments of the residency. In stark contrast to last week (when the nature of the Ghosts of the Forest project constricted the playbook) and the string-assisted numbers (which require arrangement and precision), the second half of Friday’s show felt more like a jam session with friends than a live show, in the best way possible. Amid easy-going riffing about New Zealand “crushing” its pandemic response, the questionable merits of living in Bushwick and Ridgewood, and Trey’s sheepish longing to get on the road again, the guitarist seemed to call setlist audibles based on instinct, opting for Phish and TAB staples like “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” and “Farmhouse”.

“Tube”, undoubtedly among the improvisational high points of the performance, saw the Angels Three contribute much more free-wheeling ad-libs, prompting some “Science!”-based call-and-response with Trey, who grinned as he effectively “sampled” his own song’s lyrics via the vocalists. “Nothing burned, nothing burned, nothing burned,” the singers chanted as the impregnable three-piece rhythm section continued to blaze ahead under fiery Trey licks. For the late Harris Wittels who, as a commenter pointed out, only ever wanted a jammed-out “Tube”, and for the fan who runs this important Twitter account, we couldn’t be happier with how it played out. Did they jam out “Tube?” A resounding “yes.”

Trey Anastasio – “Tube” – The Beacon Jams Night 6 – 11/13/20

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

“Billy Breathes” came next before Trey employed a hornless Jen Hartswick to sing her usual trumpet lines on an excellent “Every Story Ends In Stone”, marking its first appearance since April 2018. The easy-going back half of the show continued with “Bouncing Around The Room” and “Wading In The Velvet Sea” amid more gratitude toward donors and commenters and a pause to say the names of just a few of the many Black people unjustly killed by law enforcement in our country.

To close things out, Trey offered a “never-before-played” song and a “before-played song.” First, the band debuted “Are You There, Colleen?”, a quarantine tune first shared by Trey along with an emotional note of encouragement to any and all addicts struggling to stay clean during the pandemic. Finally, the band wrapped up the night with a an uplifting jaunt through “Rise/Come Together” before the camera zoomed in on the Beacon ceiling and faded out for another week’s break.

At The Beacon Jams Night 6, we saw a thrilling new layer added to the tried-and-true formula after a week of structural shake-up. But while this show featured a never-before-seen lineup, the energy of Night 6 was the closest thing we’ve seen yet to a full-blown Trey Anastasio Band show (P.S., Let Jen Horn). Add that to the stunning rendering of the quintessential Phish song, the always-impressive work of Jeff Tanski and the strings and, of course, the saga of Mango Hands, and you could easily make the argument to call this the best installment thus far. Tune in next Friday, when Trey Anastasio will undoubtedly exceed our expectations once again.

Setlist: Trey Anastasio | The Beacon Jams Night 6 | Beacon Theatre | New York, NY | 11/13/20

Set: You Enjoy Myself [1], The Silver Light, Winterqueen [2], The Moma Dance [3], Kill Devil Falls[3], Twenty Years Later[3], Mercy [4], Light [5], Summer of ’89 [6], Joy [7], A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing[3], Farmhouse, Tube[3], Billy Breathes[3], Every Story Ends in Stone, Bouncing Around the Room[3], Wading in the Velvet Sea[3], Are You There Colleen? [8] > Rise/Come Together

[1] Full TAB debut. Began with just Trey with The Rescue Squad Strings and Jeff Tanski on piano with the rest of the band and Jennifer Hartswick, Celisse Henderson, Jo Lampert joining in on vocals later. Lyrics changed to “boy, woman, god, shit.”
[2] Trey on acoustic guitar with the full band and singers.
[3] Full TAB debut.
[4] Debut; with The Rescue Squad Strings and Jeff Tanski on piano.
[5] With The Rescue Squad Strings.
[6] With just Trey on acoustic guitar and The Rescue Squad Strings.
[7] Full TAB debut; with The Rescue Squad Strings.
[8] Debut.

This performance was part of The Beacon Jams series and featured the debuts of Mercy and Are You There Colleen? and the full TAB debuts of You Enjoy Myself, Moma Dance, Kill Devil Falls, Twenty Years Later, Joy, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Tube, Billy Breathes, Bouncing Around the Room, and Wading in the Velvet Sea. You Enjoy Myself began with just Trey with The Rescue Squad Strings and Jeff Tanski on piano with the rest of the band and Jennifer Hartswick, Celisse Henderson, Jo Lampert joining in on vocals later. the lyrics in You Enjoy Myself were changed to “boy, woman, god, shit.” Winterqueen featured Trey on acoustic guitar with the full band and singers. Trey teased No Men In No Man’s Land in Moma Dance. Mercy through Joy featured The Rescue Squad Strings. Mercy also featured Jeff Tanski on piano. Summer of ’89 featured just Trey on acoustic guitar with the Strings. Trey quoted On the Road Again after Summer of ’89. Trey quoted She Blinded Me with Science in Tube.