Trey Anastasio returned to New York’s Beacon Theatre on Friday night for Night 7 of The Beacon Jams, the eight-show, virtual residency aimed at raising funds for an addiction treatment center in Vermont via the Divided Sky Fund.
Each Friday throughout this run, we’ve seen a group of familiar group of faces from the touring, eight-piece Trey Anastasio Band, but never the full squad. Aside from the surprise resurrection of Ghosts of the Forest on Night 5, each of the previous installments has been built around a makeshift “local” TAB lineup comprised of whomever the COVID dance would permit: Tony Markellis (bass), Ray Paczkowski (keys), Russ Lawton (drums), and Cyro Baptista (percussion). The “work with what we’ve got” ethos of The Beacon Jams has given way to some exciting new wrinkles, from the beautiful, stripped-down renderings of Phish favorites with Jeff Tanski to the addition of the Rescue Squad Strings on Night 2 (and every show since) to the inclusion of the Angels Three backing vocalists (Jennifer Hartswick, Celisse Henderson, and Jo Lampert) on GotF night and again last week on Night 6.
Still, a vocal contingent of commenters has continued to pose the same question week after week: “Where is Natalie Cressman? Where is James Casey? Where are the horns!?” Those questions were answered on Night 7 of The Beacon Jams when the stream flipped on and the camera zoomed out from Cyro’s rig to present the full Trey Anastasio Band in all its glory, together onstage for the first time since February 1st, 2020 in New Orleans, back in those naïve times when “the next show” felt like an inevitability. Now, many weeks into this emotional engagement, each new show genuinely feels like a gift, and the appearance of the band we all know well—the band whose new live album we’ve been raving over for months—was a sight for sore eyes and an old, sweet song for long-isolated ears.
The broadcast began with an homage to Phish security chief Carl Monzo before the band opened the proceedings with a funky “Camel Walk”. Trey addressed the latest additions to the Beacon Jams roster, trombonist/vocalist Natalie Cressman and saxophonist/vocalist James Casey, who joined a trumpet-wielding Hartswick (he Let Jen Horn!) in the trio’s customary spot to the guitarist’s right, bantering with James and Natalie about the respective quarantine paths they each took to clear the entry protocols for The Beacon Jams. Jen, she explained, has been quarantined in the Beacon’s adjacent hotel since she traveled up from Nashville two weeks before her Beacon Jams debut on Ghosts of the Forest night. Natalie had benefited from less-strict quarantine rules by the time she came in from California, and required only a four-day quarantine and a negative test to qualify.
James, who remarked that this was his first time playing music with other humans in eight months, had traveled from his quarantine hideaway in Hawaii—and maintained the illusion that he was still there throughout this week with regular posts of Hawaiian landscape photos. In order to make this reunion happen under today’s circumstances, it took many weeks of planning and execution, many moving parts. Now, at long last, the gang was all there, all together in the cozy little “home” Trey has made over the last six Fridays—an oasis of normalcy in a time of gnawing uncertainty.
The Trey Anastasio Band reunion was far from the only sentimental layer of this performance. As Trey pointed out before the band moved forward, Cyro’s daughter was giving birth back home in Brazil as the band played on Friday night. The proud soon-to-be grandfather beamed at the prospect: “If I’m starting to cry,” he pleaded, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Please be compassionate with me.”
Both the loss of Carl Monzo and impending birth of Cyro’s granddaughter appeared to never be far from Trey’s mind throughout the night. As he reflected on the circle of life playing out before his eyes, within his own extended “family,” Trey’s thoughts repeatedly drifted toward the “old days,” toward origin stories, wrapping his head around where he found himself at this unusual moment in his life.
Some more thanks to donor groups (Cactus Club, Phantasy Tour, Mama Ragers, Jamflow Management, etc.), birthday shoutouts to Jo Lampert, coveting of Jen’s sparkly sneakers, and acknowledgements of the contributions of the sneaky phan journalists in The Thread/JournoPhish (like Jake Sherman and Katy Tur) worked their way between red-hot takes on “Set Your Soul Free” and “Alive Again” (with lyrics changed to “winter’s coming and I’d like a review”) as the band assured the tens of thousands of streamers tuning in that they have not lost a step in these last nine months.
Trey Anastasio – “Harry Hood” – The Beacon Jams Night 7 – 11/20/20
[Video: Trey Anastasio]
— Live For Live Music (@L4LM) November 21, 2020
From there, Ray, Tony, Russ, and Cyro bowed out and Jeff Tanski and the Rescue Squad Strings took the stage for the first time on the night for a gorgeous rendering of Big Boat composition, “Petrichor”. While the TAB horns had similarly contributed to “Petrichor” as part of Phish’s 2016 New Year’s gag, the addition of the strings to this already orchestrally-oriented piece fit like a hand in a glove, easily putting this in the conversation about the finest versions of the song ever played.
As the strings made their exit, Trey acknowledged a comment from Andrew Lincoln, the lighting designer for Greensky Bluegrass, who worked with Beacon Jams/LivePhish video director Trey Kerr for the band’s Leap Year Sessions virtual concert series over the summer. “Hey Trey,” Lincoln asked in the comments, “Can we talk about how proud we are of the other Trey, Trey Kerr.” The moment of appreciation for the man behind the stream led to some reminiscing over the days when he was still getting busted by Phish management for selling bootleg t-shirts on the lot.
“I’m gonna cry,” Anastasio mustered as he remembered the origins of Kerr’s relationship with Phish. “My memory, Trey, is that Carl [Monzo] pulled you out of the lot. … I think Carl’s first gig with Phish was the Clifford Ball … Trey Kerr was, like, a rowdy tour guy, and Carl, our head of security who just passed away, was the nicest guy, and a guy who was always pulling people in. I’m talking to Trey [Kerr] now, ’cause Trey and Carl were very close friends, I know that. … Thank you, Andrew Lincoln, for bringing that up—we are very proud of Trey Kerr—and thank you, Carl, for yankin’ his filthy ass out of the lot.”
After allowing time for some levity (“Actually, Trey, were you on the lot in the ’90s? You probably dated Jon Fishman, then”), the band dove into a spirited, full-TAB “Money, Love, and Change”. “I wasn’t in my underwear, but then I took my pants off,” added one commenter when the fiery jam drew to a close, drawing laughs from the whole crew onstage and sparking a cascade of “underwear” jokes throughout the rest of the show.
More origin stories followed as Trey reflected on how he initially linked up with both Jen and Natalie when they were just young music students with growing reputations. “I picked you up at college and you joined the band,” he said to Cressman, “I picked you up at your dorm! … You were 18 years old.”
“Thanks, you gave me a ride,” she laughed in response. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Hartswick recalled that she was only 17 when she first played with Trey. “I remember, because you outplayed three middle-aged men completely.” Trey added, “It was a test. I asked you to come in because I’d heard about you. Word was around Vermont. You passed, man.” A James Casey recitation of a comment that labeled this the “sexiest horn section ever assembled” led into a rendition of “one of the sexiest songs in the repertoire,” “Olivia”, on which the horns truly shined.
As the band prepared for the next song, Trey found himself discussing his own origin story, the narrative at the core of The Beacon Jams. After a shoutout to Lon Conscious, a longtime MSG merch vendor who recently passed away, Trey took a moment to directly address the people for whom the residency and its beneficiary, the Divided Sky Fund, was created—”those people who are in this right now, with drugs and alcohol. Because, I mean, I was there. Everybody on this stage went through this mess with me. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t give up hope. You can get past this. I remember how I felt, that’s what I wanna say: completely hopeless, completely lack of faith. I remember this so clearly, nothing but shame, frustration, and a lot of anger. I remember being angry all the time, and no sense of humor, and I think it’s because I actually was full of fear, like, massive amounts of fear which was turning into anger. I didn’t think there was any hope. I asked for help. I happened to go through an arrest, but you can get off drugs, and you can stop drinking, and there is a beautiful… you’re seeing it. This is available to anyone, the joy. That’s what this is about. All this money that we’re talking about, the donations, are going to help families who are in this situation. We can all, on this stage, name people who we’ve lost. We don’t have to lose any more. I really know how you feel, and you don’t have to feel that way any more. That’s what I’m trying to say. This is the deepest thank you I can say from my heart, for the people who are donating.”
The second-ever live performance of “All Pretending” came next before slipping smoothly into a rowdy “Curlew’s Call” featuring a joyous percussion jam from Russ and Cyro and a song-ending “Science!” callback to Night 6’s “Tube” from Trey. Following an acknowledgement of the 11 a.m. English class tuning in from the Osaka, Japan YMCA, the Rescue Squad rejoined the band next for one of the biggest musical highlights of the night, a gorgeous rendering of Phish classic “Harry Hood”. Trey kicked off the composition by skatting Fishman’s recognizable drum intro before setting out on the song with just the strings. The full band joined back in and Trey grabbed his Languedoc as the song built to its big climax, though it stopped short of the usual “You can feel good about Hood” coda.
Trey Anastasio – “Harry Hood” – The Beacon Jams Night 7 – 11/20/20
[Video: Trey Anastasio]
As the ensemble caught its breath, Trey gave “Hood” the “origin story” treatment, as well. “So good,” Trey exclaimed, filling in the blank where he usually sings about his feelings toward the song’s titular character as he grabbed his acoustic guitar. “That was sincere joy playing that with you. I kid you not, I wrote that on an acoustic guitar on a beach in Greece when I was 19 years old… lying in a hut with Jon Fishman [laughs]. That is actually true. It’s such a happy song.” He even brought Cyro up to demonstrate the song’s earliest iteration—Trey on acoustic guitar, Fishman on the flexitone.
After another personal moment to encourage a commenter clinging to 12 days of sobriety, he led the Rescue Squad and Jen and Natalie (on backing vocals) through a stunning rendition of Phish’s reflective “Lifeboy”. This one will surely be on repeat for the rest of time. Wow.
Trey Anastasio – “Lifeboy” – The Beacon Jams Night 7 – 11/20/20
[Video: Trey Anastasio]
The heavy emotional tone caught a fresh gust of carefree antics from there as a comment from a fan named Heather McDougal, a nurse in Maine. “This has gotten me through these weeks,” she said. “You guys keep doing it and I’ll keep saving it.”
Trey was so pleased with the comment that he began to improvise a little ditty using her name. Before long, the full band had joined in for an off-the-cuff “Heather McDougal Song”. Next, Trey opted for a song about “how James got here” from Hawaii (another tongue-in-cheek “origin story”)—”riding his bike”—with a performance of “Let Me Lie”. As Trey continued to riff on the Heather McDougal Song, he addressed and obliged another commenter asking for a “Heather McDougal Song” reprise, leading the band into a Heather McDougal-altered take on the comical faux-song, “Chalk Dust Torture Reprise”. Take that, Mango Hands.
The band then worked through “Burlap Sack and Pumps”, “Valentine”, and a particularly excellent “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long”, and took a moment to acknowledge a comment from Celisse, who was drinking wine and in her underwear and “watching her friends be better than anyone,” before the strings once again entered the fold for a flowing “Goodbye Head”.
Trey also took a moment to acknowledge the recent passing of a fan named Georgie, who was a crucial member of the Phish Yellow Balloon community, call out some more group donations (Phunky Bitches, Friday Night Freakers), and express his love for Page McConnell‘s daughter Delia‘s band. When James Casey noted that his grandmother was no doubt ecstatic to be able to watch him play, the band speculated about whether or not Cyro’s grandchild had been born while they performed. Finally, the show closed with a triumphant, thematically appropriate “Push On ‘Til The Day”.
This show was about beginnings, about ends, about the circle that connects them. Amid the logistical challenges of a pandemic, the reunion of a long-separated band, the loss of loved ones, and the birth of new ones, The Beacon Jams Night 7 delivered on its promise to be a guiding light for a community spread to the corners of the Earth. In darkness, we can find the light. In loss, we can find rebirth. In struggle, we can find redemption. In a year devoid of most gatherings, we can still round up the family—COVID dance permitting—and remind ourselves what’s waiting on the other side of this mess. Until then, we have one final installment of The Beacon Jams waiting for us next week. We’ll catch you then.
Setlist: Trey Anastasio | The Beacon Jams Night 7 | Beacon Theatre | New York, NY | 11/20/20
Set: Camel Walk, Set Your Soul Free, Alive Again , Petrichor , Money, Love and Change, Olivia, All Pretending > Curlew’s Call, Harry Hood , Lifeboy , Heather McDougal Song , Let Me Lie , Chalk Dust Torture Reprise , Burlap Sack and Pumps, Valentine, Death Don’t Hurt Very Long , Goodbye Head , Push On ‘Til the Day
 Lyrics changed to “Winter’s coming and I’d like a review.”
 Just Trey, The Rescue Squad Strings, and the horns.
 Full TAB debut; began with just Trey on acoustic guitar and The Rescue Squad Strings with the rest of the band joining later.
 Just Trey on acoustic guitar with The Rescue Squad Strings and Jen Hartswick and Natalie Cressman on vocals.
 Debut; with The Rescue Squad Strings.
 Full TAB debut; with The Rescue Squad Strings.
 Full TAB debut; sung as “Heather McDougal Song.”
 Full TAB debut.
 With The Rescue Squad Strings.