On Thursday night, Ghosts of the ForestTrey Anastasio‘s new project with his Phish bandmate Jon Fishman, TAB members Jennifer HartswickTony Markellis, and Ray Paczkowski, and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Celisse Henderson–made their exciting debut at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine.

With a record due on April 12th and only the title-track released, fans have been salivating over the mysterious details of this new project. Almost every night of this eight-show run sold out almost immediately with very little information. And on night one, the curtain revealed exactly what the Phish frontman had up his sleeve.

Production designer Abigail Holmes, whose work includes Stop Making Sense, collaborated with Anastasio on a beautiful, ever-changing backdrop, setting a psychedelic atmosphere for the band who sported gray and white polished clothing. The general consensus is that the spectacle matched the mood of the music in a thrilling way.

The one-set performance featured 18 songs and a pre-recorded piano intro, all of which–besides “Ghosts of the Forest”–had never been heard before. With only nine tracks on the album’s tracklisting, this amount of new music came as a surprise to most.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Trey had explained the meaning of the new album: “It was just personal songs I was writing”, before going on to describe the heartbreak he experienced last year with the death of his childhood friend, Chris Cottrell.

He explained his emotional state, and his experience with death, when thinking up the new material:

I sat for days with him with my acoustic guitar. He sat on the couch and he kind of drifted in and out of consciousness. It was powerful and scary, and also kind of beautiful. It sort of became [about], “Well, we’re all going there, we’re all here together in death and in dreaming, and we’re free of time.” I was thinking about my sister who also died of cancer, and my grandmother. We carry these people around with us.

Executing the new record, due to the fact that it’s unlike any other music he’s released, was a different story with a different motive.

He [Chris Cotrell] would have loved this record. He liked it when I ripped it on the guitar. Period. End of sentence. That’s it. The two of us used to listen to Jimi Hendrix incessantly. Like, every time we got together we’d put on Band of Gypsys. He’d come see Phish, and he liked sustain. So when I made this record after he died I just said that to Fish and Tony, “I’m just going to play a lot of guitar.” There’s no overdub crap for most of it. It’s real. This tour will be more of that. A lot more. The only thing I added was Jen and Celisse so I could have that vocal thing I love so much.

And so, the new Ghosts of the Forest music was for Chris. But now, it’s resonating with a lot of fans in a new way. While not all of the new music made the record, apparently, it all fits into the same new, theatrical puzzle. It’ll be interesting to see what the next seven shows are like. Listen to the full-show audio of Portland’s opener below, and check out some fan-shot videos.

Ghosts of the Forest | 4/4/19

“Ghosts of the Forest”

Ghosts of the Forest

Ghosts of the Forest

“Pieces of the Machine”

[Videos: Gregory Marcus]

Ghosts of the Forest will continue tonight at The Met Opera in Philadelphia, PA, before heading on to Washington, DC; Albany, NY; Boston, MA; New York, NY (x2); and concluding in Los Angeles and Berkeley, CA. Tickets are still available for both California Greek Theatre shows via Ticketmaster. For a full list of Ghosts of the Forest’s upcoming shows, see below.

Trey Anastasio’s Ghosts of the Forest Tour Dates:

4 – Portland, ME – State Theatre
5 – Philadelphia, PA – The Met Opera
6 – Washington, DC – Anthem
9 – Albany, NY – Palace Theatre
10 – Boston, MA – Orpheum
12 – New York, NY – United Palace Theatre
13 – New York, NY – United Palace Theatre
19 – Los Angeles, CA – Greek Theatre
20 – Berkeley, CA – Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley

View Tour Dates

Setlist: Ghosts of the Forest | State Theatre | Portland, ME | 4/4/19

What Made Me Thing (piano intro),  Ghosts of the Forest, Drift While You’re Sleeping, Friend, Sighless Escape, Halfway Home, If Again, In Long Lines, There’s a Path Above, About to Run, The Green Truth, Beneath a Sea of Stars I, Mint Siren Dream, Stumble Into Fight, Ruby Waves, Shadows Thrown By Fire, Wider, A Light Beyond The Dream, In This Bubble, Beneath a Sea of Stars II, Brief Time, Pieces in the Machine