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Live Review: Trey Anastasio with National Symphony Orchestra @ Wolf Trap — 6/25/24

Though there are so many American bands and songwriters whose work merits adaptation to the large ensemble, few preside over an inventory as vast and daring as the catalogue maintained by Phish.

And with more than 300 original songs and counting — many of them elaborate, with sections of varying speed — it’s likely that even the most discriminatory classically trained musician can be tantalized by some of the compositions this group has invented since it formed in Vermont more than 40 years ago.

Trey Anastasio, the quartet’s prolific lead guitarist and vocalist, is credited with writing about half the band’s songs, but he’s compiled his own collection of tunes as well, and through his ongoing endeavors both with Phish and as a solo artist, he continues to raise his profile as one of today’s most talented and visionary guitarists and songwriters.

A monumental occasion for fans of improvisational rock and classical music alike, Anastasio visited Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, the night of June 25 for what was his second appearance with the DC-based National Symphony Orchestra and a rare chance to present Phish songs as never heard before.

Alongside conductor Edwin Outwater and backed by the dozens of world-class musicians comprising the NSO’s four main sections, Anastasio gleamed across two sets that showcased the imagination and majesty of Phish’s music.

Listen to “Hey Stranger,” the new single from Phish, via Spotify:

“First Tube,” a turn of the century jam from Farmhouse, and the bluegrass-contoured “Water In The Sky” from 1998’s Story of the Ghost heard contrasting Phish sounds embellished on a grand scale and to enchanting effect to begin the first set.

Anastasio, equipped with what appeared to be his custom-crafted Koa 1 electric guitar and one of his trusty acoustic options, was visibly overjoyed at the front of the large contingent of players. It was, after all, an opportunity to remodel these as more than just intricate jams, but glorious, climactic creations that, when presented in such meticulous fashion, revealed their true allure.

“The Divided Sky,” an exhilarative saga from Phish’s 1999 debut studio album, Junta, was interpreted into a breathtaking arrangement. Anastasio at times let himself be a part of the orchestra as opposed to play above it; but, here, he had to shrug off raucous cheers and friendly hollers to deliver the delicate notes that so famously ascend to this piece’s fan-favorite climax.

“Stash,” an engaging Phish epic recorded to A Picture of Nectar in 1992, was vividly expanded, its suspense and curiosity accentuated by the interplay and contrast of strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion.

Trey Anastasio performs with the National Symphony Orchestra alongside conductor Edwin Outwater at Wolf Trap on June 25, 2024. (35mm Film Photo by Casey Ryan Vock)

The classy affair packed the Filene Center last Tuesday night with a diverse crowd, and it spilled up onto the lawn as ticket holders either sat on blankets with their beverages or got up to groove on the grass or along the state-of-the-art amphitheater’s outer edges.

Attendees were absorbed by the sounds and the sights, too, as Trey went back and forth with various orchestra members, including the colorful first-chair violinist and leader of the string section.

Undoubtedly a night to remember for Anastasio, some of his closest loved ones were on hand to take it all in with him, including his father, Ernie Jr., who chatted and hugged friends beforehand and during set break.

The second half examined compositions from across the decades, including the live classic “Harry Hood” and more recent pieces like “Petrichor,” the crashing, far-flung closer on 2016’s Big Boat.

While one can only imagine what the selection process might have looked like, the night’s song choices ultimately put Anastasio’s guitar talents on display as well as a voice that has helped distinguish Phish as truly unique.

As some had hoped, the night featured one of the most complex yet engaging of the band’s songs: the spellbinding “You Enjoy Myself” was broadened into a cinematic masterpiece, even lifting smiles from orchestra members who’d up to that point remained stoic.

Composer Don Hart, who’s worked with Anastasio in the past, reportedly handled the night’s arrangements. And while this wasn’t the first time Trey performed with the NSO — they teamed up back in 2013 — this project spoke to the staying power and dividends of Phish’s music, which by its very nature is suited to thoughtful translation and energetic orchestration.

Set 1
First Tube
Water in the Sky
The Divided Sky

Set 2
Harry Hood
What’s The Use?
You Enjoy Myself

The Inlaw Josie Wales
The Lizards

Below are images of Trey Anastasio performing with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap on June 25, 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.