If the financially strapped Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s repositioning involves offering a wider array of music, Tuesday’s sold-out Boettcher Concert Hall performance with Trey Anastasio certainly was a step in the right direction. Before a dapper crowd of vocal fans, the Phish frontman bridged the sizable chasm that separates innovative rock and classical music. And perhaps no electric guitarist performing today is better suited for the task, as proven Tuesday when the rocker led the 60-plus musician orchestra through his most classically influenced compositions.
In a night that should have pleased both musical camps, Anastasio was bolstered by the brass, buoyed by the bells, warmed by the winds and invigorated by violins. His band’s most intricate compositions – “Guyute,” “Stash,” “Divided Sky” “The Inlaw Josie Wales” and “You Enjoy Myself” – melded perfectly with overlapping and enlivened violins, thundering kettle drums and slippery trombones. Anastasio’s more lyrical songs, like “Let Me Lie,” “Goodbye Head,” and “Brian And Robert,” found tremendous depth when backed by trembling wind instruments and vibrant strings.
And the rock star’s classical opus, “Time Turns Elastic,” became a 30-minute fireball of virtuosity. While the lengthy tune often fell flat at Phish concerts and thankfully has been retired from the band’s recent repertoire, “Time Turns Elastic” has no better home than an orchestra. (The song, which Anastasio debuted in 2009 with the New York Philharmonic, is the likely impetus to his genre-bending, four-stop orchestral tour this winter.)
With violin concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams incorporating Anastasio’s surge-stop, slow-burn flow, “Time Turns Elastic” became an ethereal, floating excursion, periodically exploding with the frantic work of four percussionists who raced between gongs, bells, drums, timpanis, cymbals and shakers.
While Anastasio has always infused classical character into his tunes, the pioneer of freeform, unstructured jamming fit surprisingly well within the tightly tethered musicianship of an orchestra. That’s not to say he didn’t wander a bit. Stirred by the staccato clapping, the “Oh-wah, Oh-wah” and “Maybe so, maybe not” sing along by the eager-to-participate crowd, Anastasio patiently prodded a subtle, inspired jam in “Stash.” He found a similar groove in “You Enjoy Myself,” working with the flutes, wah-wah’d trumpets and moaning trombones to harvest memorable licks from his electric Languedoc. (Anastasio strolled the stage with a unique, un-amplified vocal jam to end YEM that was reminiscent of a Native American chant and was very cool.)
A hero of the night who wasn’t on stage was arranger Don Hart. A longtime pal of Anastasio’s and renowned composer and producer, Hart’s arrangements were inspiring. “Guyute,” in particular, was extraordinary. From the plucking violins and woodwind intro to the frenzied violins and gong-backed kettle drum march of the evil pig called Guyute, the song reached several climactic peaks that churned the not-used-to-sitting crowd.
Encoring with an “Abbey Road” mash-up of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End,” Anastasio praised conductor Scott Dunn and said “I really hope we can come back and do this again. This was incredible.”
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder based photographer of everything, a self-professed music junkie and regular contributor to Reverb. Check his photos out on Facebook or his website.