A packed house of jam band acolytes — sporting the patchwork garb and unkempt hair of the genre’s early Nineties heyday — hooted and cheered their way through Rolling Stone scribe Anthony DeCurtis’ interview with erstwhile Phish frontman Trey Anastasio at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan last night. On the forefront of everyone’s mind was a topic that, as DeCurtis explained, was “for legal reasons” only mentioned off-hand at least fifty times: Anastasio’s recent arrest for drug possession. (He’s currently facing felony charges, and could face jail time if convicted.)
Phans were treated to a different Trey last night — less rock star, more humble musician. Massaging his fingers nervously, he discussed his struggle with narcotics, and his relief at having to face his addiction. (He confirmed he had actually thanked the arresting officer.) Thinking that he could fix the problem himself, he explained, was at the root of the problem.
DeCurtis introduced Anastasio by reading an excerpt from an interview he’d conducted with the singer just before Phish broke up in 2004. In it, Anastasio described his relationship with his music — how he saw it as a reflection of the natural world and his role as the conduit. Among his confessions last night, Anastasio admitted he had lost sight of that feeling in recent years and is only now beginning to find it again. But that hasn’t stopped him from writing new songs.
When DeCurtis gestured at the acoustic guitar resting on the stage beside Anastasio mid-interview, he played cuts from both of his post-Phish solo albums: the quiet “Wherever You Find It” and “A Case of Ice and Snow,” which he described as “letters to my fans.” Both ballads exuded a somber quietude as Anastasio’s voice reached for high notes, the pain and regret in his throat contrasting with powerful chords plucked on the guitar.
During the second half of the evening, DeCurtis asked questions from the audience. The first concerned the jam band phenomenon and its wide-ranging appeal, to which Anastasio responded that every genre of music fits in its own time period, and never sounds quite right anywhere else: “Swing will never sound as good as it did in the ’40s,” he said. Phish, he explained, was counter-culture and outside the system — exactly when people needed it.
Finally, the inevitable question: Are there plans for a Phish reunion? Anastasio’s response was guarded. But to the audience’s delight, he said that if he were to find himself onstage with his three former bandmates, “I would be the happiest person in the world.” In the meantime he says he hopes to do more work with the Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
The evening ended with one final performance of Phish’s “Pebbles and Marbles.” As the near-flawless performance concluded, a rapt DeCurtis paused to thank Anastasio — a remark drowned under thunderous applause.