“That comes under the heading, ‘When I grow up . . .’ ” Trey Anastasio remarked with a huge boyish smile, after playing a long, complex reinvention of “The Divided Sky” near the end of his show at New York’s Webster Hall last night. The song comes from 1989’s Junta, the first album released by his former band Phish. But this encore version featured Anastasio on acoustic guitar, accompanied by a string quintet conducted by Don Hart. The score, by Hart, was at once knotty in its details and elegant in its melodic sweep. It was also a gift. On October 8th, the first of his two Webster Hall shows, Anastasio debuted the new arrangement for his mother, Diane, who was in the audience and celebrating her birthday.
The New York concerts were the first on Anastasio’s fall tour to promote his latest solo album, Bar 17, which he has released on his own Rubber Jungle label. Both shows included another extended piece with strings, “Goodbye Head,” that appears on the record. But last night, Anastasio played only half as many songs as he did Sunday — because he played some of them for more than a quarter of an hour apiece, spinning out in extended guitar reveries notable for the ferocious attack he put on simple, repetitive phrases. In “Sand,” Anastasio kept spearing the same high note over and over, driving the music — and the audience — to blues-rock nirvana. There was also a hot ’72-Stones kick to the Bar 17 songs “Mud City” and “Dragonfly.”
Anastasio is on the road with his latest band — bassist Tony Hall, drummer Jeff Sipe, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski and background vocalists Christina Durfee and Jennifer Hartswick — through mid-December. There is a second, solo Anastasio release just out as well: 18 Steps, featuring additional material from the Bar 17 sessions and available as a bonus disc with the new album at his Web site.