Saturday, July 11, 2015

Trey Was Great, But The Dead50 Fare Thee Well Shows Aren't His Legacy

Trey Anastasio, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir (6/27/15). Photo by Jay Blakesberg
The five recent "Fare Thee Well" concerts celebrating the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary cemented their status as the greatest American rock band of all time.  At the same time, these shows also seem to have solidified Trey Anastasio's status as the best living rock n' roll guitarist.  Nobody on the planet could have filled those shoes any better than Trey did.

I knew that Trey would be good, but I had no idea that he would be that good, or that well received.  He put in an unbelievable amount of work getting those songs down to the point that they were second nature.  Under immense pressure he delivered in droves.  You could sense that the music was coming from the purest, most reverent place possible, yet his years of experience as the Phish band leader and months of focused practice on the vast Dead catalog meant that he knew when to step up and take charge (and at the Chicago shows that was often).

MVP Trey was directly responsible for leading many jams to the magical places that people didn't think were still possible, but with the added benefit of it never feeling forced or obligatory.  He treated each moment of these five nights as if it were the most important moment of his musical career, and rightfully so.  Plus, whenever he sang lead vocals on a Jerry song I'm sure most everyone in the crowd quickly learned to breathe a sigh of relief and assurance.

Yes, this was a great career-move for Trey whether he was thinking on that level or not.  However, I have seen it mentioned that these shows would be Trey's legacy, and I have a bit of an issue with that point of view.  It's actually a kind of insulting when you think about it.  It's like saying all the hard work he's done up until now - and the work he'll continue to do - was OK, but making those final Dead shows an incredible experience for thousands of deadicated 'heads is the most important thing he could have ever done.

Having seen some mind-fuckingly awesome Phish shows on many occasions, I can assure you that Trey has already been performing at this level on an almost nightly basis for decades now.  His true legacy lies not in the Grateful Dead music he just helped resurrect, but in the dozens of brilliant compositions and countless hours of collective group improvisation that have been created via his "day job" with Phish.

Without Trey ultimately assuming the helm, these shows could have easily been filled with more senior moments than moments of transcendence, but that speaks more to Trey's overall skills and confidence as a musician and his legacy of work lying outside this one-off ensemble rather than within it.

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