Trey Anastasio brought his recent theater tour to the majestic halls of the United Palace, with its glowing lamps and lux decor, for two nights of deft performance and strong composition. Instead of simply dusting off gems that are often featured in sets with his solo band, Anastasio performed his latest work, Ghosts of the Forest, in its entirety, with assistance from drummer and fellow Phish bandmate Jon Fishman, as well as select members of the Trey Anastasio Band: keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, bassist Tony Markellis, and vocalist Jennifer Hartswick. A second vocalist, Celisse Henderson, was also on hand for the production.
Dressed in tan slacks and a beige blazer, Anastasio and his musical companions ran through the Ghosts of the Forest album with well-rehearsed perfection. Opening with the title track, Trey and Co. eased into its floating yet slightly nervy groove, then moved onto the next number, “Drift While You’re Sleeping”—a more expansive yet still precisely conceived song. Ghosts of the Forest as a complete work is complex, layered with progressive undertones, and oftentimes hints at top notes of new wave, hard rock, and soul music. In this live setting, little room was left for the open-ended jamming that is tantamount to Phish and TAB shows. Fishman glided through the multiple movements of many of the songs with ease, hitting all the marks with precision, and making it apparent that his inclusion on this tour was as much about skill-set as it was about camaraderie. During the ominous “About to Run,” Anastasio set his axe free with Hendrixian valor, allowing his instrument to shower dark, supersonic reverie throughout the crowd. During the show’s finale, “Pieces in the Machine,” Anastasio, Hartswick, and Henderson danced together along the edge of the stage, wrapping up for an engaged audience what was an evening of deeply personal songwriting, stellar arrangements, and even a bit of theater, as the accompanying light show offered a different look at what stage designers can do with Anastasio’s music when it pivots from the traditional Phish/TAB vibes. Those who came to hear TAB staples like “Night Speaks to a Woman” and “Money Love and Change,” or simply hadn’t had an opportunity yet to dig deep into the many twists and turns of Ghosts of the Forest, may have walked away slightly disappointed by the structured program. Nevertheless, the set was electrifying, and illustrated once again that Anastasio is an artist that moves accordingly and unafraid with his muse.