Small Songs for a Small Crowd

Last night Phish played to the smallest crowd they would play for for the rest of this summer’s tour in Portsmouth, VA.  The crowd was abuzz with talk of what jams would come out during the show–after the Toyota Park through Hershey run, it seemed apparent that Phish was on the brink of busting out with their first extended jam of the summer.  However, this was not the case–Phish played a series of songs, 25 total, that were all under 10 minutes, aside from Bathtub Gin and Slave to the Traffic Light.  The songs were also predictable, other than a new the new original “Idea” and the new cover of “Cold Water” by Tom Waits.  In fact,  19 of the 25 songs played last night I wrote about coming out in “what can we expect tonight?”, yesterday.  The order the songs were played in was not necessarily predictable though, with Tube as an opener, Slave to the Traffic Light being the 3rd song and Wilson opening the second set.  One more thing of note is that they did not, in fact, play Tweezer Reprise like some were expecting after not finishing with it in Hershey.

When Phish took the stage the crowd was cheering “Tuuuuuube”–Trey laughs, after saying he’s not totally sure what they are saying and that they are an all request band he says “welll I think this is what you guys are saying” and busts into a standard 6 minute version of the song.  The version is solid–nothing to write home about, though.  Quickly Kill Devil Falls starts up, probably the originally planned opener, the version is energetic, fun and predictable–but I would rather have Kill Devil Falls be predictable.  I wasn’t a fan of the experimental Red Rocks or Bonnaroo versions from last year, personally.  

Slave to the Traffic Light comes in as the 3rd song which is pretty unusual–in fact, it’s pretty unusual for the song to be played in the first set aside from being a set closer.  The last time it was played that early in a show was 10/15/1995.  It was played passionately, though, the way the song should be played.  Trey sounds good but cuts it before he could really soar.  He brought the song up nicely, but if he went the extra mile and made his guitar really cry, we would have had the best 3.0 version there is.

Page comes out from behind his piano with the microphone as Lawn Boy starts up.  The version is pretty funny because during Mike’s bass solo you can hear Page in the background saying “walk it!” and “oh, ugh!” among some other banter.  Then, moving to another quick ditty, Poor Heart starts up–I think the intro is a bit awkward, but the song is played energetic and well for the most part.

AC/DC Bag is where Phish starts getting a bit more interesting.  After a well played composed section, Trey does the usual solo going into the jam–then when it sinks down Fishman is playing louder than the rest of the band and Trey starts dropping out, cuing the rest of the band to follow suit.  Eventually just Fishman is playing, something that doesn’t happen often and certainly not in AC/DC Bag.  Mike starts coming back in with his 2010 liquid bass for a real thick effect.  The jam starts picking back up when Page and Trey come, Trey solos and ends in traditional fashion.  2009 AC/DC Bags were all predictable and lacked inspiration, in my opinion–it was refreshing to hear a new take on the old favorite last night.

Moma Dance comes next, and probably the shortest version ever–clocking in at just 7 and a half minutes.  Standard version–they really need to start raging this song again.  The soaring guitar at the end is perfect for Trey’s newfound crispy tone and execution and the rest of the song plays perfectly to Mike’s mid-life crisis, where he feels the need to destroy everything in his path.

My Friend My Friend starts up quickly out of the end of Moma Dance, I really enjoy the version–Trey’s distorted buildup to the big release sounds real great and the release itself sounds nice and clean.  Wouldn’t have minded it as the set opener, or in Kill Devil Falls’ place.

Busting out another cover on this tour, Phish covers Tom Waits’ Cold Water, probably because of the venue’s close proximity to the ocean.  The song was a great breather song for the first set before dropping the first Bathtub Gin of the year.  The Bathtub Gin, following suit with some of the 09 versions where the band lets only the audience sing the “we love to take a bath!” part, launched into a beautiful hose jam directed by Trey.  The 13 minute jam comes to a soaring peak, Trey loops the notes he peaks with and then plays chords over them towards the end–again, something he started doing a lot in 09.  Shortly after that the band slowly sinks back into the Gin theme.  A short, but wonderful version that broke past the standardness the song presented in 09 (other than Gorge’s).

Closing with an as expected blistering Stealin’ Time, the crowd went into the night, and setbreak, waiting for the jams to flow in the next set.  Little did they know that they had already gotten the biggest jam of the night under their belt.

Phish opened the second set with the first non-open ended song of their tour, Wilson.  Unlike the three shows before, Virginia’s second set was rather a string of dancable songs rather than dancable jams.  Seven Below comes out of Wilson, a song that is known for it’s ability to be open ended.  Despite it’s short life, the jam is fluid and fun before going into the ending theme–judging by the synth Page is using when Trey starts wrapping it up, he wanted to keep jamming.  

46 Days which offered some psychedelic fun in 2009 and extended jams before that stayed on point, offering probably the most impressive rock Trey played that night.  Trey’s guitar goes into the spacey abyss screaming, unfortunately this spacey abyss is cut very short to lead into Phish’s new original song, Idea.

Idea’s lyrics remind me of Sugar Shack, but the music has much more of a groove to it.  The song is open ended and the jam, at least in Virginia, starts out with Mike’s distorted liquid bass.  This version is about as short as it’s going to come, because this has potential to be a big jam song this year and into the future.

Simple offered some awfully pretty textures from everyone before slipping away into Joy–bringing back memories of 2009.

The rest of the show can pretty much be summed up by the setlist–the rest of the songs were solid versions.  As much as it was upsetting to me that Phish played a second set of almost no improvisation, I will admit that the whole show goes together pretty well and sounds great.  A lot of the 2009 “greatest hits” shows went off as duds–this one at least is entertaining and has some pretty great sounding playing.  I think we were just all a little spoiled with the first three shows of tour–just look at last night as the official tour opener.

Songs to hear from this show: Slave to the Traffic Light, Lawn Boy, AC/DC Bag, Bathtub Gin, 46 Days and Idea.

 Tuesday, 06/15/2010 nTelos Pavilion, Portsmouth, VA

Notes: This show marked the Phish debut of Cold Water and the debut of Idea.