Packed Weekend

Alright, I’m finally back home and am confused on how I should feel about the past four shows, I write about the first night of Hartford here–so, now moving on to the next three shows.

Going into the first weekend in their home turf, Phish started their second night in Hartford with a rare Fee Opener–shorter than normal because they skipped the spacy outro, it goes right into a perfectly executed and sounding Rift.  Up next is Wolfman’s Brother which, since 2009, has found comfort hanging out in the first set and not being too experimental–Mike drops the bass lines right out of the gates to the jam and it’s another dancable version.

Trey drops a new Phish original on us again–which is now exciting because they are debuting songs live rather than on albums which has seemed to be their routine since about ’99, now.  It’s a ballad where Trey is basically speaking directly to his wife, Summer of ’89.  The song is delicate about about Trey falling in love with his wife in 1989, then eventually having their first born on the road in 1995, going on to speak about how busy their life is now.  Trey is getting a lot of criticism about the song being cheesy and about the fact that it’s yet another reflective song on the past–I personally think the song is pretty and well structured.  I don’t necessarily care to see it live again, but I would listen to it in my car again–It may be a bit too long, clocking in at about 9 minutes, though.

After well played versions of Foam and Possum, Phish plays Moma Dance for the second time this year–again, it’s a very punctuated version, almost as if they use it to fill time.  The song no longer is the funk juggernaut it once was–this version leads into a version of Julius that is flubbed so bad at the end you can hear Trey laughing about it.

Reba is delicate, it doesn’t peak–however, the playing between Page and Trey is awfully pretty and transcendent.

The second set is a string of favorites that flow very well into each other, continuing their 2010 showcasing of their newfound ability of reaching song placement perfection and consistency they seemed to have lost in recent years.  While no specific song stands out much more than the other in this set, it’s the solid flow of the songs that’s the real highlight.  Halley’s Comet, which has yet to have any 3.0 stand out versions, feeds right into a well textured Light–a bit more entertaining than Toyota’s ambient version, the guitar outro of the jam leads beautifully into Billy Breaths.  In a complete opposite fashion from the segue from Sand into The Horse the night before, the segue from Light to Billy Breaths is the true highlight of the whole song with Trey delicately making the transition.  So far this year Red has been noticeably  more delicate in everything he plays, and it’s so ever refreshing.

The second Tweezer of 2010 is dropped shortly after, however not up to par with Hershey’s version–the jam sinks down, allowing Fish to start tapping away to the beginning of Theme.  Theme is another song I see being revived in 2010.  I’m usually not that big of a fan of the song, feeling that it often kills any energy in a second set–however, I was impressed by both the Toyota Park version and this one.  Trey seems to have found a new inspirational take on the song when he plays it.

Keeping the song flow going strong, Phish pops into Harry Hood.  While not showcasing any of Trey’s ejaculatory spewing of notes at the end like Blossom’s, this is yet another delicate medley of beautiful interplay between Page and Trey–leaving only Page playing at the end, the band yet again beautifully segues into another song, Wading in the Velvet sea.  Again, the segue is the true highlight of a song where the jam is usually the highlight.  Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan then, yet again, finds itself in what could be it’s new role–a set closer.

Coming out for the encore, Trey comments on how yesterday someone had a “beautifully drawn” sign requesting Sleeping Monkey.  Yet again saying how they are an “all request” band, a la VA Tube, he starts playing the song.  In the middle of it he asks everyone in attendance to sing along so if the guy isn’t there he can hear it on the recording.  Phish busts into Tweezer Reprise without skipping a note, to close any Tweezer containing show in normal fashion.  Right after the end of the song, Trey frantically says that they only have a few more minutes before they get kicked off stage, so they would now finish the Tweezer they started in Hershey.  Busting right back into Tweeprise, Trey starts jumping off his amps, stomping in circles and going to his knees in an even more balls-to-the-wall version than was just played.  People couldn’t be more pumped for Saturday at SPAC.

Phish came out to a rabid crowd Saturday night at SPAC, barely taking the time to look at the crowd or to talk to the rest of the band, Trey rips right back into the 3rd Tweezer Reprise in a row.  The crowd (well, those who actually pay attention to what Phish is up to) hit the roof.  Chalk Dust follows in what felt like the real opener of the show.

The rest of the show is somewhat cumbersome speckled with a few highlights–What is arguably the biggest highlight of at least the first set, Fluffhead, is played the best of any 3.0 version–I say the best since Alpine’s 1999 version.  For the first time since I can remember, the composed part is played flawlessly, building up with energy at the end–“Fluff Balls” a-plenty.  The “jam” at the end is absolutely soaring and gorgeous–a must hear–absolutely refreshing.  Following the extreme expulsion of musical energy came Bathtub Gin–Mike plays some interesting and uncommon basslines out of the gates, seemingly cuing the band that he wants to take this one past it’s common jam territory, however Trey keeps it to it’s usual point.  Virginia’s version is much better. Then, ending the set with an exclamation point, They rip through with an exciting version of Suzy Greenberg.

Unfortunately, the second set is arguably less exciting than the first.  Another Rock ‘n Roll opener had the crowd rolling their eyes–the “Saratoga Jam” was littered with some interesting loops by Trey, when Fishman switched his drum beat over to accommodate Trey, it was seeming on–going into an interesting type-II jam–however, Trey ends it very prematurely to go into sub-par Free, lacking any of Mike’s signature bombs Free so often contains.

When Trey starts Backwards Down the Number Line next, the crowd is curious to see if this one will go places since it is seemingly becoming more and more improvisational and more frequently open ended and unfinished.  This version is a normal lengthed, finished version–which doesn’t make it bad by any means.  Two of my favorite versions are 2009’s Red Rocks’ and Miami’s which are finished but have soaring, ripping jams.  This version seemed to be lost–they played it as if they were starting out slow to gather steam for some real improvisation a la Blossoms, but before they did anything with it they awkwardly stumbled back into the ending lyrics.

Halfway to the Moon, Phish’s debut of this particular show shows a lot of promise.  Well composed and fluid, it’s open endedness is sure to yield some seriously dark jams in 2010–this version flows into a standard Prince Caspian which feeds into a set killing Joy.

In was was thought to be the set closer, David Bowie pops his head out.  The intro is a bit less standard with Trey making some slightly inaudible comments, some different guitar and piano notes.  This version is played better and is more exciting than Toyota Park’s.  Trey rips it into the ending trilling segment seamlessly, which has seemed to be a problem from 2009-present.  Phish’s new ode to their fans, Show of Life, was the real show ender, a la Toyota Park.

The encore breaths a little life back into the show’s ending.  Playing a pretty version of Squirming Coil that leads into an abbreviated version of Character Zero, Phish decides to close the night with yet another Tweezer Reprise–book-ending the entire show with the song, Phish showed they were at least willing to play goofy, if not inspiring.

On the second and final night of the SPAC shows, Phish copied what they did on Father’s Day last year at Alpine Valley–they opened with Brother, bringing all their children out (this time including an addition from Kuroda) and placing them in a metal tub located  at the front of the stage.  A fun tradition, if it sticks–I do, however, find it odd that they do it.  After they did it last year, I remember thinking to myself how easy it would be for a disgruntled, high/drunk, or just an asshole fan to hurt one of their smaller children by throwing something at them.  Although Phish fans respect the band very well, all it takes is one person to change all of that.

The rest of the show follows the pattern set by the nTelos show.  A radio-friendly greatest hits show.  AC/DC Bag following Brother is extremely short and not worth talking about–out of it’s ending came the first Back on the Train since the favorite from Miami.  SPAC’s version is certainly entertaining with Mike pounding away and Trey bringing it up nicely and crisply.

Undermind, a song I really enjoyed in 2009, finally found it’s way into 2010.  This version, unlike much of this show, rips.  Trey really tear a new asshole in it–I really wish they would use it’s awesome drums, thick grooves, blazing guitar and potential for open-endedness to extend Undermind into a serious jam one night.

The first set ends up closing with a pair of songs off of Lawn Boy–Their title song and Run Like an Antelope.  Like Virginia’s Lawn Boy, Mike has an entertaining bass solo with Page grunting and telling him to “walk it”–a funny and welcome addition to the old favorite.  Antelope starts up in it’s usual upbeat way, only a bit more pep in Mike’s step (which seems to be the way he is playing in every song this year).  Antelope moves into the usual intense jam segment–nothing out of the ordinary, but showing that Trey had not forgotten how the song is played, which is what I was questioning after the relatively boring Toyota Park version.  After entering the “reggae” segment, Trey this time credits Mike by saying “Michael Esquondolis”, leading to Mike stepping up with some excellent sounding playing.

One more notable thing from the first set is the fact that TAB’s Tony Markellis came out to play bass for a mid-set Gotta Jibboo while Mike played rhythm on one of Trey’s Languedocs.

Dying for some more North Eastern jamming since being treated to the Disease->Sand just nights earlier, the crowd went nuts when Trey powerfully started Carini.  Many hoped that the heavy and dark song would either go somewhere evil or set up the theme for the rest of the night, this wasn’t the case, however.  This version of Carini is awfully cool, though.  Rather than Trey going into his usual uber distorted notes over the thick background provided by the rest of the band, Trey has a normal tone and wails over the song–Mike, in full support of this starts ripping, eventually going into his underwater liquid effect we heard so often in 97 and 98 YEMs as Trey peaks this bad boy out.  The intensity the song was being played with had people thinking that Carini might lead to the jam of the night, until the song settled down into murkyness and Trey started talking to Mike, then Mike to Fish, Trey to Page.  Out came the opening notes to Mango Song–at first I was put off by the polar opposite song combo, but the blazing intensity of Carini ended up pairing quite well with a beautiful rendition of the early second set Mango Song.

Since most 3.0 Phish shows have front heavy 2nd sets, people started getting worried when Wilson was started directly out of Mango Song.  People feared that Phish might be passing their window of opportunity to throw down the jams.

The fear lifted when Phish bust out another dead horse from 2009, Drowned.  Admittedly, Trey comes with his guns blazing out of the gates.  Once the heat cools off, Phish goes into what is becoming a somewhat predictable pattern for both this song and Rock ‘n Roll–come out blazing, then lock in for a jam containing chord bends, whale calls and fast strumming, eventually picking back up or sicking down into ambiance.  I admit it’s good for dancing, however, I know Trey can be so much more creative than this.  With Mike and Page finally ripe with creativity and ability, Trey should consider letting them lead more in jams like this.  This version does get rolling pretty well despite my pessimistic tone–but only for a couple minutes before landing elegantly into Swept Away>Steep.

In an attempt to mock the particularly bad police and security presence at the show, Makisupa starts up.  Both making people smile and send a clear signal that there would probably be no extended improvisations tonight, Phish playfully went through what is a very fun version of the song–“woke up in the morning, did exactly what I like, went to my stereo and listened to some Mike..” followed by a bass solo.  Trey then comments on how the police officer said no, so he will do “as he will wish and listened to some Fish..” followed by a drum solo, then commenting how, after the officer said that was illegal, he will go on “stage and listen to some Page..” followed by a Page solo.  “Policeman SPAC” was repeated through the song over Mike’s thick bass effects.  There is also a reference to “Dr. House” before coming to a very punctuated end.  A fun version for sure–although probably better suited out of a blazing 2nd set jam, helping cool them down.

Piper followed with some more verbal Makisupa references at the beginning–other than that, it was a ridiculously predictable version straight out of 2009.  The song eventually, prematurely, slows and Fish pops into another 5 minute version of 2001.

Trey attempts a pretty cool segue into YEM, but Page jumps the gun, starting in the middle of Trey’s count and it subsequently gets flubbed.  It’s so weird when it’s someone other than Trey that flubs–since it happens so rarely it’s actually kind of funny/fun to hear.  The version is one of the shortest they’ve done–the song had a lot of potential, with Trey attacking out of the gates but quickly goes into the bass & drums section and into a pretty intense vocal jam.

They cap off the weekend with Frankenstein.

Looking back at the Hartford and SPAC shows, I’m unsure of what to think.  The first three shows of the tour gave me a lot of optimism, nTelos I just felt was a one time thing, Hartford 1 gave me a lot of excitement again–it kind of dropped off from there.  Each show had fun and energetic first sets–I don’t mind their fairly improvisationless first sets as long as I know the jams, what we want to see Phish do, come out in the dark of night.  Aside from the Disease->Sand, there was none of that.  I don’t want to be too critical because every 2009 tour was better than the one before it, and so far 2010 has been better overall than any 2009 tour.  Trey sounds AMAZING, he is crisp as can be, nailing all the songs, goofy again and energetic.  I just pray Phish comes back with what makes them real special.  This was only one weekend–I hope I am kicking myself in the ass at the end of this week for writing this.