Phish ended the first half of their summer tour with two shows in Alpharetta, Georgia. Both shows pretty much summed up their 2010 playing style thus far–aside from any songs featuring their new patented style of dark jamming that we saw in songs like Blossom’s Number Line and Camden’s Chalk Dust Torture, each show had short and well executed versions of songs, high energy, teases, bust outs, creative first sets, a new cover, Trey cutting at least one awesome jam far too short and at least one fan requested song. Although the fans (like me) were hoping that the 2 night stand in the South would contain at least one stand out improvisational breakthrough were let down in that aspect, a lot of other things overshadowed that desire.
Phish came out to a pumped up crowd Saturday night and opened with Character Zero for the first time ever–a day after they closed a set with Chalk Dust Torture. For the first time of 2010 and the fourth time of post-hiatus, Phish dropped into the fan favorite Destiny Unbound that prefaced a Rift that sounded like it needed a bit more work. Next, Trey took a “McGrupp” sign from the crowd, placed it next to him on stage, and played the year’s first McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters–this one contained a clear Landlady tease by Page in the beginning of the piano segment, not sure why more people didn’t pick up on this.
The first set improvisational highlight was Bathtub Gin. Similar to the nTelos, SPAC and Merriweather versions, this one went a bit farther into 6-stringed bliss. Although they all seem to be sounding somewhat similar this year, all going clearly in the same upward direction, they are all far more interesting and energetic than last year’s versions (of course I am not counting the Gorge’s).
After Mountains in the Mist, the band goes into a playful version of NICU–Trey screams “LEO’S GONNA PLAY IT FOR YA, LEOO!” NICU was the beginning song in a string of three short but sweetly performed songs–Gumbo followed before immediately going into My Sweet One. During MSO, Trey asked for some “bluegrass bass playing”, cuing Mike to take his 5 string out for a stroll. Trey followed suit with an uncharacteristic bluegrass-esque guitar solo–like the rest of the tour, even the short songs have been played with energy and character of their own, everything they have played in 2010 has been about as fresh as Bel-Air’s Prince.
This set also featured the weakest version of Stealin’ Time this year, due to the unusually slurred guitar licks and lack of the song’s usual fire. However, Sanity was made up for that because of it’s unusual format. Trey humorously forgot the second verse of lyrics and someone from the audience helped him out, telling the fan that he “owe[s] him big time”. The “song” has Fish psychotically laughing throughout, and the ending has Trey singing the last words and the rest of the band following in an obscure and funny way.
The set closed with easily the best version of Antelope of 3.0 (well, Miami’s was pretty sweet). For the first time it didn’t sound like Trey just wanking to the forced end. Trey took his time to build up to the explosive peak.
One set into the weekend and the music already seemed to be hotter than the temperature.
The next set opened with Rock and Roll, I know you all know how I felt about that choice–especially coming off the heels of a second set Drowned opener the night before. Oh well, Rock and Roll can spawn some serious jams, right? Nope, this version is very solid–like all of them–but there is no “Alpharetta Jam”. Instead it goes into the coolest Prince Caspian of 3.0.
I’m not a fan of Prince Caspian but this version stands out for me because of the digital delay loop jam at the end (think NYE 1995 Mike’s Song) with Page playing over it. What was next? Tweezer! In my favorite version of the song this year, this puppy is the first that really soars. To land the song, after Trey reaches the top of the song and the full band takes their collective musical breath by slowing down, they go into Slave to the Traffic Light. In the first time the songs have ever combined, they chose to play the best Slave of 3.0. Each one this tour was better than the last (like a lot of songs) and this one is completely stunning. As the gates slowly open to the jam, Page, Mike and Trey delicately mingle before Fish decides to click in. Once there is a beat, listen for Trey’s lick that sets the pace before taking off. This version made me so happy–for so long I was worried they (Trey) would not be able to recapture the song that was responsible for me losing my mind in awe the second time I saw them. And, the Tweezer > Slave Combo showed they are really putting thought into their song selection.
Unfortunately the rest of the show is pretty forgettable–Another closed but well played Number Line lead into another short but decent Harry Hood.
This show, while energetic and silly, had everyone looking to the Fourth of July celebration that was to follow–and a celebration it was.
The quartet came out with the expected a Capella Star Spangled Banner before picking up their instruments and launching into only the second version of PYITE this year–this would be the introduction to the Gamehendge epic of Colonial Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird. Although there was no narration, like last year’s version, before Mockingbird Trey points out where the Mockingbird is by exclaiming “there it is!”
After another Camel Walk and Ocelot, Trey starts up Heavy Things–again, this version lacks the normal loop that drapes over almost every other version of the song. It seems like Trey might not use the loop ever again–a new direction of possibly a more mature rendition of the song. Heavy Things started off another string of songs, eventually going into a great My Friend My Friend that goes right into Lawn Boy.
Phish launched into another straight forward and uninspired David Bowie next–David Bowie is one of the more disappointing songs in the 3.0 era for me. It used to be a breeding ground for extremely experimental improvisation and explosive, roller coaster peaks and compelling and eerie intros–now it’s just a shadow of it’s former self. There is no experimentation and the introduction is about 10 seconds long, as if they are embarrassed by the way the song starts. Everyone assumed this would close the set, but before the set was over they oozed into another dancable Gotta Jibboo–a great way of throwing people off, again.
Going into the last set of this tour, I jokingly said to a friend–“well, a Drowned opener, a Rock and Roll opener. What’s next, Down with Disease?” I laughed when they came out and Mike started with his haunting bass sounds to start the song. I found this version so frustrating–Trey, keeping to his 2010 script, ended what sounded to be a spectacular jam short. Out of the usual DwD raging, the band sank into a tight groove–it featured Mike playing repetitive higher notes and Page accenting it. Fish locked into a beat abnormal for the song–I started getting real excited. It seemed like we were going to get some real improvisation–then Trey comes in. Almost as if he was jealous that the rest of the band took the jam in a direction without his permission, he starts playing distorted and off-kilter, out of key notes. It completely destroyed what the rest of the band was doing, Trey should have just made no sound until he could creatively come in filling the holes of the jam, working as a unit with the rest of his band mates. While Mike and Fish were laying it down and trying to ignore Trey’s awful offering of guitar notes, Trey starts playing a completely unnecessary Piper (think Hartford Sand > Horse). This Piper is short and fits the exact mold of almost every other 3.0 version–Trey, with obvious ADD at this point, goes into Ghost. The Piper should not have been played, they should have went with the jam that Mike, Page and Fish started in Disease and went all the way into Ghost from that. Why does Trey feel the need to churn out as many songs as possible?
Ghost, however, is rather entertaining–it’s short but comes up nicely with full band rocking before sinking back into the ending theme, kind of like F8’s version. This version crawls into Waste and eventually the seldom mid-set Julius. When this happened I thought to myself “wow, is nothing going to happen special in this show? Is it going to be another run of the mill 2010 second set with 10 songs?” It was actually a buffer between the first chunk of the second set’s music and the second chunk.
When Mike’s Song started I was excited, but figured that it would be a standard Mike’s>Hydrogen>Weekapaug to end the show, maybe with a Star Spangled Banner tease in ‘Paug. When the short Mike’s Song went into the COMPLETELY unpredictable Tela (has this ever even been in a Mike’s Groove before?) everyone went nuts, including me. Played 2 times in five shows, Phish was clearly into playing Gamehendge songs again. Tela came to a complete stop, I was saying to myself “please another abnormal song, pleeeease!” and then…
OOM PA PA….Oh my God. This was shaping up to be one of the best Mike’s Groove ever, although at that point I wasn’t sure if they would even go back into Weekapaug Groove. Trey goes on to start his narration with “Happy Fourth of July!” to a gleeful crowd. The narration comments on how America is the best country on Earth before going on to say that both the history books and the alternate history books are both full of lies. He says that the real history of America is laced within Phish’s lyrics, at one point quoting a Guelah Papyrus lyric. The story goes on to tell how Jimmy was sitting in his room, listening to the only band other than Phish that won’t bull shit you. As all the lights turn inward, you hear Trey count off “1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4!”, then, without a doubt, came Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. As I put on OPT’s Facebook Fan Page a few days ago, Phish had sound checked with this song in at Walnut Creek. I was hoping they would actually play it live–however, just because they sound check with a song doesn’t mean they will actually play it live, just like MGMT’s “Kids” sound check at Hartford last year. Phish nails the song, Trey did an as close to perfect impression of Tom Morello’s guitar, Fish churned out the heavy beats why screaming the lyrics. Kuroda, clearly not used to the song, did a wonderful job on lights. Although there were some parts where it seemed like he wasn’t ready for the musical change, he did a great job with it.
Then, without stopping for a split second, they go right back into the second segment of Harpua when Killing in the Name ends–then into the second set closing Weekapaug Groove. This shorter version melted face, ending a interested and exciting special second set in frantic and an energetic fashion before keeping the energy high with a First Tube closer–featuring Trey waving his guitar around at the end, again.
These final two shows, like I said in the beginning of this post, really captured 2010 Phish thus far. The final set of the weekend left every fan with such a wonderful taste in their mouth, seeing completely unexpected music once again. Phish proved that they can still completely turn what you expect to happen into something totally off the wall. Phish now will take a month-long, well deserved break from touring. They will come back to see us again for a sexy three night stand at The Greek in California. If 2009’s two part summer tour is any indication, they are going to come back even hotter than they were the first half.