Maine: Bagged and Tagged

Official Poster (Scott Campbell © Phish 2010)

Classes were cancelled at the University of Augusta yesterday for Phish’s Tuesday night concert. Phish rolled in, destroyed everyone’s face, and left. The small college arena brought many back to the start of Phish’s touring in the Northeast. It’s not only the venues that are going back in time, it’s Phish’s playing.

As each show passes this Fall Tour, it becomes more and more evident that Phish is taking us all back to their old mode of playing, only with new equipment and sounds. As I mentioned about the South Carolina and Broomfield shows, Trey’s segueing has gotten much better since the summer. Last night he took it a step further with an off-the-wall Mike’s Song that reminds people of shows like 2/20/1993 or the OJ Show. If they continue to get adventurous with their ever-improving ability to segue, we could have a monster on our hands once again.

It pleasures me so much to be writing this positively about Phish; it’s the first tour since their return that I feel truly excited about their direction. Trey has frustrated me beyond belief the past year and a half; right now I feel like he is finally on the same level as the other guys.

The show’s first half was an old-school bluesy throwdown with songs like: Back on the Train, Torn and Frayed, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Nellie Kane > 46 Days and Possum. I am happy they played Torn and Frayed because I had been wondering if they were going to bring that one back.

Bathtub Gin was far more tame than most any other version of 3.0, especially SC’s version last weekend. Instead of rocking, this jam was delicately moving the audience through Trey’s on point leads, almost to the point of a hose jam. The lack of intensity was made up for in a blistering JJLC. Trey came back firing off rounds with his new ‘doc. He loves showing off what that thing can do–and so do I.

Nellie Kane popped her head up last night for the first time since the last time the band was in Maine–only the second time played since pre-hiatus. The song drove right into a raunchy 46 Days.

Although I miss the intensely spacey outros of 2009 versions of the song (see Cobo), 46 Days always delivers intense rock. Fish often exits the lyrical part of the song pounding on his double pedals. Then, to top off the theme of the set, Trey goes into Possum. Possum would close the set.

10.15.2010 (Ryan Mastro © Phish 2010)

After an extended set break, like all of this tour, the lights dropped and the fans stood. I was genuinely thinking they would be playing Rock and Roll, Drowned, Down with Disease or something typical. Opening the second set with Fuck Your Face is a bold statement, and that’s just what they did. Right at the end of the song they dove into Mike’s Song. Trey reprised the FYF theme until the band followed and then they dove back into Mike’s. Out of the end of Mike’s, they went back into FYF before Trey started strumming Light. The fact they were getting this loco had me overcome with excitement and joy (listen to me, I’m starting to sound like Mr. Miner here).

So many people, including me, have been very focused on Phish bringing the huge jams back. There are so many other things Phish should focus on, though. Things like good segueing, being funny, unexpected song placement (like they have been doing all tour), creative song mash-ups and tight interplay. All of the mentioned are fully blossoming now. If the tour continues going the way it is, I think it’s Phish’s intent to start all over again. They are building the most core foundations of what Phish is all about right now. When they perfect all this, any jam, extended or short, sounds magnificent.

The Light was engaging. A lot of you guys have been reading me for a while; how many times have I said things like “Trey ruined Light again by meandering around”. I used to cite only 2009’s Gorge Light and the last half of the Greek’s Light as being worth listening to again. So far, Phish has played Light twice this tour (not including the short ACL version), both have been inspired and completely original sounding. Trey is playing with complete direction and is using his guitar effects in a way that adds to the jam, not distracts.

We all knew that 20 Years Later was coming at any time now. Again, they placed it perfectly; it came out of a dark Light (oxymoron?) jam. This version would, however, be different. It had an unusual jammed out outro. This version also included the first time Trey used his wah pedal, at least as I can remember, for a long long time. My friend and I were joking, wondering if it’s even plugged in. As it sunk down, many thought Hydrogen would float out of it, instead we got the beautiful Fast Enough for You. Weekapaug closed out the Mike’s Groove shortly thereafter.

10.15.2010 (Ryan Mastro © Phish 2010)

To start the next segment of the second set, Mike stepped up to his microphone and started Halley’s Comet. Again it was a springboard to another song rather than an improvised version. Free came out of this one. Free is another song I hope they step up soon; each one seems to be painfully similar and bland.

The Hood that followed was unfortunately low energy and never peaked. It was meandering and disappointing. Golgi came out of the end, everyone thought it would close the set. Phish instead played one more song for everyone: A Day in the Life.

Keeping unexpected song placement alive, Phish came back out for the encore and started Reba. It would be the third time ever played as an encore, the last being 9/21/99 in Tuscon, Arizona.

The coolness of this Reba encore treat doesn’t stop at the fact that it was played. The jam sinks and sinks, eventually into a short type II jam. Mike and Trey start playing something close to Manteca, the drums catch on. Just as the drums catch on, Trey starts soloing back into Reba while singing the lyrics to Manteca over it. Trey ties the end of the song off shortly thereafter without whistling and then counts off to Number Line.

Number Line is just all over concerts now. First set songs, second set jams, second set closers and now encores. This Number Line closes this show on an extremely high note. Trey put smiles on faces and tear drops in eyes as he soloed into the end lyrics making this show one for the books.

UTICA TONIGHT.