Last night’s show had a ’92/’93 style to it, building off of the Mike’s Song mashup we saw in Augusta; the setlist, however, looks like one straight out of 1997 (yes, I know, Sand and Stealin’ Time were not around then). With a first set that is far better than most 3.0 second sets and a second set that played out like a musical mystery of what would come next, many people are already propping this show up on a pedestal–and I’m one of them.
Trey, yet again, proved to everyone that he is really building up his ability on his newly acquired ax. Fall 2010 is marking some of the first shows since Phish’s return where first sets are not painfully straightforward and predictable. By the time last night’s first set was over, everyone’s mind was exhausted from keeping up–not to mention their bodies from dancing. Phish had just taken us on one of their wild journeys, something that appears to be returning as the leaves fall this year.
I: My Soul, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Vultures, Wolfman’s Brother > Cities > Guyute > David Bowie*^, Wilson*, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Saw It Again* > Run Like an Antelope*
II: Drowned > Sand > Theme From the Bottom, Axilla > Birds of a Feather, Tela, Split Open and Melt > Have Mercy > Piper > Birds Reprise > Split Open and Melt, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Good Times Bad Times
When Phish opened with My Soul I figured, like everyone else, it would be a normal 3.0 first set. Other than the resent first set Sand, Tweezer and Cities from the Greek, there has been very little improvisation in first sets from 3.0 Phish (especially 2010). That all changed in Utica last night. After Stealin’ Time, Vultures set the dark arena tone of the night. Wolfman’s Brother followed suit of Broomfield’s version. While almost every single 3.0 version up until this fall tour sounded close to the same, Broomfield’s broke down the 3.0 funk–Utica’s took it further. They dropped low right out of the gates and started vocal jamming, when the instruments popped back in (and Trey did a Streets of Cairo tease) it was apparent that this was going to be a thiiick dance factory of a song, bringing the whole roof down with it. The groove got thicker and thicker, out of nowhere, POP–Cities came out.
Cities was short with no jam, much like the ACL version, and Guyute came out of it immediately. The Guyute was seemingly played for a fan holding an orange sign that said: GUYUTICA–a sign Trey pointed at often throughout the first set.
David Bowie followed with the third non-typical intro in as many times played. Up until this fall tour, NO Bowies contained extended or atypical intros. During the intro Trey teased Guyute and then they launched into the composed section of the song. The jam started normal, but soon Mike’s bass was telling us a different story. He was playing what sounded to be Wilson–the crowd started chanting “Wilson” back. It sounded like they were going to bust into the song, but instead Trey started quoting Guyute lyrics, over the Wilson theme. Eventually they launched back into the Bowie jam only to wind back up at the throbbing Wilson tease and then Trey bust back into the Bowie jam in a ferocious frenzy, eventually wrapping up the song with its normal intense ending.
At this point, everyone knew that Wilson loomed heavy in the air. To everyone’s expectations, Wilson came next–laced with Guyute teases from Trey. Wilson was left unfinished (before the “blat boom” part) to go into an absolutely intriguing McGrupp. Without missing a note, I Saw it Again started.
The I Saw it Again really capped the first set’s darkness off. It felt like you were going in and out of consciousness at some points, Trey teased even more Guyute at the end of the jam before delicately leading the band into the sunshine of Antelope. Trey placed more Guyute teases into the intro before launching into a completely atypical and dark Antelope jam. Kind of like 2009’s Red Rock’s ‘lope, this one featured a lot of dark improv–this version, however, went into a screaming ending before the band mellowed out for the end segment and more Guyute teases.
After the lights came on, and the dust cleared, it was obvious that we had just witnessed the best first set of 3.0 Phish. It was also apparent that the 2010 fall tour isn’t Phish 3.0 anymore, it’s Phish 3.1
The crowd was noticeably higher energy than the more laid back Maine audience a night before. The arena held just over 4k people, however there was enough excitement for 15,000–the temperature inside kept rising and rising all night, both literally and figuratively. Anticipation of fans with their friends ran through one group of people to the next like a charge of electricity; “what are they going to open with? The end of Wilson?”, “are there going to be more Guyute teases?”
I expected something crazy; seeing as Wilson wasn’t finished, I could see them coming back out screaming “blat boom…!” (see Miami 2003). When they started Drowned, I was curious to see when they would do with the song. After they over saturated second sets of 2009 and summer 2010 with it, it still had not been played since Trey’s glorious return of dexterity and creativeness.
Right as the jam seemed to be getting interesting, Trey awkwardly started Sand–the whole band eventually switched over. Usually I would explain my frustration with Trey here–but when he has been playing as well as he has lately, he gets a lot of slack to do things like this. I rolled my eyes for a moment but then got right back into the music–and killing a jam for a Sand isn’t like killing a jam for The Horse.
The Sand jam, as I remember (I still have to relisten), wasn’t particularly long–however, it’s pure dirtiness and groove got that sweat factory of an arena moving. Eventually, Theme came out of the end of the song. Theme is becoming a 3.0 second set staple, only being played in a first set once since their return. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. I loved it last night. The past three versions knocked my socks off, however, while this Theme was gorgeous, we need some real meat.
The Axilla that came next teed up the second Birds of a Feather of the year nicely. This seven minute rager was such a welcome addition to the set. It’s a song I wish they played more often. How could this set become any more fun? I’ll tell you how–TELA. Tela seems to be slowly making her way into a semi-regular rotation with the band. I’m not complaining. The crowd was on their knees when this beaut started up. Last time they played Tela, Harpua followed–we knew that there was around 30 minutes left in the second set, which is enough time for something really cool.
When Split Open and Melt started, I thought “meh”. In my opinion, literally every 3.0 version of SOAM has been garbage. Trey awkwardly and distortedly noodles over a bunch of sound until they reach the ten minute mark and go back into the end. Deer Creek’s version from summer was somewhat cool because it went into Dog Faced Boy. Last night’s version was the first version I liked since Phish’s return. If Phish can continue bringing the heat in SOAMs, I will be a very happy man.
Phish exited the structure of the song to sink about as low as they could possibly get–slowly a groove emerged and we were in the middle of Have Mercy. I went nuts. The last time they played Have Mercy was at Walnut Creek on 7/01–I was extremely critical of it because it was just randomly played as a stand-alone song. Everyone knows that Have Mercy is a song that is supposed to come out of a thick and/or deep jam–which is what happened tonight. When a jam contains Have Mercy, you know they are having fun.
Trey departed Mercy and eventually we found ourselves in the middle of a totally unexpected Piper, the song expected to close the set. Piper went it’s usual rock route and even reprised the theme from Birds of a Feather. Shortly after the Birds reprise, the four-headed monster sank back down to where we started before Have Mercy (I still have to relisten, though). Out of the dark ambiance came the end of SOAM–the crowd was flipping out. Phish felt like they were finally, truly back.
Trey wanted to keep the show flowing, however, he jumped the gun on going into the set-closing Slave. Trey started up the song before Fish did his final roll to end SOAM. Trey started up Slave again after Fish finished up. Unfortunately this Slave is nothing compared to some of the most recent versions. It was rushed and uninspiring.
Good Times Bad Times was the encore, Trey hit quite a nice peak in it. They lit up the darkness of the show with a blazing and high-energy rocker as the dot to the exclamation point.
This show is what both Phish and arena shows should be all about. Phish because they are finally becoming totally unpredictable again; arena shows because these cold-weather venues provide pitch black from the get go–allowing the band to help the fans fully escape anything going on outside, as if they are in a dream (including Kuroda, of course).
The question remains; was this the best show of Phish 3.0? Comment with your thoughts. This is the most “phishy” show since their return, I think.
I am going to start relistening to the show right now. I will modify or add anything to this review as I see fit. I’m sure there is some stuff I have missed.