Letting It All Hang Down In Manchester

Official Poster (Ken Taylor © Phish 2010)

Going into New Hampshire last night, Tuesday’s show had “sleeper” written all over it. The last time Phish was in this this state, the show opened with “Caravan” and the second set included a “Big Ball Jam”. Our favorite band had not played here since 4/11/1994. The amount of time away, coupled with it being not sold out; a stand-alone show; and a Tuesday night, set this show up for something fun.

Also adding to the show’s mystique, the almost always available live streams were not so available last night. Taper420 refused to broadcast because he follows the NFL rules and blacks out a non-sold-out event. Zzzstream came in during Access Me, but did not return for set two. Alphapig, summer’s hot shot, was choppy at best throughout set two.

However, after thinking long and hard why it could be a huge show, I also though about the fact that “sleeper shows” don’t seem to really have much weight any longer — as if Phish isn’t paying close enough attention to realize what shows people were missing and what shows people were attending, or even what day of the week it was. After all, Toyota Park’s show in 2009 should have been a huge sleeper show. It was, I think, the only non-sold out show of that tour, it was a Tuesday night, it was the only show between the Gorge a couple nights earlier and Darien Lake a couple nights after. That show was the most boring show of the summer. Often times when a show is hyped in 3.0, Phish doesn’t seem to deliver. Telluride, for instance, was hyped way beyond what we recieved. I’m happy to report that Phish truly brought it last night, two days after their most dull show of the fall tour.

Set 1: After Midnight, The Sloth, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Mellow Mood, Access Me, Llama, All of These Dreams, The Curtain With > Scent of a Mule, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, It’s Ice, Walls of the Cave

Set 2: Possum > Light > Mike’s Song > Simple > Makisupa Policeman -> Night Nurse ->Makisupa Policeman > The Wedge, Ghost -> The Mango Song > Weekapaug Groove ->Llama

Encore: Show of Life

10.26.10 (Dave Vann © phish 2010)

When Phish took the stage in the sparesly filled Verizon Wireless Arena, many were expecting a “Jim” or “PYITE” to open the last show before the Halloween run up. J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight” can blaring through the speakers, instead. The last and only time (well, two times) they played this was at Big Cypress on NYE. The second this song was dropped on us, I knew we were in for a treat. Trey has been putting so much thought behind not only the placement of their songs this tour, but also the songs they play.

“The Sloth” came out for the first time since it opened Alpine’s monster second set last summer, with “Sloth” in the 2-spot, everyone had their ears perked up for what was next. Oh, NBD, “Alumni > Letter > Alumni”– woah, did you hear that? It’s a dial tone–this show is already off the hook.

“Mellow Mood” made its second appearance of 3.0 right before a sign-requested “Access Me”. It was the third time the song has appeared, the second time since it’s 2004 debut at Alpine Valley. Mike’s poppy bass and lyrics is often a refreshing interlude in a set and tonight was no exception. The person who had the sign annoyingly continued to hold it after the song, though, as if he was bragging about it. Ok, thank you for continuing to block my view.

10.26.10 (Dave Vann © phish 2010)

“Llama”, Phish’s new rarity, followed. The song was seemingly played every third show since the early 90’s–last night was only the third time of 3.0. Trey sounded powerful in it. A lot of late-90’s versions were not able to hold a flame up to early 90’s versions. Last nights was old school, in that, Trey blew the roof off. His licks are coming back at a ferocious and dangerous pace this tour–“Llama” is a perfect song to highlight this.

After an uncommon “All of these Dreams” came a serious 1-2 punch, “The Curtain With > Scent of a Mule”. Like “The Sloth”, the last time “Mule” was played was at Alpine Valley earlier this year. A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing was played for the third time of 3.0, a song people either love or don’t really care for (Joel). Trey sounded inspired, but kept it very short before heading into a painfully unoriginal “It’s Ice”.

“Ice” seems to be a song they just play as glue between two other songs now. In the early-mid 90’s, the song would often contain various interesting improvisational segments. This is not the case any longer, unfortunately. In contrast, the “Walls of the Cave” that followed was quite inspired and intriguing. In a set where each song seemed to come completely by surprise, no one thought a “Walls” would close the set. This was the second time played of both 2010 and 3.0–this version was a bit more adventurous than Deer Creek’s rendition late last summer. Trey ripped it apart–I sure wish they played this song more, maybe as a set 2 opener.

10.26.10 (Dave Vann © phish 2010)

Trey picked up right where he left off when set two started. Setbreak was another long one, about 45 minutes–which doesn’t bother me, the sets are long and the setbreaks are long which means more time to have fun. “Possum” reached blazing heights before going into “Light”.

“Light”. was. hot. This 14 minute jam hosed this sticky crowd down. Phish locked into a musical mesh that might have featured the most impressive instrumental interplay of the whole tour. Halfway through the jam it almost sounded as if it was going to go into “Timber”, instead they kept building–the jam was being driven by Fishman’s rolling, always changing drum beat and Mike. Trey sat in the back seat simply accenting what the rest of the band was doing. One of the best jams this tour for sure. Before the jam drifted into ambiance, “Mike’s Song” started.

While the “Mike’s Song” was straight-forward, this was probably the most intense version this fall, possibly this year. Trey shredded with pristine accuracy going into the home stretch. “Simple” popped into the set as quickly as “Mike’s” ended. “Simple” drifted into an ambient outro and segued into “Makisupa”.

10.26.10 (Dave Vann © phish 2010)

“Makisupa” contained the second pot reference in as many times played, talking about smoking another nug. Right out of the lyrics, the music changed up a bit into another reggae melody. Before we knew it, we had just seamlessly entered Gregory Isaacs’ “Night Nurse”. It wasn’t a half-assed cover, either. It sounds amazing–it was probably played because of Isaacs’ death a night earlier. I hope this song sticks around–what an unexpected treat. Right after the song’s lyrics we were swept right back into the end of “Makisupa”.

Phish was, without a doubt, in the middle of one huge set. This wasn’t a set made of of two or three different sections (or a million, like Sunday), this set was one solid string of music that flowed like lava down the side of a volcano–hot, think and unstoppable.

“The Wedge” emerged out of “Makisupa”, this time without its usual drum beat intro. Aside from the fact that Phish was apparently making people who decided not to show up to the concert angry with themselves, they were also proving that they don’t play normal “Mike’s Grooves” anymore. Now, when “Mike’s Song” starts, you still know you’re getting a “Weekapaug”, but you have no clue what’s going to be the meat in this sandwich any longer. “Unexpected” is the theme to this fall’s tour.

10.23.10 (Dave Vann © phish 2010)

“Ghost”, the song with the most votes to be played last night, started up very shortly after “Wedge”. Holy smokes. This “Ghost” followed in the footsteps of Alpine’s version this year. While Alpine’s peaked harder, this one was more over-all entertaining. Trey honed his 1999 hose jamming style and rocked this one from end to finish–not dull for a second, this version is dense with impressive musical swagger. Yet another testament to the idea that Phish no longer needs 30 minute jams to get to the point. Trey takes the lead for the entire jam, the opposite of “Light” earlier in the set. Page follows and mimics what Trey is playing on his baby grand for almost the entire jam, adding another layer to the of depth to the dream contained in this Tuesday-night sleeper.

I’m not done tooting the horn of this “Ghost” yet, though. After the love Phish just made to the audience, the jam floated into musical bliss before Trey patiently went into “Mango Song”. After a year of Trey forcing segues, this tour has proven that he is becoming better at switching songs. This is the most patient and beautiful segue of 3.0, hands down. While Red Rocks’ “Drowned -> Crosseyed” and Merriweather’s “Ghost -> Jumpin’ Jack Flash” were monumental and rocking, and Deer Creek’s “Meatstick -> Mango Song” was trippy, last night’s segue really opened our eyes to Phish’s newfound tightness. Trey is once again listening carefully to his band-mates, something I was worried was gone. Trey has his segue ability back, folks. This is great news for Halloween and NYE.

The end of “Mango” was cut short to go into “Weekapaug”, Trey and Page leading the way this time. Hands-down–this is the best “Paug” in maybe, at least, 10 years. This fucker blows doors down. A couple minutes into the jam the band sinks into an atypical, throbbing segment of music…eventually we get haunted again by emerging “Ghost” lyrics, eventually giving way to some “Night Nurse” lyrics. It’s so refreshing to see shows get themes again (“Guyutica”, MPP’s “I Saw it Again”, and this show). After the “Night Nurse” chanting, a full band “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” jam comes before going into “Weekapaug’s” instrumental ending. Trey starts frantically strumming before the final verse of “Weekapaug” can come and, what do you know, it’s “Llama” again! The whole band launches into “Llama” for a reprised version of the song. So unexpected, so rocking, so amazing.

They came back on stage for “Show of Life”, thanking the fans who decided not to blow this stand-alone show of in the shadow of the monster weekend Halloween run coming up.

Phish is fucking back for real, now. Trey, once again, is on top of his game. The epic segues they were once known for are back. They are listening to each other. They are busting out songs, writing new songs, playing new covers. They are sandwiching songs. They are more unpredictable than ever before. They are being silly again. They are giving entire sets a theme. They are playing killer venues.

Almost every show between 2009’s Hampton and the beginning of this Fall Tour can probably be forgotten. Phish is making memories on a nightly basis again.

Check back in before Friday Night for a State-of-the-Tour address so far and what to expect this weekend.

I love you, Phish.