Phish followed the exploration and looseness of its midwest opener in Detroit with a similarly adventurous spirit in Cuyahoga Falls last night. In a show that featured some setlist quirks, the tour’s first debut, and a bit of good old-fashioned jamming, the band put another exciting touch on what is becoming a fairly thrilling summer tour.
Though the Kill Devil Falls opener was a solid, ripping version, the band took a few songs to really hit their stride. Guyute and Fuck Your Face were well played but standard; Trey struggled to keep time in the composed section of Foam, and played a lackluster solo after Page’s much stronger turn.
Where things began to pick up, surprisingly, was Ocelot–a song whose opening notes few are ever thrilled to hear, but that earns a much more favorable response at the end of versions like this one.
The band carried the energy over into Rocket in My Pocket, the first rendition since the Waiting for Columbus set last Halloween. The song was well executed, though not nearly as much so as Back on the Train, which had a patient build-up before some tremendous licks from Trey.
Now in high gear, Trey played the opening notes to Guelah the moment BOTT ended, and set some loops in the Guelah intro that gave this version a distinctive feel.
Tube followed, with a reference to “Page’s house,” a joke that’s now lived for a week since being introduced in last Saturday’s Makisupa. Tube was predictably, frustratingly short, but did as much as one could hope for in under five minutes. Let’s hope that the looseness the band seems to have discovered in the midwest will allow them to give this song the workout it’s been sorely missing the last couple years.
The highlight of the set, though, was the closer, Antelope. This version has antics: a Streets of Cairo tease, a super-extended “Mike-o Esquandolas, Fish-o Esquandolas, Toph-o Esquandolas” (with corresponding bass, drum, and light solos). But it also has some blazing guitar work; listening to this version, it’s easy to forget that just a year ago, Trey had trouble moving his fingers fast enough to play a half-decent solo in the song. This is hardly a best-ever Antelope. But on a smaller scale, it’s a strong finishing touch on a strong set, and on a larger one, it’s yet another milestone in the band’s ongoing rebirth.
The second set picks up where the first left off, opening with a hot but short Birds of a Feather. The Possum that followed was a blast from the past: Trey’s downward bends, which descended down the chromatic scale, were soon repeated vocally by the entire band. The whole fascinating act was out of the band’s early to mid-90s playbook.
Clearly feeling inspired, the band debuted a new song, Steam, which may or may not have been inspired by the nearby city of Cleveland. The tune, whose smooth, funky pace brings to mind a cross between 46 Days and Trey’s Every Story Ends in Stone, was easily among the strongest songs the band has premiered in the modern era.
Steam’s short jam quickly led into Piper, which was about the same length as PNC’s version, but felt less rushed. Its mellow groove faded naturally into a solid version of Lizards.
Not ready to let up, the band dropped into the tour’s first Sneakin’ Sally, which would become the launchpad for the night’s biggest jam. Following the vocal jam, which has once again become a standard feature of the song, the band immediately settled into a deep funky groove. Though this sound is familiar for recent renditions, the band has rarely stretched it out like last night. They gradually added distortion and looped dark chords to the groove, which evaporated perfectly into Harry Hood. This is no ordinary Hood, though: incorporated into the gorgeous jam is a perfectly sandwiched version of Have Mercy.
Following the sequence, the band launched into a steamrolling Character Zero, in which Trey displayed some of the same guitar heroics he exhibited in the previous night’s Good Times, Bad Times. Not content to end on a low note, the band continued with a solid Slave to the Traffic Light encore, capping off a show that was strong start to finish, with countless memorable moments despite few transcendent ones.
The tour continues tonight at Riverbend in Cincinnati. Tune back in tomorrow for the review.