After a drive back and a lazy day on Sunday and looking busy enough to make it seem like I worked today, I can now reflect on Saturday’s trip to Blossom Music Center for my first encounter with THE PHISH in 2011. Let me tell you what, THE PHISH are doing great. I hadn’t seen the band since I caught the last two nights of the Halloween run. Since each of those shows were legendary, I figured I was in for a bit of a let down. Boy was I wrong. Whatever was happening last fall is still growing this summer, and it’s an exciting time to be seeing Phish.
I bolted from Morgantown Saturday morning with my pals Stefan and Chris in tow. We made good time into the greater Cleveland area, despite an unplanned detour through many of eastern Ohio’s scenic toll booths. We checked into the hotel and met up with OPT and his brother (Bro-PT?) and friend, as we headed for the lot. I had never been to Blossom before, and enjoyed the scene immensely. The grassy rolling lot seemed like the perfect place to hang out and crack a few pre-show brews.
I saw some obnoxious stuff before the show, including the aftermath of this bad situation, which a passersby said was brought on by said phan picking a couple of beers up off of the ground. While the Sheriffs made their presence known, this was the only time all afternoon I saw anyone get hassled. I also got into it with a bratty tie dye vendor who made it known that, despite her stand being set up in the middle of the only available break in the fence, all foot traffic would have to go around. I love it when people think the world stops for them. All in all though, pre-show was a gas, it was fun meeting the rest of the OPT crew including Trisha and web-ninja Chris as well as others from around the Twitter-verse. By the time show time rolled around, I was amped up and ready to go.
The rest of the crowd didn’t appear to be as ready as I was, and despite getting in a little late it seemed that most of the crowd (at least those with lawn tickets) decided to wait until the show had already started before filing is. We set up on the front lip of the lawn, Page side, and had a great spot for sight, sound and dancing room all night.
Kill Devil Falls got things rolling, and I think it served well as an opener, getting the whole audience on the same page quickly. The Guyute that followed seemed to throw a wrench in things, as it was a little early in the night for the dark opus about the killer pig. Fuck Your Face followed, and was a nice piece of setlist ephemera for me to check off of my list, but didn’t do much for me after that.
Things really got rolling with Foam as the fourth song. I’d known for over 24 hours that Foam would be on the setlist, if only because that’s when my buddy Chris decided to jump on board the trip. Chris has been chasing Foam for years, so it was in the bag that he’d get one. The lesson here kids? Give in to your whims. They will be rewarded.
Ocelot was up next, and sent plenty of those around me heading to the restrooms. I don’t know why. It may be my favorite Joy song, and I think it lends itself very well to all kinds of exploration. Saturday night’s version found a rootsy groove, which was extended for awhile, though never got too far from home. Rocket In My Pocket followed, and I dug it big time. Halloween’s Waiting For Columbus set sparked an interest in Little Feat that carried me through the winter, culminating with my first live Feat show a week prior. I didn’t expect to get any repeats from Halloween, but I was pumped that I did.
Rocket In My Pocket seemed to cause the band turn a corner and they delivered a four song set closing run that over shadowed anything they’d played prior. Get Back On The Train had a beautiful outro jam which segued flawlessly into Guelah Papyrus, a song I will never get tired of. A short, sharp Tube followed, complete with nod to “Page’s House” before jumping right into Antelope. The Antelope was both rockin’, with Trey tearing through leads in the song’s closing segment, and “Phishy” with the Esquandolas line repeated for other band members, complete with solos (Kuroda included!). It brought to close a promising set, leaving my crew to catch our breath, but eagerly awaiting more.
After a reasonable set break, the band emerged and ripped into Birds of A Feather. Birds doesn’t really do It for me, and this version was succinct, so there was little to grab onto outside of the song itself. When they started up Possum, there was a semi-groan from those who’ve gotten sick of 3.0’s most commonly setlisted tune. As if somehow the band knew that the fans were growing bored with Possum, they slowed it down repeatedly only to wind it back up again. It ratcheted the energy up a notch, and I’m sure freaked out anyone who was spun enough to think the problem was on their end. This Possum, precisely for it’s interesting and out of left field interpretation, would be one of thehighlights of the show.
The live debut of Steam followed, and I think this one will have legs. The first original debuted this summer, it has the vibe of 2.0 songs 46 Days and 7 Below, but with a much swampier, more evil feel. What caught everyone’s ears was Fish’s quick cymbal rolls which evoked the sound of Steam being released. Though the verdict is still out, I think this one will stick, and Phish debuting it mid-second set says a lot about how they feel about the tune.
Piper followed, and while it never got exploratory, it didn’t feel rushed either. What I think was most interesting was that it followed Steam. Piper has always struck me as a “bridge song” which is used to fill the gap between two jams, and I think Steam could grow into the same category. Lizards followed, which thrilled the hell out of me. If you don’t like Lizards, I don’t think you actually like Phish. It has one of Trey’s most gorgeous solos, and I could hear it at every show.
I was fully expecting something slow in what I had figured would be “the ballad spot” but instead got Sneakin’ Sally. I’m not complaining AT ALL. This Sally would turn into the jam highlight of the show, veering off into the murky darkness of funk. I love the vocal jam segment of Sally and I’m extra glad they brought it back. On Saturday, the vocal breakdown seemed to serve as the catalyst for the molasses thick funk that followed. When the drums kicked back in, they came back with force and propelled the band through one of the night’s finest moments.
As the Sally jam faded, knowing Hood hadn’t appeared in a few days my crew seemed to think that the Hood that followed was a foregone conclusion. In some ways, it was, but still managed to keep us guessing, shifting quickly from the song’s final segment into Have Mercy. Though the transition was a little forced, the band gets an A for effort on this one. I like my Phish shows like I like my movies: unpredictable. This Hood definitely fit the bill. The Character Zero that followed had Trey in full on rock-dog mode as he repeatedly quoted Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water over the song’s explosive conclusion. By encoring with Slave the band essentially said: this has been a real-deal show, so we’ll give you a real-deal encore. Anytime the encore is a fat slice of Phish, I’m a happy camper and Saturday’s encore fit the bill.
Getting out of the show took some doing, as one member of my crew had an alcohol induced adventure, but since no one ended up in the hospital, we’ll save THAT story for another time. More than anything, Saturday night’s show re-affirmed what I’ve been thinking for awhile: Phish isn’t just good, they’re getting better. It’s an enticing thought, and will have to keep me going until next weekend. Merriweather awaits!