The Best of Both Worlds

6.5.11 (Katie Reed)

Phish rolled into Great Woods last night for a sexy one-night stand showcasing Trey’s rejuvenated playing once again.  With both halves being anchored by heavy mid-set jams, Phish took us for an adventure using both types of 2011 concert models: Rock Phish and Jam Phish.

Up until now, the summer has been bipolar; Phish would either give us a short-songed, guitar-driven rock ‘n roll endeavor, or a jam-heavy odyssey–both filled with high-energy.  Last night’s concert showed us the best of both worlds–each set orbited the impressive jams in Bowie and Rock and Roll, respectively.

Opening with the first Llama since last year’s epic Manchester show, the band sent a jolt of energy through the nearly-sold-out crowd in Mansfield.  A standard Moma Dance led into the second Possum in three shows.  Although the Possum wasn’t as improvised as the unusual version from Blossom last weekend, it doesn’t disappoint.  During 2009 and 2010, fans often rolled their eyes when Possum showed up because of how often Phish played it nearly the same time-after-time.  However, Trey is not the same Trey anymore.  Trey has honed his shredding ability during the off-season–this Possum is screaming.  I can’t get enough of Trey anymore.  Remember when all you readers would comment and email me about how unfair to Trey I was and how harsh I was?  It’s because this is the Trey I have been waiting for–the Trey that attacks Phish songs with an ax.

Set 1: Llama, The Moma Dance > Possum, Cities, Instant Karma!, David Bowie, Rhymes, The Divided Sky, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan

Set 2: Back on the Train > Rock and Roll > The Mango Song, Bug, Pebbles and Marbles, Halley’s Comet > Meatstick > Run Like an Antelope

Encore: Suzy Greenberg

After rolling through a standard rendition of Cities–not nearly as impressive as Bethel’s–Page starts up Lennon’s Instant Karma!.  After they dropped the song in the second set of Blossom 2010, most of us thought it was a one-time thing–I guess not.  But we reaped the real long-term karma after the bust out.

Do any of you remember how much I bashed David Bowie last year?  Remember how I used to have the “Best Jams of the Year List” on OPT, and under David Bowie, I wrote “No Point”?  David Bowie has finally gotten back on his feet this year.  Assuming Bethel’s furious version was a flash in the pan, I figured Bowies like that would be the exception.  Then, Phish dropped the massive, improv-heavy Bowie at Pine Knob–I knew something was up.  Last night’s was the second mid-set Bowie in a row for the band.  The reason that the fact of Bowie coming mid-set is notable is because that is where the song is likely to thrive.  A lot of fans seem to have forgotten that Bowie wasn’t usually used as a set-closer; it was used as a launch pad.

6.3.11 (C. Gadzinski)

We have gotten so used to cookie cutter versions of Bowie to close out sets, that we have forgotten what the song has potential to accomplish.  YEM can take a page out of Bowie’s new playbook–don’t close sets so you have room for your jam to breathe.

While last night’s version was more of a linear jam to the finish, it still featured phenomenal meshing of the band.  Together, the boys locked into a walk, that turned to a jog, that turned to a sprint.  Trey sounded great–like much of this tour so far, his tone was under control.  He didn’t have that twangy, piercing sound that can be abrasive when a jam needs to be formed delicately.  While the band was building towards the finish, Trey didn’t stumble into the ending as he has in previous 3.0 versions–he actually peaked with some trilling before the whole band finally dropped into the end.  Great version.  Keep it up Trey!

The first new cover song came next: Rhymes by Al Green.  The song featured some catchy guitar work and an open end–maybe something to look out for in the future during a second set.  The set closed with a very hot version of Stealing Time–again, showcasing Trey’s improved dexterity and ambition to play.

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When Back on the Train opened the second set, I thought we were in for the big one.  BOTT is a song that is begging to come out and play.  While it doesn’t explore much before its ending, Trey comes to a very nice peak.  The band was locked in when Fish, Mike, and Page quickly built a section of tension–Trey quickly crawled up his fretboard and released.  It was a great example of Trey listening to the rest of the band.

6.3.11 (C. Gadzinski)

Rock and Roll was thoughtfully placed next.  The difference between a second set opener and the second song is huge–opening with a Rock and Roll is just cliche at this point.  With Rock and Roll in the two-spot, no one was sure if it would be a closed-ended rager, or a Great Woods getdown.  As was Bowie, along with the title of this article, it was the best of both worlds.  Trey was playing hot, with one itchy-trigger-fingered lick after another.  Then, the floor drops out.  Mike starts playing high melodies on the Q5 and the rest of the band listens.  While the jam wasn’t as impressive as the Pine Knob Disease, this one has no dull points.  Each segment of the poignant spaciness features a perfect sheet of musical mesh draping over the crowd.  Some parts sound more rocky, some more ambient, but all carefully crafted.  At about the 6:40 mark of the Mansfield Jam on the LivePhish recording, Trey laid down a nice chorded pattern that the rest of the band caught onto.  Albeit short, the pattern set up fish to go in a more heavy direction before the jam fluttered away into a synthesized dreamland, and from that, Mango appeared.

Bug broke the set up nicely before the second Pebbles and Marbles in as many years.  This is one song that needs to go for more of a walk–and soon.  There are some 2.0 songs that are being irresponsibly neglected, and this is one of them.  While the song is only about ten minutes, the jam is one to remember–pure beauty.

Unfortunately the beauty was cut short for a horribly-placed Halley’s Comet.  Unlike the Bethel version, and like every other 3.0 version, this was merely the intro to another song.  Trey awkwardly forces Meatstick out of the end.  Meatstick needs to chill out a bit–I feel that they are beginning to overplay it.

Antelope comes in to save the night–the set-closer rages.  Trey melted face yesterday with his intense soloing into the end, and before that, the song contained Meatstick, Bug and Divided Sky teases.  One major sign that the band is very focused right now is the fact that they are lacing almost every show this year with teases.  Other than Streets of Cairo, the past two years have been nearly teaseless.  Phish is back on their game in nearly every respect now.  My favorite tease came from Page during the encore.  After Fish’s cymbal solo during the end of Antelope, Page invited Suzy into his house for an eight minute fuck fest–during which Page inserted an awesome Meatstick tease.

Phish is blowing fucking doors down again people.  Words literally cannot describe the feelings I have for them right now.  On to Darien.