After a show that contained a ton of songs, not much flow, and not that impressive of playing (aside from Weekapaug and Stash), Phish opened up their weekend at Merriweather with a bang. The show was another song-driven one, but the flow, the creativity, and the quality of playing was amazing.
Lately, Phish have been stringing together songs like they used to in the early 90’s–only with much more material now. The difference between doing song-based shows in 2011 from 2010, you ask? Trey is on fire now. He’s going in and out of songs creatively. No more aborting jams or awkward segues. The band is meshing so well now–all they do is step on stage and they can just steam roll everything in their path for nearly 200 minutes.
That’s right–Phish have been playing longer sets than they ever have in their career! All of 3.0 featured about 80-90 minute sets–which is very good, but this summer, Phish have been treating us to 95, 96, or 97 (last night) minute second sets–after nearly 90 minutes or more in the first set. This shows they want to be there. It’s funny; for as good as they were in fall ’97, their sets were usually only around an hour long.
Set 1: Daniel Saw the Stone, AC/DC Bag, Ocelot, Access Me, Vultures, Wilson > Sand, Roses Are Free > Reba, On Your Way Down, Run Like an Antelope
Set 2: Birds of a Feather, Tweezer > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Waves > Chalk Dust Torture, Rock and Roll -> Albuquerque > Piper > Wading in the Velvet Sea > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan > Suzy Greenberg
Opening up with the first Daniel Saw the Stone since IT, Phish seems to be making a pattern here–in two ways. The past three shows have opened up with semi-rare bluegrass songs and, at least last night’s and Darien’s, by requested songs.
After their first Vultures since Utica, and the fourth Access Me ever, Wilson came out. Trey was feeling the heavy metal last night as he inserted two sections of finger-tapping trilling. Then the song popped right into a swaaaanky Sand. I’m not sure which version I liked more: last night’s or PNC’s. I think I’d have to go with last night’s because of how dirty and evil it sounded.
As I’ve said after Bethel’s Roses are Free, the song has finally got its pizzazz back. In 2009 and 2010, the song seemed like it was missing something. Maybe it was Trey’s tone, maybe it was something else–but not the song has finally fallen into place. Mike’s bass lick as they dropped into the song last night got me excited, but not nearly as the mini-interlude the placed at the end of the song. It sounded like they were going into a jam after it–was this 4/3/1998 again? No, it was simply a short, but cool, interlude before Trey started up the second Reba of the summer.
God, this Reba is beautiful. It’s amazing how much the song has progressed since last year. Trey’s fingers soar over the fretboard in ways reminiscent of his youth. While I think the Riverbend version may have a better final minute, last night’s was pure beauty from start to finish. Way to go Trey.
After the Little Feat cover, On Your Way Down, the band entered another tease-laced Antelope–this time, appropriately, with licks from On Your Way Down. I love how Trey is teasing again. Right before summer tour, I joked with my friend saying that Streets of Cairo is the only tease Trey can do anymore–guess I’m wrong! Oh, and Trey melted the entire crowd’s face in this version. It’s official; we have Antelope back!
The second set opened with the second Saturday Birds opener in a row–NO I’M NOT COMPLAINING–just saying the song is fairly rare now. It’s interesting that the two times they chose to play it this year so far are in the prime-time 2nd set opener slot. Unfortunately both versions are short–this is a song that needs to spread its wings a bit. I should note that Trey laid down some nasty licks on his guitar before reentering the song (and during the last refrain)–this foreshadowed Trey’s style for the rest of the night.
When Tweezer popped out of the end of BOAF, everyone broke down–the beginning was more improvised than usual too. At one point, Trey yelled “HUUH!” and the entire band stopped–only to all hop right back into it at the same time.
Mike started slow-slappin’ his bass out of the gates. This is a great example of 2011 funk; it’s all about slow slap bass, driven/changing drumbeats, and punctuated guitar playing. Eventually this fun reaches some blazing guitar work by Trey. His fingers must have been on fire last night.
Everyone knows that The Horse has gotten an awful reputation in 3.0–seeing as it was 2009/2010 Trey’s favorite way to kill jams. Don’t let the setlist fool you though; last night’s wasn’t a jam killer. It was thoughtfully placed at the end of Tweezer once the jam came to a natural ending–Trey worked into the song perfectly. Is Tweezer > The Horse becoming the new Tweezer > Lifeboy?
The beautiful string of songs wasn’t over after Silent in the Morning. Out of the end of Silent, came a blissful entry to Waves–the 2.0 song that seems like they are taking out for a spin a bit more often. Trey’s transcendent guitar playing reminded me of Bethel’s journey of a version. The jam to Waves is so fabulous now–Trey genuinely plays like he’s traveling over a body of water–his guitar notes floating over the fluctuating sounds the rest of the band is making.
The dip into peaceful musical bliss was contrasted by an oddly-placed, but well-fitting CDT. CDT is another song that has come back full-throttle after the spring. Using mini-bouts of tension/release and pure trilling at the end (read here for more on this), Trey blew the roof off Merriweather–he was crushing everything the band touched last night.
Not satisfied with the rock in CDT, Trey tore into a Rock and Roll. When the song started, I figured it would be a raging 10-minute version–just judging by how they’ve been playing it lately and because of its placement in the second set. At first it sounded like a type-I rocker, but it slowly dipped into psychedelic type-II territory. Trey plays like he’s about to go into a digital delay jam like NYE 95’s during Mike’s–while there are layered “bubbly” sounds in the background. Serious stuff.
The song slipped into the third Albuquerque of 3.0. The transition was beautiful–Trey’s choice of slow songs last night to break up the heat was perfect: The Horse, Albuquerque, and Wading. When the first notes of Albuquerque ring out, it was like heroin hitting your blood stream.
After the sweet interlude, Trey felt like more balls-to-the-wall guitar playing so he started Piper. This one was the longest and most impressive of 2011 so far. Trey starts off a bit choppy, and eventually let the drums, bass, and keyboard take over. I thought we were in for a real rager when Trey came out of a jam segment strumming his guitar quickly with the drums in a funky manner. Instead Wading came–not bad.
After worrying that we weren’t going to put on our dancing shoes anymore that night, Wading sank into 2001. Although it was the shortest of the year, it’s one of the best. Pine Knob’s and Darien’s both proved that Phish were interesting in bringing back the dance-party to the song. Mike entered the jam much like he did for the MJ 2001 from Camden last year. Once Trey starts funky-strumming (no wah though), Fish breaks the jam down and they do two mini stop/start. I want the stop/start, and funky breakdown jamming to come back in some form so bad.
The just kept rolling on too. I knew they wouldn’t close with 2001 (well, after closing with Joy, who knows)–when Stealing Time started, I figured it had to be the set-closer seeing as how it’s often used as a first-set closer. Nope, another insane Suzy came.
Suzy is getting longer and longer too–this one clocked in at over eight minutes–longer than the usual 5-6 minute versions we have seen in 3.0. Fish uses his cow bell under Mike’s poppy slap-bass. The jam grooves hardcore when it’s time for Page to enter. Page wouldn’t stop. He was going off on his piano–Trey kept looking at him for a cue to end the song. Page never looked up. The crowd was flipping out. They were witnessing the close to one of the most impressive rock shows Phish has put on in recent memory. The screaming at the end of Suzy captured the general thoughts of what was going through the crowd’s mind at the time: “WHAAAT?!”
Right now Phish is lean, mean, and clean. My prediction for tonight: Paul & Silas opener, Ghost, YEM, Steam