Made-For-TV Phish

6.14.11 (Dave Vann)

Phish’s first half of their two night stand in Alpharetta played out as if it was on MTV–little improvisation and shorter-than-normal sets. While the concert obviously wasn’t on MTV, it was webcast live via LivePhish (you can still purchase tonight’s show). I figured Phish would come out swinging in an attempt to make the people at home who didn’t help the other shows sell-out realize just what they were missing. Instead, Phish put together one of their least-interesting shows of the year. I have been talking about how their shows have been getting longer and longer this tour–well last night’s second set was 81 minutes; compare that to their second sets of Merriweather: 101 minutes and 97 minutes. Almost everything about last night was underwhelming.

The setlist featured a few highlights, like Light Up or Leave Me Alone, Ginseng Sullivan, and Dinner and a Movie; however, much of the setlist was made up of songs that were just recently played–a pattern that seems to be forming this tour.

Set 1: Dinner and a Movie, The Moma Dance > Possum, Cities > Fluffhead, Ocelot, Ginseng Sullivan, Kill Devil Falls > Bathtub Gin, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone > Cavern

Set 2: Carini > Sand > Down with Disease > Maze, Meatstick > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Bug > A Day in the Life > Run Like an Antelope

Encore: Quinn the Eskimo

Dinner and a Movie was another show-starting nod to a sign. Moma Dance was followed by the song that followed Moma the last time it was played: Possum. Possum has been played six times already and the first half of tour isn’t even over. The placement of this Possum was at least acceptable–in the early first set–four of the last six times were in the second set. Trust me, I love Possum–but it’s starting to lose it’s luster on me when they play it this frequently. Even with the stand-out Blossom and Great Woods versions, it’s becoming pretty repetitive.

6.14.11 (Dave Vann)

I always welcome Cities–after the Greek ’10 version and the Bethel ’11 version, I always am excited to see if the song is going to do anything mind-numbing. Last night’s placement of Cities was the same as the last time they played it: after Possum. So far, we’ve seen two Moma > Possums in a row and two Possum > Cities in a row–hmm.

Fluffhead, a song that isn’t only being overplayed this tour, but in 3.0 in general, was placed really well. Anywhere in the first set is appropriate for Fluffhead–it can only be pulled off well in a second set with perfect placement. Perfect placement would be Pine Knob’s Fluff. Like Possum, I love Fluffhead; however, they need to cut back playing it just a tad. It’s starting to lose its magic. I don’t want to roll my eyes when Fluffhead starts!

Ocelot was played for the second time in as many shows. The lumbering jam morphed into some slow-but-hot rock before ending–a version that worked well last night. Trey brought the jam to a clean and natural head before closing the jam out and heading into the third Ginseng of 3.0 (labeled as Cities on LivePhish). The song, likely a nod to playing in Georgia, broke the set up nicely before heading into the intense-rock finish to the set that would be the beginning to the best part of the show.

Trey’s furious playing in KDF set the tone that would be continued through Maze in the second set. Trey hit an explosive peak in this version that spun the sweaty crowd into a crazy frenzy. Immediately following KDF came one of the band’s best-played songs of 3.0, Bathtub Gin. Despite Bathtub Gin being one of their strongest songs now, playing the song in back-to-back shows is frowned upon, especially when there is already an overall pattern of certain songs/placements being repeated this year. While last night’s rendition was played very strongly, with much energy, it doesn’t reach the bar that other 2011 versions have set.

"Hi Mom! I'm on TV!" - 6.14.11 (Dave Vann)

Arguably, the biggest highlight of the show came during the Light Up jam. Being played for the first time since Atlantic City and the fourth time since Big Cypress, Alpharetta’s may have been the most impressive yet. The jam was reminiscent to the build up in the jam of Antelope–seriously, start it just at the jam and it’s hard to tell the difference. I’m still hoping that this song with come out to play as a second-set monster soon.

For set two, Phish came out on stage with Trey shouting “Yes, yes, yes!” to a fan in the front before launching into yet another second-set opening Carini. The short song, while played better than some of the abrasive 2010 versions, is another example of an overplayed second-set launch pad. In the middle of what sounded like a good jam, Trey does a Sand lick–Mike looked at Trey and then Fish, kind of like “what?”. The lick threw everyone off and the jam came to a literal standstill before the band could move as one into the song Trey apparently needed to play at that very second. Sand, like Ghost, is a song that should be started with the bass and drums. I’m not sure why Trey decides to tell everyone what song he wants to play by throwing the song’s lick awkwardly into a jam, rather than just walking over to Mike to tell him that they should go into a song. Ghost and Sand are to be started by bass and drums, just like Theme is to be started by Page–no more hijacking songs, Trey.

Despite the rude entry to the song, the jam found its swagger immidiately. It was the first second-set Sand of the year and, while the jam’s length is on par with the other versions of the year, boasts a more tight-knit, funky jam than the first-set rager versions we’ve seen so far. Don’t get me wrong, the end of the jam rocks–Trey hit it in a number of places–we were just treated to a nice, funkier jam first.

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Disease came out of the end of Sand for its first appearance not as a second-set opener for the first time of the year. Honing the style of the song’s late-90’s history, the beginning of this jam soars out of the park. Trey’s chops during the rock segment of the DwD jam were the cleanest and most explosive of the night–hitting peak after peak and trill after trill before sinking into more ambient funk textures. Once the jam sinks, listen for Fishman–he’s not playing a beat for nearly two minutes, he’s just rolling all over the place. The beat he finally ends up on is an impressively-complex pattern of tom rolls before he starts gently hitting his cow bell. Page comes up with some synth that eventually morphs into a brief segment of the ‘bubbly’ sound he used towards the end of the Rock and Roll jam right before heading into Albuquerque from Merriweather. It sounded like this Down with Disease might be following the path of Pine Knobs; unfortunately, the jam ends before segueing into (albeit very well) Maze. Maze was played with as much energy as we’ve seen this tour, but when another second-set Meatstick was dropped, much of the intensity that took the band nearly an hour to build would be crushed.

Rollin' around in DwD - 6.14.11 (Dave Vann)

Meatstick, a song that obviously has a very powerful and fun place in shows, doesn’t mesh well in the middle of a second set that is laced with explosive guitar leads and exploratory playing. However, the Mango Song -> Meatstick from Deer Creek 2010 worked very well. The song’s silly antics are fun as a show-opener or an encore, but as a second-set centerpiece when people are craving musical exploration is almost a slap in the face. As expected, the song ends after its discombobulated dance and another 2001 comes out.

Although last night’s was my least-favorite 2001 of this year, the song has been played very well this tour. Still, the song provides no real jamming anymore–when it’s played after Meatstick and before Bug, it’s just seen as an artificial way to get the crowd riled up.

The set ended with a string of three set-closers: Bug > A Day in the Life > Antelope. Antelope, like Gin, is another song that has really stood out this year. Every Antelope (before last night’s) has been a best-of-3.0 version, played with unmatched energy and accuracy. Last night’s was short and an overall-dud. It was also the first ‘Lope of the year that didn’t feature any teases of songs played earlier in the show/set.

Overall, last night won’t be remembered. The sets were drastically shortened compared to the shows leading up to it, and Trey appeared to be more ADD than usual. The show was further proof that they are repeating songs/song placement too much this year. It seemed like Trey was more concerned with pleasing every type of fan watching at home, rather than putting on a truly impressive show that would actually boost ticket sales for their remaining dates. Despite a few impressive segments of punctuated spacey jamming, and blazing guitar, the show never really got off the ground.

Here’s to tonight.