Two-thirds of the way through Phish’s triumphant return to the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, the band threw down another show worthy of the venue’s hallowed stature. While not always as exploratory as they were on the previous night, they instead elected to give the fans the same treatment demanded of the town’s many sausage slingers: Spicy and with extra mustard please.
Beginning with the most smoothly played Dinner and a Movie since—I don’t know, Vegas 2000 maybe?—and following with Ha, Ha, Ha sent a bold statement. Two old school “Evil Phish” songs to start things off was a welcomed curveball and possible precursor to the events of the night. Chalk Dust dutifully followed suit and contained the added energy of arriving later than its typical lead-off position. This jam was special—Trey piled on the tension while his bandmates desperately tried to keep up. That they ultimately failed to connect on the release doesn’t keep this from being one of the best CDT’s of the summer; it’s a must-hear for all fans.
The barroom belter Mexican Cousin followed, further acknowledging the high-energy collegiate atmosphere. The Walls of the Cave that followed was another welcome off-speed pitch in the heart of Set I. Nowhere near as blazing as Tahoe’s stunner, this one was still straightforward and well-executed. The vintage combo of Jim>Foam follows. Jim has the now de rigeur staccato section but unfortunately doesn’t build on Tahoe’s more exploratory version. Foam is straightforward as well.
Phish: Tue, Aug 16, 2011 (setlist courtesy of phish.net)
UIC Pavilion, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL
Set 1: Dinner and a Movie, Ha Ha Ha > Chalk Dust Torture, Mexican Cousin, Walls of the Cave, Runaway Jim > Foam, I Didn’t Know, Ocelot, Ginseng Sullivan, The Wedge, Limb By Limb, Let It Loose
Set 2: Down with Disease -> Twist > Backwards Down the Number Line > Theme From the Bottom > Golden Age -> A Day in the Life > You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Heavy Things > Slave to the Traffic Light > Rocky Top
 Walk This Way teases.
An Electrolux-heightened “I Didn’t Know” enhanced the old school vibe even further (Trey calling “Moses Dewitt….Moses!” and Mike and Trey holding up Otis Redding shirts). The opening molasses of Ocelot brought the collective energy down a bit, but the song built itself to a worthwhile peak before giving way to the always-welcome Ginseng Sullivan. The Wedge followed and helped bring the energy up for the second essential offering of the set in Limb By Limb.
Though under 10 minutes, this version goes places. A unique melody by Mike sets everything off and Fishman keeps the beat building while Trey and Page get staccato. After playing for a bit, they return to the song’s structure and connect on a fiery and satisfying peak. Let It Loose returned from Indio purgatory and provided a beautiful, if somewhat rough, Page-pleaser to finish off the set. This one may suffer the most in comparison to its Sharon-Jones-and-horns-assisted sister version, but was fun to hear nonetheless.
After a set break that somehow seemed longer than 15 minutes, but of course wasn’t, the band launched into Down With Disease. After their exploration a night prior, this Disease was poised to either blow the roof off the building or, like the last two versions, leave fans high and dry. Thankfully it was the former. Thanks again to a potent groove from Mike off the bat, Trey and Page locked into a beautiful interplay that continued throughout the jam. Fish brings things into funkville with a driving snare beat and Mike just continues to pour on the grooves underneath it all. Trey plays some Piper-like chords at the 15-minute mark but luckily this only leads to an even deeper exploration and one more massive peak before everything dissolves into beautiful ambience.
The segue into Twist is masterful. Smarter Phish minds than me will have to figure out what it is about Chicago that leads to such perfect segues (for example, see the entire 6/18/94 second set). The Twist is a delicate affair that never actually builds to anything but contains some great playing, particularly by Page. Another really fun segue—sustained wooing over the building intro—leads into Backwards Down the Number Line. This song has been scientifically proven to work better at the ends or beginnings of sets, particularly first sets, so its placement is a little baffling. It does build to a nice little peak before Mike signals the beginning of Theme From the Bottom.
I love a well-placed second set Theme (see Darien from Leg I), but the band decides to hold the mustard here for some reason. A standard and jam-less ending led to Golden Age. It’s been fascinating to watch this song grow from awkward indie cover to potential jam vehicle and beloved 3.0 standout. This one featured one of the longest sustained notes Trey has let out in a long while, leading into yet another short but blissful segue, featuring Page on his baby grand over some fading distortion effects and a perfectly timed intro into A Day in the Life.
The always-welcomed Beatles cover set the stage for a set closer fans could feel in their bones: You Enjoy Myself. Some real creative work from Page led the trampoline section and Trey followed suit in his solo. A patient staccato build by Ernie threatened to leave the predictable trail, but instead built to a rocking peak that no one could complain about. The bass/drums/dance section was also extended nicely and featured great work by Fish and Gordo before the vocal jam finished off the set.
Though overshadowed a bit by last night’s five-song encore, the three-song affair last night packed its own punch. Heavy Things is a great call as an encore—since MSG’s version, the song has been a little ball of fun every time out. Slave filled the meat of the encore and was yet another typically-fantastic version. Trey really does wonders with the delicate portion of the jam and the song peaks effortlessly. A short, surprising Rocky Top ended the proceedings.
While falling short of night one’s cohesiveness, last night still contained some fantastic playing in CDT, LxL and Twist as well as a top-ten-of-2011 jam in Disease. Add to that a high-energy YEM, and it’s hard to argue this isn’t one of the better shows of the summer. With many big guns waiting on deck, tonight should have the final say in whether this 3-night run at UIC can truly stand up with the rest of the canonized performances seen here in the past.