Essexy Evening at Home with Phish

Phish played their first show in Vermont since Coventry last night at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction to a sold-out crowd–or, as The Phunion tweeted, “Phish plays the best phish show in vermont since 1997. Entire state returns to normal”.

There were two debates before going into last night’s show to raise money for those hurt by the flooding from Hurricane Irene:

  • will they play a crowd-pleaser or a “normal” Phish show?
  • will they do water-related songs like Drowned, Water in the Sky, ASIHTOS?


9.14.11 (Dave Vann)

The answers would be that they played a crowd-pleaser with some unique jamming added, and, no, they would not play any overtly water-related songs.

Although the all-GA crowd was electric, Fishman’s dress was donning mini hurricanes, the Governor was dancing in Kuroda’s space (after being introduced on stage before the show by Mike), and the band was super-locked-in, eyes gently rolled as the setlist rolled in during the first half, “it’s a crowd-pleaser”.  Crowd pleasers aren’t bad though.  I liked ACL and regularly listen to some tracks from Outside Lands still.  That being said, this show is less of a “crowd-pleaser” than those two.

Set 1: Chalk Dust Torture, The Moma Dance > NICU, Funky Bitch, Sample in a Jar, Cavern, Bathtub Gin, Alaska > Possum, Wolfman’s Brother > Julius

Set 2: Carini > Down with Disease > Slave to the Traffic Light > Rock and Roll > Twist > Backwards Down the Number Line, Theme From the Bottom > Suzy Greenberg > Character Zero

Encore: Loving Cup

Fish's Hurricane Dress (Mike Gordon)

It’s amazing how well-oiled the band has become in 2011, especially in the second half of summer.  Trey’s guitar during Moma Dance was on point, adding little riffs in area where there is normally nothing (a big sign that our Trey is back).  Trey showed up again during Funky Bitch, a song that has been outstanding all of 2011. But we really didn’t get anything to chew on until Bathtub Gin.

Gin reached a screaming peak that seemingly wouldn’t end.  Finally the home state of the band that’s given us all got a taste of what it produced almost 30 years ago.  Will the Gin be remembered in three months?  Probably not.  Will we remember the first clean improv in the Vermont air in 14 years?  Yes.

Of course, what would a crowd-pleasing, greatest-hits show be without Possum?  Possum made its 14th appearance of the year last night–although the song has been particularly good this year, last night’s didn’t seem to stand out at all.  What did stand out was the Wolfman’s > Julius to close the first set of music.

Wolfman’s dropped into heavy funk ASAP.  Mike led the way with slap-happy licks.  Unfortunately, the Wolfman’s reminds me of the Dick’s version in that Trey doesn’t seem to know what to do.  He plays these oddly-placed, distorted licks for most of the jam.  I feel like it takes away from the funk/jam much more than it adds.  Around eight minutes, there is a fantastic chance to come to a transformative peak, but nothing much happens.  Trey does hit his stride eventually around nine minutes and the jam really grabs a hold of you.  Was it as good as everyone has been gushing about?  No way.

Phish’s best Julius of 3.0 was the rendition from the Outside Lands Music Festival in August.  A lot of people were claiming last night’s was the best–it’s not at all.  It’s certainly good, and maybe the second best, but Trey didn’t execute any peak well during the jam.  Julius is all about the peaks towards the end.  Trey did do a fabulous job with the build-ups and licks during the jam, but then when it came time for the money shots–nothing.  Go listen to Outside Lands’ Julius (and CDT while you’re at it).

VT Gov. Peter Shumlin (Dave Vann)

Carini was used as a the second-set opener and included a longer-than-usual jam.  After the jam’s type-I peak, a type-II jam flooded the crowd.  The second half of the jam didn’t last long though, which is unfortunate.  Instead, DwD started dripping from Mike’s monitors.  The jam starts like a lot of DwD jams start: rock jam > sinks into hi-hat-driven funky jam.  Trey plays a throbbing chord over Mike’s bulbous licks before Fish starts breaking the beat apart into one of the most impressive jams they have laid down this era.  Then comes Page on the organ–wow.  Everything locks around nine minutes into pure musical sex.  After the intense-funk jamming comes a blissful euphoria–it reminds me a lot of the 11/14/98 jam after the Tweezer peak.  And, I’m all about jams mellowing out and going into mid-set Slaves, but this Slave came a bit too early.  The DwD jam really should have been extended for at least two more minutes…AT LEAST.  Nevertheless, I’m very pleased.

Slave reaches a very clean and glorious climax; a perfect way to cap a 3-song set opener.  Slave has been played so fucking wonderfully this year–it brings a tear to my eye.  I thought I was going to be disappointed after the epic version from Dick’s a couple weeks ago, not the case.  Great job, Trey!

Rock and Roll was a very fiery follower to the tear-jerking Slave.  The short, but open-ended, Rock and Roll eventually settled down into a smooth pass into Twist.  Unfortunately Twist is another example of a really interestingly-played jam that has a rip cord pulled by Trey.  The patient, snarling jam comes to an artificial finish when Trey goes into the end of the song.  The song is hardly over six minutes–WHY?  It’s the second set in your home state, EVERYONE there is ready to jam the hell out.

9.14.11 (Dave Vann)

Now I get a bit frustrated.  I really like Number Line.  I even like the fact that it is probably the most unpredictable song they have–it can appear, literally, anywhere in the setlist.  But mid-second set, after an aborted jam, makes me really cringe.  Usually it’s not going to be a type-II freakout like Blossom 10, so it just takes space where a serious jam could be.  That being said, Trey’s fingers during this Number Line are like gold.  Trey sounds glorious in this linear rocker–I’m just bitter over DwD and Twist being so short I suppose.

PAGE STARTED THEME LAST NIGHT!  Any of you that read this site regularly know that I often whine and cry about Trey starting songs that he shouldn’t start–Theme has been a song he’s started nearly every time in 3.0.  Everyone knows that this is a song that Page is supposed to start.  Last night he did, and with a scratch of his strings, Trey led everyone into the only water-related song of the night.

Character Zero closed the second set with serious fire.  The nearly-10-minute barn-burner reached orgasm after orgasm.

The show featured they’re patented 2011 tightness along with some very interesting jamming.  Thanks for coming back to Vermont for a surprise party, Phish.  Please play Vermont more (and NY less).

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Here’s to being able to review another show before the year is over.

Stay tuned for a lot of cool material this fall/winter.