For the third year in a row, Phish has opened a summer tour with an impressive and exciting show. In 2010 there was the absolute fire-of-a show in Chicago with the following year being Bethel (which of course needs no introduction). Last night Phish grabbed the non-sellout crowd by their balls from the moment the notes of the third Buried Alive in as many years rang though the storied venue most of us still refer to as the Centrum. Although it felt like the opening of a fall tour because of indoor confines, this was the start to what I expect to be a fantastic summer.
Many people called the Buried Alive to open–not because they have any sort of impressive Phish insight, but rather because people call that to open, like, EVERY show. The version was played with the vigor and crispness of the 11/27/98 version on the very same stage. Trey showed no signs of rust after the extended break. The coveted opener bled right into the next song, the song I was calling to be the tour opener: Runaway Jim.
Runaway Jim hasn’t done much for me in recent years, and while this version was a measly eight minutes, it has character. It was one of those versions where there is enough going on to make you think that it’s pushing 15 minutes while it’s happening. It was a solid and fun version, perfect for the tour’s 2-spot. Following the classic gem came a song the band was rehearsing with days earlier and soundchecked with: The Stones’ Torn and Frayed. I was predicting they were playing it so much because they wanted to play it at Bonnaroo with Sharon Jones (also singing at Bonnaroo) sitting it; this could still happen, but all the practice for the song led to an energetic and polished version that nearly everyone agrees is a great cover. Torn and Frayed is just begging to be placed as a second set opener. The Festival-8-debuted song has some real potential for a unique, extended jam.
——— ——— ———
Set 1: Buried Alive > Runaway Jim > Torn and Frayed, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance > Rift, Nothing, Ocelot, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Possum, Rocky Top
Set 2: Carini -> Taste, Ghost > Boogie On Reggae Woman > If I Could, Quinn the Eskimo > Harry Hood > Cavern > Buried Alive Reprise
——— ——— ———
Funky Bitch got the crowd in a frenzy shortly thereafter. Page crushed it and there was a growing feeling of general awesomeness–Phish was taking stage for the third summer in a row where they seemed to be absolutely ON POINT with each other. After the incredibly rocking Bitch, Moma Dance dropped. While there is almost no jam in Moma (see: Broomfield 2010), the song served as a confirmation to the crowd that tonight was for real. Trey and Fishman were playful and intricate during the composed section; Fish rolled over his blocks in ways not typical for the song, he was digging in. Trey was throwing out licks that just dripped with his patented stage swagger. While the finishing guitar solo was short, it was oh so sweet. They were feeling it, no doubt.
After a well-played Rift, came the band’s fifth Nothing and third of the era. I love the song Nothing, I think it’s a perfect, light-hearted, first set ditty that most people find welcoming. The Ocelot that followed was okay. Ocelot thrives under the summer sun during a first set, only we were indoors and the version wasn’t particularly inspiring. The song wasn’t bad, but didn’t live up to the standard the songs just before it had set. Moving on…
Possum is the last notable song of the set, sandwiched between Page’s Beauty of a Broken Heart and Rocky Top. I know, everyone got such a heavy dose of the song in 2011, many roll their eyes when it starts. However, I argue that nearly every 2011 version is good and I see this one as no different. Instead of the cookie-cutter jam many expect from the song, Trey takes it for a bit of a summer-lovin’ walk before blowing up into the end. At some parts it sounded like they were trying to revisit the uniquely-improvisational version from Blossom last year. Trey slows it down at some parts and Fishman does a fantastic job of following him. Regardless of if you like the version or not, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that this rendition highlights the band’s continually-improving ability to listen to and work with each other during bouts of unexpected improvisation (wow, that was a mouthful).
Let’s get to the meat, shall we? Taking a page out of their 2011 playbook, the band dove into another Carini opener. While many of the 2011 versions feel forced to the point of being slightly abrasive (IMO), this one worked quite well. An organic jam arose with some impressive synthesizer and thoughtful guitar interplay before Fish switched to his wood blocks for a bit. The jam loosened into a beautiful and delicate jam and flawlessly slipped right into Taste. The combination worked gorgeously with the darkness of Carini seeing the light that is Taste. The boys just proved again that they were ready for summer as much as all of us with this unique pairing.
Here comes the Ghost story. The song was started in a slow and cumbersome fashion that was reminiscent to many of the 1.0 versions. The band took a slightly extended break before the usual reentry to the song before the jam, yielding cheers from the crowd. The jam became Mike-heavy quick. Mike was poppin’ off which made for quite the dance party. Trey was playing delicate in an understated sort of way–not scratching notes like he did in many versions of Ghost earlier in 3.0. Soon the jam was ebbing and flowing towards what sounded like could be a type-II jam when Mike turned on his envelope filter. The jam featured impressive patience from Trey as he allowed the rest of the band to have a voice around him. Soon, the jam splashed directly into type-II territory featuring some interesting patterns from Mike and Trey, all the while Page was on the baby grand. Things get dark once Mike emerges with some violent licks that rattled through the DCU’s rafters. Shortly those licks became Boogie on Reggae Woman.
Boogie is the best version of 3.0, hands down. Mike enters the gate of the jam with unparalleled strength, confidence, and command. Soon, Trey’s guitar emerges from a standstill with swanky-ass chords before climbing his neck into a soaring solo. Page quickly comes in to provide ground support to Big Red by aping the licks flowing through the 15,000-seat room. Trey is given a number of opportunities to work his way out of the jam, but, to our pleasure, he opts to keep nailing us in the face with his guitar. Fishman, keeping stride on his ride, fills the hair with crashes while Trey starts absolutely wailing. There is one specific lick that Trey spews out shortly before the end that’s jaw-dropping–I’ll get a snippet of the clip for you guys shortly. Right after the peak, a la 9/14/00 Suzy, Trey drops down into a slow rolling strum. Mike comes back as the jam’s leader, this time with Page and Trey as his close wing men before slipping beautifully into the biggest bustout of the night, If I Could.
If I Could isn’t often looked at as a typical second set landing pad but it fulfilled its job perfectly on this exciting night. We had just gone through some of the most raunchy, experimental, and organ-rattling jamming–Trey and Page’s delicate, soul-searching interplay during If I Could was a perfect night cap to what will be talked about all year and likely beyond.
Quinn gets an unusual mid-second-set placement and is well played. After that came a beautiful Hood. While it’s certainly no 12/28/10 Hood, played on the same stage, this takes a more traditional route. The soul-searching from If I Could continued during this jam with Trey being patient and delicate (adjectives I love using for Trey after ’09 and ’10). The jam, however, completely ignores coming to any sort of peak, but that’s ok considering the peak we were treated to during Boogie On.
Cavern pops out of the end of Hood and ends with a Buried Alive Reprise, a first for Phish.net‘s record books, in a different key than normal. Fortunate for us, Trey wasn’t done slaying. Although many grumble when Loving Cup starts for the encore, Trey absolutely destroys the relatively short jam.
Trey’s ready for summer, Phish is ready for summer, and so am I.