Phish’s tour opener grabbed Long Beach by the balls and melted fans’ faces (including Justin Bieber’s). After a leg of being more focused on cramming as many songs as possible in a show rather than letting their excellent improvisation and band-communication breathe, the boys did just that last night. With the weight of playing 200 songs in the tour off their shoulders the were able to once again focus on what’s really important: their improvisation.
With a second set that is so unique and transcendent that it arguably had the power to change lives, the first set teed it up with fantastic playing and great songs. The show kicked off with the first Suzy opener since 12/14/1995 in New York. The solid version boasted some incredible trilling by Page on his baby grand. This incredible focus on his ivories trickled into the Cities that followed. The laid-back and chill jam in the unrushed version reminded me of Bethel’s version in 2011 only with a bit less of a peak.
Fans have no need to fret because the Kill Devil Falls that followed had quite an impressive peak. Trey showcased his spot-on chops throughout the jam before reaching an incredible climax as if to tell us that he’s accumulated no rust in the month he’s had off. The patientness continued with a chill (pardon the pun) rendition of Cool It Down. This is the second Cool It Down of the summer, the other coming from Deer Creek when it was over 100 degrees out at showtime. The laid back jam showed promise when Mike stepped on his envelope filter as if we were going to see a new segment of the jam. Instead, they treated us to a crispy version of Rift.
The Stash that followed shows us that Trey is genuinely trying to harness the ability he once had to create tension before releasing it in grand fashion. The staple of their rock music in the 90’s seems to have garnered little attention from them in recent years but it seems like Trey’s still going for it more and more with each time they play Stash. This version creates a good amount of tension before kinda fluttering away. However Trey still knows how to climax and climax he did, all over us, with the end of this. He created a quick buildup where Page jumped in right away. Right when Trey peaked, Page smashed his hands on the organ to create a deep texture to Trey’s high crescendo. A great 3.0 version.
Gin was particularly exciting for the first set too. While it didn’t stray too far from its typical 3.0 structure–linear, guitar-led, rocking–Trey treated us to a very interesting series of peaks before ending it and playing Quinn.
When Phish came out with the beginning of Rock and Roll, everyone was happy because it normally yields a good jam in some form or another even if they seem to rely on the song as being a second set opener a bit too often in this era. The jam ended up being more than good, it’s the best jam of the year and one of the top five of 3.0 (arguably). In the entire 25 minutes of ground it covers, not one second is anything but exciting. This is what I wanted from them in leg one. The jams they did have in June and July were fantastic; they just cut them short because they were more concerned with playing another new song to the tour. I was begging for them to finally let their impressive jamming ‘BREATHE’. Breathe they did in this Rock and Roll. Rather than coming out of the gates at a reckless speed of rocking, the band sank into thoughtful interplay. Soon, Mike’s licks turned bulbous and tight with Fishman’s drumming becoming increasingly quick and punctuated. Eventually Page leads the band into the next segment of the jam with his baby grand. He takes the jam up into the breezy air atop the rolling soundscape created by Mike and Fish. Then entire band is doing their own part to contribute to a greater whole–a quality that made them as great as they are. Trey eventually looped some spacey noises over Fish’s still-heavy beat. Normally in 3.0 the jam would end here…not tonight. We’ve only reached the halfway point as Page stepped up to his synth to properly land the spacecraft on stage. The band reached a plane of type-II bliss with the music carrying them. Although Fishman was playing delicate, he was also playing with command and authority over his incredibly unique accents throughout the jam. The band worked incredibly well in this peace, it’s a perfect example of what’s possible when they let their new-found communication, creativity and chops finally breathe. They are fully capable of creating true bliss. The very end of the jam sounds like aliens are abducting the band from the stage with each playing wacky and spooky noises.
Soon the epic jam dies down and Trey starts Ghost (it pains me when he starts it rather than making use of the perfect opportunity to segue into it, but WHATEVER). Right away, Trey is in jam mode. Trey strums his Ocedoc with bad-ass swagger prompting explosive cheers from the crowd that knows they just might be in for another impressive showing of improvisational muster. Soon, Trey finds his groove with impressive hose-esque playing before striking some powerful chords and changing the direction of the jam into a more fast-tempoed throwdown. Eventually Trey rips a page out of MSG 2011’s notebook and goes into an absolutely soaring guitar-led, life-changing-of-a jam. As the end approaches after the scorching peak, it sounds like a four-headed monster throbbing. Each band member throbs slowly with one another including Roggae quotes like “the circus is the place to be”. Trey segues into Limb by Limb soon thereafter.
With a glorious version of Limb by Limb and an impressively unique, original, and exciting jam in Hood, this set two contends for best of the past decade. It’s refreshing to know that Trey is able to relax and not think about what song to play next but rather what note to play next. Friday will kick off a sure-to-be throwdown in San Fran and will be webcast for all to see. Let’s home they bring this thunder into the intimate confines.