The buildup to this touring season has been intense. Aside from the typical excitement that is expected from the now-common half year wait until Phish comes back on stage, we’ve been curious about the new album that is to drop this year and especially the fact that this year marks the band’s 30th anniversary. Many expect something to be done in the fall/winter to celebrate this, perhaps with an entire tour rather than the four-day run they did for their 20th.
After a solid but largely forgettable tour opener in Bangor, Maine, Phish took the stage at SPAC for three nights of particularly impressive concerts. The band seems to be improving their work as a cohesive unit just as they have every year following 2009. At first glance, you’ll notice some big things like large, seamless segues and some full-bodied jams. Once you dig a big deeper in the 12 or so hours of music they’ve given us so far, you’ll notice some fun quirks that also enhance their shows.
Page seems to be playing more prominently (read: dirtay) and seems to even be turned up a bit more in the mix. Take a look at Cities or Moma dance for examples of this. Page has some stage swagger that you don’t want to mess with right now. He gets low ‘n slow in Cities that, if allowed to breathe a bit more, would rival that of the Greek Cities from 2010. The short and, on paper, seemingly typical Moma Dance showcases some more of his keyboard filth in what I feel is a perfect mix of band energy–yes, I’m referring to the composed section.
Fishman has also stepped his game up. Some of you will recall a number of people claiming he wasn’t drumming quite as tight, quick, or impressive as shows of yesteryear during the 2009 and 2010 tours. Turn on Moma Dance again to hear him completely throw down on his kit. He’s been filling all kinds of composed sections in songs with fills and rolls that normally aren’t there, check out his drum work in the Roses are Free–a song that I felt lost its “feeling” up until last year. When you hear this SPAC version, you’ll get the feeling you got when you first saw the Roses are Free scene in Bittersweet Motel when it switches from the practice room the live concert.
Another important thing to note is the fact that they are breathing fresh life into songs that have become somewhat stale in 3.0. I can’t think of a single Split Open and Melt from 3.0 that I would ever choose to listen to a second time, until SPAC’s. The 19-minute first-set monster is the most creative and non-sloppy version of 3.0. The stop/start reentry to the end of the song is fantastic too. Bowie, while not all 3.0 versions are stale, has needed to break from its cookie-cutter, linear jam that it’s found itself in. SPAC’s version includes an atypical melodic segment in the jam that’s beautiful. The Bangor Antelope is anything but ordinary and the Hood is patient and inspired.
Not only has their early playing proved impressive, their setlists have been exciting. We have heard new songs and new covers. Mike’s Yarmouth Road is a welcome first-set addition with its slow reggae tempo and classic Mike-sounding lyrics (which all sound similar to me, sorry). Trey’s Architect is an uplifting song that keeps your hands in the air, but what’s more impressive from its debut is the chesty way they dropped it (adjective from Paddy S.), coming from a PERFECT segue out of one of the best Carinis ever. Okay, while we have mentioned Carini here, let me say that while the MSG version of last year was impressive, I find SPAC’s more enjoyable. It’s completely original, to-the-point and features a Meatstick tease on base and a great segue.
If you think debuting Architect out of a segue was ballsy, how about dropping a cover of The Apples in Stereo‘s song, Energy. The upbeat and poppy song was really well played and I prefer it over Golden Age because Trey doesn’t have to strain his entire body to sing it–and he’s able to sing this. It also has potential to be a new jam song because of its open-ended nature.
Energy flows right into Light (appropriately) and if 2012 lights have told you anything, it’s that Light is the new JAM. Every single 2012 version of Light is worth listening to again, each completely original from each other. There’s been lots of talk about how good this Light is; it’s really good. Some, riding the high of the fantastic version will try to stack it up to Dick’s Light from 2013…don’t buy into it. This Light is SICK, but it’s not the monster of a masterpiece that is the Dick’s Light. I’m only mentioning this to make sure the Dick’s Light is not tarnished by people that can’t think straight right after a good show. This jam segues nicely right into Mango Song.
The snarling 46 Days that follows is fantastic. It features some wicked summer rock that will make you sweat before sinking into an odd funk jam that is punctuated by Trey actually using his WAH PEDAL! This 46 Days segued in unbelievable, jaw-dropping fashion into the best Steam to date. Steam finally is breaking out of its shell with this version. The psychedelic rock jam that this version contains left me drooling to see this song again, and again, and again. Please don’t make it scarce this year, Phish! The Slave that closed Friday night’s second set is one of the best Slaves of 3.0 and stands up with some of the best. Each note is placed perfectly and Trey doesn’t rush to the peak, he let the climax build organically and I’m quite pleased with the inspiring results.
There are a lot of highlights from the run, many of them hidden in what most people brush off as first-set filler songs. The Back on the Train, Cities, Moma, Maze (listen for Trey’s short reggae groove during Page’s solo), Limb by Limb, Tube (first jammed-out version since Star Lake 2009?), Heavy Things, Bug (first first-set appearance since 2000?), and Birds of a Feather (wicked). You must listen to each entire show from this tour-opening run to really understand how great the band is playing together this summer so far. Perhaps Fishman being closer to Mike and Trey is helping their chemistry.
Let’s see what Canada holds for us tonight!
Also, it’s good to be back writing again after OPT was essentially dead for a few months.