The first show of the first tour of the year always comes loaded with questions: How, and how much, will the band jam? How long will it take them to find their rhythm? Summer 2014, coming on the heels of the release of Fuego, arrived with an extra slew of questions about where and how well the new songs would fit in.
On these fronts and more, all of the signs from last night’s tour opener at Great Woods are very encouraging. While the Fuego-oriented show included a few of the kinks you’d expect from the beginning of touring season, it also provided some fantastic glimpses of what might be to come.
The ten-song first set managed to squeeze in five tunes from the new album. “Fuego,” which some had expected as a second-set opener, fit comfortably into the first set’s no. 2 slot, building on “Stealing Time”‘s energy and setting up a crisp “Back on the Train.”
Train was the first of several jams in which Trey showed some extra creativity in his rhythm-guitar playing. Here, he used the Echoplex and Whammy pedals to create a cutting staccato before the jam came to a close.
The set’s clear highlight, though, was “Stash,” which found its way to a subdued, blissful jam before settling into the song’s final refrain.
“Wingsuit” closed the set ably. While the composed section was a bit rocky, the Trey-led jam helped to recast the song as much more than the come-down ballad some had initially foreseen following its Halloween debut. It will be interesting to see how the song progresses outside of this slot – an extended version, a la Reading’s “20 Years Later,” no longer seems out of the question.
The second set opened with “Mike’s Song” for the first time since 6/28/12. An average version quickly gave way to “Simple.”
The remainder of this “Mike’s”/”Weekapaug” sandwich featured efficient bits of improv with bite, but no explosiveness. In “Free,” Trey’s strumming again added great texture to the jam. The major-key switch in “Ghost”‘s jam had a bit of extra oomph, thanks to a solid minute in which it rode atop Fishman’s “Weekapaug” beat. And “Weekapaug” itself found Trey turning to his pedalboard, trying out some ideas that were quite interesting, if not revelatory.
The revelatory jam, though, was just to follow. While the set to that point felt safe, along the lines of April’s appearance at Jazzfest, the band took their hands off the steering wheel the moment the “Hood” jam began. What followed was an extended excursion that invites comparison with the great exploratory versions of the song.
Here’s the thing about this “Hood.” Sometimes, when you hear about a “great jam from last night,” what was “great” about it turns out to be that it was long and it was not bad. But this Hood is not just inoffensive. Quite the opposite. Tune the Live Phish version to 13:35. Trey’s riff is inspired and risky, and it sets the tone for the rest of the jam. The next two minutes morph constantly, hitting some wonderful moments along the way.
Is it as refined as the gems from the end of summer 2013? No. But it’s just as adventurous. And the fact that the band is comfortable enough to take an adventure this early in the tour should make you excited that they still have 24 shows to build on it.
The “Antelope” from last year’s summer opener in Bangor suggested great things were on the way, and sure enough, they were. Well, this “Hood” was even better than that “Antelope.” So strap on your seat belts.