SPAC I – No Cover in Sight

SPAC 1 2014 | @franklinstowr

Phish delivered a solid show on the eve of Independence Day at SPAC after waiting out the passing storms. After interests were piqued by the Great Woods and Jazzfest shows not containing any covers, Phish took the stage at about twenty after eight and again played only Phish originals. I don’t even know how to look into when the last time, if ever, three consecutive Phish shows have not contained any covers. Will this be this tour’s ‘thing’? Considering many of their most regularly rotated songs are covers it may prove difficult to accomplish.

Both sets presented different flavors for the phans in attendance in NY and on their couches; the first set was notably subdued, clam, and a song-driven effort whereas the second set offered three instances of Type II jamming and unfinished songs. Two themes remained constant throughout the entire concert: how well the band is playing together and Trey’s wonderful sound (I love that he dropped the Ocedoc again).

The band threw everyone a curveball when they opened the show with Farmhouse for the first time since 12/7/99 in Maine. Some people joked about them being nice enough to give everyone a few more minutes to piss before getting to their seats but I thought it was an interesting choice to open the show with. Wolfman’s Brother found it’s usual 3.0 voice before moving to an early and energetic Maze. Following Maze we found ourselves in a string of non-highlights: Yarmouth, Strange Design, Devotion to a Dream, Ocelot, CDT, Mound, Roggae, and Possum. OPT writer Guy Forget summed up the collective sentiment well with this tweet:

There’s no doubt that if I saw these songs on paper I’d probably skip over the set, however there’s something important in these songs. I’ll turn to another Guy tweet before you all start sending him DMs about how he sucks at Phish:

Trey was playing with some real soul. With every tour that passes from 2009, he has become more thoughtful with his note placement–some of those early tours he was straight up jarring sometimes–the fact that he dropped the unforgiving Ocedoc certainly helps too. The Koa Languedoc doesn’t allow flubs to be so screechingly obvious, it’s much better rounded in its tone. Fishman should also be commended for how incredibly tight he was playing last night…and Mike for his incredible sense of fashion. Seriously, Mike looked like a damn runway model last night!

SPAC I 2014 | @thisweekonlot

When the opening notes to Bathtub Gin quietly began the second set, all the people that were joking about the first set being a huge piss break were collectively shitting their pants. The last second-set Gin was at Deer Creek in 2012 and the last Gin that opened a second set was 11/20/98! I’d put Gin right up there with Wolfman’s with songs I want to see return to their jammy glory. When Trey blew past the song’s natural place to close and sunk into Type II territory with some wah effects I was thinking to myself  “HERE. WE. GO.” The jam got quieter and softer with every second that passed and I was wondering if this was fading away or getting set up for a big jam. When Limb by Limb started I think I can speak for everyone that it was incredibly disappointing. Phish wasn’t done just yet though.

It’s hard to keep in mind, especially in a seemingly formulaic era as far as set structure, that anything can happen at a Phish show. There can be a jam anywhere. Tonight’s show highlight came in the middle of a second set unfinished Limb. Trey navigated the music away from its typical structure and into another Type II jam. The jam was unlike the popular 8/28/12 in St. Louis in that it wasn’t the ‘plinko’ style of jamming but rather some old-school improvised listening to each other. Trey and the other built off a few little patterns between the front three and found some new places within the song before working its way delicately into the new ballad Winter Queen.

Made by @davidbowieUB40. OPT's official new meme creator.

After their new hit single, The Line, which is apparently about Shaq or something, came what everyone was calling. Tweezer featured a swanky pre-jam Trey. Giddy with excitement, this guitar-led jam is short but focused. It will likely be forgotten by the end of tour but it fit the bill just fine for last night’s show when there was something more going on between the quality of playing and the overall fun the band was having. After a Caspian and an oddly placed Sparkle, Antelope closed the set. Sing Monica lightened up the mood one final time before the obligatory Tweeprize closed the evening out.

If there’s anything to take from this show, it’s the following: Phish is playing more thoughtfully and together than any other time in 3.0. We have found ourselves at a great time in this era because we have the combination of seasoned Phish (which comes with consecutive touring years), and Phish that has been spending lots of off-tour time practicing and playing songs together (for Fuego). They are playing as comfortably as possible right now and these first two shows have shown us they are incredibly balanced. They can play ballads, short rock songs, or unusual Type II jams all with ease, soulfulness, and beauty.

Let’s see what the do for the fourth and let’s see how long they can hold out playing any covers! If less covers means them having to stretch out Phish songs that are otherwise not improvised, I’m fine with that!