Celebrating Phish’s Independence at SPAC

SPAC 2014 | @languagestrange Scott Harris Photo

Playing a whole weekend of Phish originals (save the customary acappella Star Spangled Banner), we celebrated our nation’s independence as Phish celebrated theirs. They are showing off just how much quality material they have to showcase without touching their normally common cover songs.

However, the fact that they are going coverless is simply a footnote on this fantastic run. They started off with a great show on Thursday night, which you can read about in our review here and things only got better Friday and Saturday. If the past weekend serves as any sort of a microcosm of the rest of tour, we’re in for quite a treat. Phish, even in overlooked songs like Crowd Control, is playing with a confidence and tightness we haven’t seen in a while–something you could see building over the last couple of years but perhaps locked in by playing together for their most recent album, Fuego, before tour.

After the Star Spangled Banner on Friday night, the band dropped into another great 555. The song is great in a first set and is already my favorite one of Mike’s songs (well, except for MIKE’S SONG of course). The song works so well for Phish (unlike some of his songs), it’s played with a solidness that’s thick enough to cut with a knife. I’m hoping the Giant Country Horns come out soon to play the horn parts heard on the album!

SPAC 2014 | AZN Photography

Another first set highlight is in the year’s first Reba. The jam featured one of the song’s most engaging guitar leads seen in 3.0. No more of the awkward peaks or screechy errors of early 3.0 (partially thanks to the Koa coming back!), Trey seems to be completely back in his own skin again. The song gave way to the second Waiting All Night of the tour, one of my favorite songs off the new album. I have said that WAN reminds me of a lost track from Story of the Ghost. The song is so unique and has so much potential with the dreamy emotions it evokes; however, I’d much rather see it be used as a jam’s landing pad, oasis in the middle of a jam, or simple an extended endeavor alone in itself. I feel so much of its potential is wasted by just playing it as another stand-alone first set song. That criticism being expressed, it’s a good version.

The 4th’s late first-set Melt highlighted the band’s psychedelic darkness which is typically much more engaging for those at the show than those listening to the recording in the following days. CK5’s lights are set up perfectly for consuming this song live with his ridiculous LED backdrops he’s been playing with. It’s truly and audio and visual experience.

It was only a matter of time until we got to see the band put some legs on one of their new songs. The first jammed out song from their new album was the disc’s title track, Fuego. I had been wondering since first hearing it if it would ever really be a jam song or if it would always be a mostly composed 10-minute song. My question was answered quickly as this version is about 20-minutes long! The jam starts at about 8-minutes and goes through a bit of a dreamy movement before the band finds common ground in Trey’s strumming that is patterned over the typical ending of the song. The first thought that arrived to me was how old Melt’s were jammed out, basing the jam around the song’s punctuated ending before actually ending the song. The jam featured Fishman rolling his low toms with every chord progression creating a sort of drawn out peak before slipping into a psychedelic fog which bred the beginning of the year’s first Down with Disease.

The DWD was exciting particularly because it didn’t follow the typical jam structure. Normally when the song is played in a second set we see Type-I rock jamming until about 10-minutes and then the band sinks down with Fish’s switch to the hi-hat to a more funky sort of playing. This time they took the song kind of back to the psychedelic nature that it the song originally evolved from in the set. Mike’s Modulus filled in the holes with bulbous licks over Fish’s evolving drum beat. At one point it sounded like they would be going into Queen’s “Under Pressure”. Trey locked the entire band in with a punctuated pattern of strumming to give the psychedelic sound structure. When the jam became more abstract to the point of almost a YEM vocal jam of them shushing into their mics, you could hear Fish popping his wood block which was perhaps his way of saying “time for Twist”.

Twist featured some more quality interplay between all band members that bordered on funky throughout before heading into Light–they really pulled out all the stops! The Light hit its stride with Fishman’s impressive rolling halfway through, then Mike blasted the crowd with some synthed-out bass–perhaps one of his pedal sounds? Trey started playing licks t hat sounded almost like his Close Encounters teases from Alpine in 2010’s Piper.

The set featured an upbeat and well played Number Line before closing with an energetic First Tube, a song normally reserved for the encore now, sending everyone into the night excited for what was to come on Saturday.

Saturday came with more highlights. The first set featured some well-played first set summer staples such as MFMF, Scent of a Mule (is Fish ever going to play his Marimba Lumina outside of that song?? Seems like such a waste!), Undermind, I Didn’t Know, Foam, Divided Sky, and Bowie. We got to hear the year’s first Wombat although it stayed to its script. Hopefully the next time they play it they open ‘er up a bit more. A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing was a welcome addition to the first set. Hopefully their focus on only playing Phish originals forces them to play more 2.0 gems like this!

After the band came out for the second set, everyone got pretty riled up when Trey played an obvious Carini lick that everyone heard–we knew what the band was about to play. The Carini is very different from the song’s jams of 2012 and 2013. It is subdued and understated. It’s delicate but confident with all members contributing equally at the same time. It really is a thing of beauty. Towards the end when it starts picking up its gait, Page plays some beautiful baby grand–something not often seen in a Carini! The Carini jam slipped perfectly in to Waves. The jam follows Carini’s understated beauty before dissolving into silence. Then Wingsuit starts. My first though was wow, how cool to have connected three songs from totally different eras so beautifully! 1.0 -> 2.0, 3.0. It’s so exciting seeing the band tie their legendary past to the present so well.

Wingsuit is really growing on me. At first I thought the lyrics were too hard to get past but now I really think the song is quite pretty. It’s also perfect head banging material when Trey comes back in, guns blazing, from the break at the end. That being said, I think the Great Woods is a bit stronger.

The Piper -> Fluffhead holds this second set together like a fine Persian rug. The 13+ minute Piper explored some really trippy pockets of rock. Again, I cannot emphasize just how confident the band has been sounding jams again–it’s enough to bring a tear to any phan’s eye. Also, most years you can kind of pick out different MVPs of tours or shows. This tour there seems to be on specific MVP, they are all playing in top-notch fashion side-by-side. Fishman’s rolls are tighter than ever, Mike’s been on an upward trajectory since 2009, Page is more prominent than ever, and Trey…Trey is playing with the clarity and confidence of the 90’s. This Piper showcases all that’s good with this run boiled down within its screamin’-hot jam! The song blends into the beginning of Fluffhead that reminded me of how they started Fluff out of the Pine Knob 2011 DWD.

7.5.14 | @markisss88

The year’s first Slave to the Traffic Light began and many phans’ ears perked up because this would be a perfect chance for Trey to highlight his new-found clarity and confidence with his Koa that we’ve been witnessing all weekend. This time the spotlight was on Trey. It reminded me a lot of the Reba from the night before. It came to a gorgeous peak. It’s not going to have the feverish sprints up and down the fretboard of the 90’s but it has inspired wailing that sounds like his Languedoc is shedding tears right along with everyone in attendance. Is it the best version ever? No. Was it played perfectly with incredibly emotion behind it? Yes. After such a sentimental rendition of the song, it was hard to transfer to what was one more highlight of the weekend: YEM.

You Enjoy Myself started like Hampton ’03’s…with Trey completely flubbing the intro. That’s fine though because it’s one of the best versions of 3.0. While most YEM’s of the current era are 18-19-minutes, this one got stretched to almost 23-minutes. The jam started with a clappable cadence as Mike and Trey soloed around each other while Page and Fish looked on. Then Fish came back in to provide a backbone quietly at first. Then Fishman faded away again to let the Q5 and the Koa (best friends) have more of a public conversation. With a duel solo peak, Fishman came throbbing back in and the jam got funky. Then Page started contributing lightly on the grand. The jam goes in and out of different throbbing sections. It’s a bit unique compared to most versions of the song–which is a good thing. The jam was becoming a big boiler plate in recent years. This one features some true improvisation. Every time it sounds like it’s about to go into the bass & drums section, it keeps going. When the B&D did finally come in, boy did it come in! Mike threw down on this one–it was reminiscent to the B&D from 10/22/96 that had a gorgeous bass peak. When it was all said and done, they closed out the run with a solid Suzy encore.

Here’s what I take away from SPAC. Phish is playing on the level worth traveling for again. Nearly all of 3.0, even 2012 and 2013, Phish was making some good music but it was becoming harder to justify traveling too far to see them with actual life taking place back home. They needed to provide a product that one literally wanted to “chase” and that’s seemingly what they’re doing right now. The way they are seguing songs again, they way they are playing as a unit, the way they are putting Type-II jams into songs that normally hardly even have a Type-I jam, they are beckoning the masses again to witness something you can’t get anywhere else in the universe. Trey seems to have found his home once again in Phish. It seems like for years he was delaying the inevitable with all his side projects that required more attention from him than Phish did. The making of the album Fuego changed that somehow (along with other factors of course). Phish is the greatest band ever.