Phish came into Philly on the heels of an exciting Fourth of July run at SPAC. The band took the stage at the storied venue for the first time since 1995 to a sell-out crowd. Although the ticket time was 7:30, the threat of storms pushed back the actual start until about 9:20. Those in attendance were wondering if the band would just do a big 2.5hr ‘festival set’ but they instead played an entire concert like champs and didn’t let out until after 12:30 in the morning. The concert boasted tight full-band playing of both composed and improvised sections alike. However, in comparison to the previous shows, some people feel it didn’t deliver quite as much. Let’s get into why that is and if it’s fair:
The first set indeed included some setlist gems. The energy of Axilla I matched the crowd’s excitement perfectly. The Gumbo was fantastic. It was a bit longer than most cookie-cutter versions with some heavy bass picking underneath some great baby grand/guitar licks swirling around before the entire band stopped on a dime and let Page pop onto the Moog for some funky keys–normally he’d close the song out with a ragtime-sounding piano solo. The song went into a very uneventful Taste albeit it being played very well.
555 emerged again, plotting its territory as a new first-set staple. This version has noticeably more swagger than the previous live versions we’ve seen, showing the band is really embracing it and digging into it. The perfectly placed Tube that followed also was a bit extended (for 3.0) clocking in at over six minutes. Mike has been moving away from his synthetic, filtered sound this tour it seems like. He was heavy on that synthy-“envelope filter” that we heard in a lot of Boogie Ons and a lot of Bass & Drums sections. It seems like he’s favoring his more traditional style of picking clean notes and slapping clean notes which we saw a lot more in the 90’s and most of 2.0. This playing style shines through in this version with Trey playing more of a supporting role during the improvisation.
I’m still not sold on Halfway to the Moon. I like that Page has a song that’s being played a lot but I just think it’s a boring song (I know I suck at Phish). The the always-standard Camel Walk we got text book renditions of Sparkle, Halley’s and It’s Ice. I’m still waiting for Ice to break out of the mole during it’s ‘funk’ section (see: early 90’s versions). The Ocelot, which many people dislike more than me, was well-played but uneventful. The Walls of the Cave showcased just how cleanly the band is playing together with a completely typical but fun peak to close out the first set. Most 3.0 versions of WOTC, I felt that Trey was scratching and piercing ears too much while he was trying to bring it to a peak–perhaps again this has to do with the fact he’s ditching the Ocedoc.
After a 20 minute setbreak, we were greeted with the first 46 Days set II opener since 6/17/04 in Brooklyn–over ten years. This had people excited, wondering if they were going to take this fantastic rock song out for a stroll once again. After a lively take on the song, it served a similar role to the Axilla I from a set before and teed up Fuego’s second extended take. This monster clocked in at over 26 minutes. The difference between last night’s and SPAC’s (20 minutes) is that the feelings surrounding Mann’s are different depending on who you ask. Some feel that it’s a slow aimless jam–jamming for the sake of jamming. Some found it to be quite engaging with different sections and different tempos. The jam is indeed pretty quiet and nearly ambient for much of the first half, but after Mike did kick on one of his filters, things started getting a bit more interesting. The jam became pretty psychedelic but was still bogged down in its slowness. Trey led the charge out of the idle tempo with some faster guitar playing that the entire band picked up on and soon Mike started playing a bass line that sounded quite similar to that in Cars, Trucks, Busses! This playing generated some general funk playing until the end. It might not have been the most exciting extended jam but it’s showing that they really are trying to take some improvisational risks again and that they want Fuego to be the new big jam.
After the cheese combo of The Line > Number Line, the crowd was treated a wailing rock version of Tweezer. Now, don’t get TOO excited over the “->” between Tweezer and Ghost. It indeed is a segue however it’s not the typical bass and drum lead-in that you’d expect from an open-ended Tweezer jam into a Ghost. Trey starts it awkwardly–something he’s been better about cutting down on this year but obviously he is still struggling with TreyDHD. He awkwardly scratched out the Ghost riffs while Mike and Fish attempt to keep the segue from being too abrupt. He even starts singing before Fishman is completely in the Ghost beat. I don’t want to make it seem like I dislike the transition, but it’s not as lovely as paper would suggest.
The Ghost jam is pretty solid in my opinion thought. Once the jam keeps rolling, Trey picks up on one of Page’s licks and begins rolling it into a frolicking series of licks, somewhat similar to the last Ghost we saw this tour–and similar to the style of the infamous NYE 10 version. It’s quite glorious once it all comes together. The song dissolved into the first cover (I’m not going to count the Star Spangled Banner) since Funky Bitch at Jazz Fest (so, two covers in nine shows I believe), 2001. I know I’m going to be rationalizing here but 2001 is HARDLY a cover anymore. It’s been taken so far away from its original composition in that the song is more improvisation than actual composed parts. It hardly ever even goes by its original name, Also Sprach Zarathustra. Even LivePhish labels it as its shorthand name, 2001 (which I assume is more to avoid paying for selling the track). So in my book the summer has still been COVERLESS! The jam is funky and quite danceable but nothing that stands out different from some of the more unique 2012 and 2013 versions.
The Harry Hood is unfortunately shadowed by its previous 19-minute version. The song was well played like most songs in this show but, again, nothing to write home about. The jam was very light at the beginning, very delicate, it featured a “Maria” tease from Trey before the jam started picking up. The end came quickly and was very basic.
In the end, there are some things worth listening to, mainly Gumbo, Walls of the Cave, Fuego, Tweezer and Ghost. Some of the other things that look good on paper didn’t impress past that. The concert stays with the common trait of this tour in that compsitions are being executed wonderfully and the band is playing improv perfectly together–even when what they are playing is aimless or quiet.
Let’s see what tonight brings us! If the concert is awesome, I already know what I’m going to title tomorrow’s review: MANN-O-MANN.