There is much less debate over the quality of Mann’s second night than there was over the first. Following a night that some considered an experiment in free form improvisation while others considered it aimless and dull, Phish cranked their energy up to 10 to put together a high-octane show that had something for everyone. Some are saying the coverless streak is over–despite it “always being Crosseyed in Philadelphia”, this is simply NOT THE CASE! I’ll explain shortly.
The fourth Glide of 3.0 opened the show. Only Coventry can make last night’s attempt look good. Despite it being a great opener, Trey struggled through some sections. Fish jokingly shouted “GOOD NIGHT EVERYBODY!” after playing it as if now the show’s over. I think we should switch from Page being the main crowd-talker of the past year to Fishman. Might be entertaining. Sing Monica followed and really fit nicely in this slot. It’s well suited to being in a first set with its relative shortness and high, poppy energy. The part where Trey comes screaming back into the music after the little ‘acappella’ section is one of my favorite parts of the new album songs too.
Birds of a Feather didn’t start quite as tight as the last time they played it (which was about as perfectly played as I’ve ever heard it), but the rock jam was quick-to-the-punch and super tight. One part even sounds like Trey threw in a slight Peaches en Regalia tease. It seems like the band isn’t sure what to do with this song. If it’s a second set opener, a closer, a jam song, or a short first set rocker. It’s perfect no matter where they place it because it’s a fantastic a versatile vessel though.
Now for one of my personal gems from last night–Wolfman’s Brother. Many will scoff suggesting it’s just another short first set Wolfman’s perhaps pointing out that it’s actually shorter than most recent versions. But this version in fact highlights a new shift in Phish’s jamming.
From 2009 through much of last year, the band relied on two main forms of jamming: ‘plinko’ and cracked-out sounding funk. Both often used Mike’s ‘envelope filter’ which makes what many can recognize in his playing during 3.0 Boogie on Reggae Womans and in a lot of Bass & Drum sections. This pedal’s effects would often surface in 3.0 Wolfman’s Brothers. Last night he played the song in a more classical manner. He relied more on his slap-funk techniques throughout the jam, much like he did in most 1.0 Wolfman’s, especially ’97 and later. A good example from 2.0 would be Alpine 2003. Listen and it will take you back to how Mike originally jammed. Between that, Fishman’s stripped down kit this tour, and Trey’s rekindled passion for the Koa Languedoc it appears Phish is trying to mix the best of what they have learned in 3.0 with reliable techniques and instruments from yester-eras. “Rory, you’re being seriously nerdy. This Wolfman’s was a short, basic version…nothing like a 26-minute Fuego.” I know, I SUCK at Phish.
I may suck at Phish but Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish also suck at Phish because they played Sugar Shack and Alaska back-to-back. Ouch. Here is the silver lining: Sugar Shack was actually listenable. Trey obviously has been practicing his chops in recent tours and because of the new album because he didn’t stumble all over the needlessly odd notes of this childish song. The fact that he could play the song well shows both Trey’s recent dedication to the band and shows that he CAN play it when he wants to. Then they played Alaska–the only silver lining with that is that it didn’t fall in the middle of a hot second set.
McGrupp was the fine rug that held the set together. Page took some beautiful leads with Trey providing perfect rhythmic support behind him. The entire song was played quite well and really makes one yearn for some more Gamehendge tunes like Tela and Lizards to surface soon.
A solid Devotion to a Dream set up yet another Horse-less Silent in the Morning, perfectly played and placed, before one of the better 3.0 Antelopes. Many Antelopes from the era are aimless rock for the sake of playing fast high notes (not always well) on the guitar. This Antelope featured some thoughtful leads from Trey, obviously searching for a direction into the inevitable climax of the song. For a while Trey found this sort of pulsing trance between him and the rest of the band before entering the trilling that would climb to the top of the jam. Before the “rye rye Rocco” segment, Trey even steps on his wah pedal for some light funk along with some other badass FX.
So here we sit, halfway through the concert with a very solid, exciting set in the books. Everyone knew that we were likely in for some extended improvisation at some point considering how every other show this tour has played out, the only question was, where? When CDT opened the second set no one knew if it would serve as a sort of energetic jolt before getting into the meat of the set (even though CDT is seemingly being played slower and slower in tempo every time I hear it) like 46 Days was the night before, or if it would be one of the show’s headliners. The latter proved affirmative.
The CDT was unfinished and stretched to about 17-minutes. Starting out solid, everyone in the crowd sort of smiled and nodded at each other once Fish and Mike took the CDT beat out a measure or two past what’s normal in the typical jam–this one was going to be a jam. Soon, as Trey starts becoming an afterthought, Mike steps on some ridiculous pedals (envelope filter being one of them I believe) and Trey comes back in noodling over the top of this odd spacey sound. Fishman’s backbone of a beat evolved slowly into a “roll-centric” beat, filling lots of holes with funky rolling. Eventually Page picked up on one of Trey’s licks which helps him get in the jam and it evolved from there. There are different segments in this jam and all segments feature excellent full-band listening. The jam had more of a direction from the night before however it’s not an automatic that it’s any better. Both second-set jams have different strengths and weaknesses and it’s a beautiful thing they put both on display on the same stage for us to analyze.
Serving as an absolutely beautiful landing pad, Wingsuit may have found it’s calling (we need to determine this soon or it’s going to end up a lost soul like Number Line!). The cushion it provided to the bone-crushing jam was delicate and perfect. It’s so glorious when they find awesome roles like this for new songs, it feels so unarguably FRESH! This Wingsuit was a couple minutes longer than previous and boasted that snarling rock that we’ve grown to enjoy so much in songs like this and Stealing Time.
Before the tour’s second Twist, we got to listen to Trey sighing over not controlling the skies–sounds like TAB material to me. The Twist again hosted a jam with Trey dropping back a bit to give the rest of the band a chance to find itself. The jam is short but energetic like the rest of the show and fit flawlessly in its position here. The rock improv is gritty and tight before putting a bow on the song by finishing it nicely and snapping into CROSSEYED AND PAINLESS.
Okay. I know I was able to flawlessly explain away the Star Spangled Banner and 2001 covers in this coverless summer we’re having and here we go for Crosseyed and Sneakin’ Sally. One thing our very own Guy Forget pointed out last night:
— Guy Forget (@GuyForgetOPT) July 10, 2014
This is a great point…it WASN’T over 10 minutes…more of an extended tease. Same with the Sneakin’ Sally that ended the set. It was great but more of a little taste of what we’re missing this tour, not the full meal. Therefore we still have a coverless tour. They were prodding us by briefly playing two of their best covers–those guys!
When Crosseyed did start up we heard the loudest cheering of the night though (all the phans that thought Phish was actually breaking the streak).
The following Waste was sort of like telling phans “you’re wasting your time for thinking we have broken our coverless streak”. Also this Waste was played the way it should be, with an emotional guitar solo. Perfect for a watery-eyed reflection for how beautiful Phish can be.
The sentimentality was quickly shaken off once the opening riffs of Mike’s Song rang out. Good things normally follow a late Mike’s Song and last night was no different. The jam started off normal, with a cool Wingsuit tease from Trey before bringing the song to a rocking finish. The Sneakin’ Sally that followed was the first time the song has every directly followed Mike’s Song. It’s a short version of Sally but energetic and fun. In fact, the entire show is energetic and fun. The only real extended improv might be in just one song, but every song had something different to contribute to this great show.
With that, the band left the stage, leaving people to wonder if Weekapaug would be dismissed, like at Festival 8, or if they would encore with it. Julius started the encore, a very short version but more interesting than most takes on the song. It featured Trey doing some rhythmic bluesy strumming while Page soloed on his organ. On cue, Page switched to the baby grand and Trey came ripping back in for the typical Julius solo before going into the fifth Weekapaug Groove in an encore of all time. Out of the gates, there were a few breakdowns with Mike stepping on various pedals and Page blowin’ up. Some parts sound similar to the Gorge ’97′s Paug. There are various stop/starts before coming to a blistering Weekapaug close.
This show had precision playing, jams, great song placement, great song selection, jokes, and energy. It was the real deal! Now let’s look forward to what Randall’s has in store for us. I’m picturing it like Bader Field–which would be a good thing!