Never miss a Sunday show. It’s the mantra that we’ve heard repeated in our community for years. Is there any truth to it? We have yet to actually do some research on the topic (waiting for @guyforgetOPT to write that article). Last night, however, it was indeed true. Phish played the most exciting show not only of the three-night Chicago run, but also of at least the entire week. Phans that went home a day early to avoid taking off work Monday morning could only watch the webcast and hang their heads in shame. They were missing what dreams are made of.
Last night not only featured the run’s (and the week’s) most unique and interesting jamming in the second set, it has one of the more exciting first sets of this tour so far too. While the first set is indeed song-centered without extreme experimentation, it had some hotter playing and some fun antics. After opening with a great Gumbo > Jim (all three nights opened up with a funky number), the band dusted off the first Tela in a year.
Scent of a Mule has become a song that’s moved away from the truly wacky ‘Mule duels’ of eras ago, making the song kind of a setlist filler of nothing too exciting. 2013 came with Fishman’s Marimba and Mule became the song that he plays that for–like last year in Chicago. Obviously this begs the question why the hell Fishman like never plays the thing in other songs’ jams but that’s for another article. But this Mule decided to change things up. It starts out with Trey playing explosively, darting licks all over the place. It actually sounds like on a couple of occasions he’s signaling for the secret language to come out too. Once Fishman moved to the Marimba, each other member of the band came over to the kit for a full-band drum jam. While Fish was on the Marimba, it seemed like it was louder and more pronounced than before, heavier.
The Scent of a Mule put its mark on the Gin it popped right into also, there’s a huge Mule tease during Gin from Trey. This whole run they have been teasing things non-stop which is, I think, a sign of how comfortable everyone is–especially Trey. You need to be loose and creative to squeeze some of the teases we’ve been seeing into the spaces he’s putting them in. Gin absolutely rocked. It soared to glorious levels, perhaps foreshadowing what was to come in set two.
The band came back out, opening with their favorite opener ever: Down with Disease. The Disease wasn’t particularly memorable but not anything to go into real detail about. When it segued into Winterqueen after 13 minutes and Theme came out after that, a lot of people thought perhaps we were getting the TreyDHD type of set that we most glaringly saw in Detroit days earlier. The Winterqueen and Theme were quite pretty thanks to thoughtful guitar playing but sucked a lot of excitement out of a crowd trembling with explosive energy.
Mike’s Song rang out right after Theme and you could tell it was already much different than the lazy take on the song from DTE Energy Center’s says before. The guitar notes had bite to them again. There was an urgency and grit behind every note. Was there a ‘second jam’? Well of course not…well, kinda. But it Wedge came first.
Wedge quickly came out of the end of Mike’s kinda cementing in people’s heads that tonight was in fact going to be a song-based affair through the end of the set…after all, there wasn’t that much time left before the strict 11pm curfew. But then the reason we all chase Phish shows happened. Wedge went full Type-II out of nowhere. The jam moved through some spacey pockets, Mike flipping his envelope filter on. Everyone got locked into a throbbing pattern which is incredibly important for a Type-II jam to take off–they needed to create a new “base” to grow off of. Trey started up a chord progression that was soul searching and uplifting. The entire band latched on–kind of in the way they did towards the end of the glorious Hood jam from the night before. Fish switched back to the recognizable Wedge drumbeat during the jam too–it created quite the sound. While it was happening, a lot of people were claiming it was a “Paradise City” jam. It certainly does sound very very similar to Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” chord progression but it’s not quite paradise city. There’s at least one important chord missing in the progression to make it a real match. Also, it’s a pretty easy progression to stumble upon. I’d really have to be convinced before I would claim it was a jam based off that song. In fact, PhishNet has taken it down since last night too.
When the jam inevitably diluted down to ambiance, Trey directed the band back into the last few seconds of Wedge, completing the entire song. The crowd freaked. Wedge was the longest song of the night–the jam highlight of a show–wow. After a second of quiet, Trey started Ghost (I won’t complain about him starting Ghost again). The Ghost immidiately showcased an entire different style of jamming. The improvised section quickly goes into a space trance. It’s the perfect opportunity for Page to take over. Page tickled his baby grand, coming to a piano cresento before blending back into the rest of the band and morphing into a more rock groove that segued seamlessly into Weekapaug (which seems to be happening a lot lately!) The ‘Paug had a classing beginning once they transitioned over in that it featured a bass & drum intro with Mike slapping and Fish watching closely. The jam started quiet and built to a thunderous high before Trey led everyone back into Ghost! The entire band started playing it together, making hard to decide if the setlist should say it actually went back into Ghost or if it was just a huge band tease. Then, with Trey’s musical cue, Fishman switched the beat back to ‘Paugs and they were back in the Groove. Trey, not done with his musical acrobatics, laid a complete Stash lick, followed by Fish rolling on the low toms before snapping back into the Groove just one more time before closing with a lively First Tube.
The three nights in Chicago were a lot of fun and between the stellar music and perfect weather (opposite of last year), most everyone agrees that the weekend run was a success on all levels. The finale show just had a bit more mustard on it than the first two nights though. Last night was special. Last night Phish was honed in. Last night is the kind of show that pisses you off when you miss it, making you go out of your way for the next show that you probably shouldn’t go to but you just can’t bear missing. It’s why we travel to see Phish.
The band now has a much needed four-day break before returning to the East Coast. They have played excellent music this tour and deserve the break to re-calibrate and refresh. Let’s hope they continue the upward trajectory of this great tour in Charlotte!