When you go to any rock concert and the lead vocalist comes to the microphone and says “wow, we love playing in [insert your city here]!!!” everyone cheers but no one really thinks their city is anything special despite this nice gesture. I’m starting to get that sense from Phish even if they aren’t aware of it. Trey’s insistence that he “loves” being back in Alabama throughout Friday and Saturday’s shows certainly wasn’t purposely insincere or sarcastic, even if some eyes rolled when he said they should really play down there more often, among other things. Immediately I thought about watching Trey talk about how excited he was to be back in Telluride in 2010 before we watched the most musically boring shows of the year. See, I wouldn’t second guess any of this–after all, Trey is always giddy–if it were not for the fact that the band seemingly has been “playing down” to small market cities compared to their big-city stops. Admittedly, Mr. Miner was the first to bring this idea to my attention and I was dismissive at first.
I pointed out that there were good small market shows in parts of NY State this year, pointed to Pine Knob in 2011, pointed to Alpine Valley and Deer Creek and so on. But when I look at the shows from this year’s Pine Knob, Orange Beach, last night, and some other smaller-town shows from last year, it does seem like there’s a pattern forming where the band plays almost festival-like shows. The music is good, the energy is high, but they are playing down to a fan that they think would rather hear their popular songs, big guitar riffs, cute lyrical references, and lots of songs packed back-to-back. As I thought about it more, I realized it’s by no means a perfect formula that all small market shows = TreyDD and little improvisational inspiration. Whatever formula is forming is more like: shows outside of the west coast & Northeast, non-Phishtorical venues (like Alpine/Deer Creek) that are single night stops often have a festival-set-like feel (see this year’s Jazz Fest).
Phish is also relying more and more on multi-night stops, “mini-runs”, back-to-back to make up the bulk of the tour. Each “mini-run” is looked at as a stand-alone stop to them, not repeating songs, the feeling that there’s more room for the music to breathe. Phish’s one-night tour stops on a cross-country trek are becoming extinct so when they do play a one nighter, they perhaps are more seeing it as them “throwing a bone” to the small-towners. They think the smaller markets might be more happy with seeing tons of Phish songs crammed into one show rather than just a solid, free-form, inspiring musical experience–not having it fall to the jaws of Trey’s over-thinking mind. Obviously aside from them being wrong about what most phans want, they are ignoring the fact that a lot of people travel from bigger markets to these smaller shows. They are creating a situation where people are only going to want to be a part of their two or three-night blowouts, where the sleeper show no longer exists, where a seemingly normal venue can no longer become magical (immediately 12/6/97 and 11/2/98 come to mind as I type this).
I might be totally wrong about this, but to those who ask, “what about previous 3.0 years”, I’d respond how Guy Forget responded to me yesterday: it wasn’t as noticeable because they were not as consistent in 09-12, with more crummy shows and more TreyDD. Even if there’s no small town pattern, there is without a doubt a new reliance on multi-night stands during tour. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s easier on the band and gives phans a better chance to see more shows without having to travel as far, but it also means they will be seeing small-market venues less and less since those areas cannot support the ticket sales multi-night stands require.
Moving onto the show, it was pretty boring, a dud. The entire first set had NO ALLIGATOR MOUTHS (note: this is being said with a tad of sarcasm). Despite the typically segue-less first set though, it was very vanilla. AC/DC Bag lacked any grit and Trey completely botched Poor Heart. Cities, like Curtis Loew from the night before, was simply Phish throwing Pelham a bone with the “Birmingham” reference, lacking any sort of jam afterwards. Reba was introduced as if the crowd never heard of the song (I know that wasn’t their intention in mentioning the song) and was completely standard. Possum was possibly the shortest version ever–in fact, there were a ton of extremely short versions of songs: AC/DC Bag <6, Reba <12, Possum <8, Mike’s Song <7, Simple <7, Weekapaug 5, Julius 7, Sand 9, YEM <20. Obviously quality is more important than quantity, pointing a jam isn’t 30 minutes is very unfair, however pointing out show consistently short songs are on a night shows just how little exploration at all occurred.
The crowd was excited for some patented 2014 second-set Phish when they opened up with Carini just before 10pm, the short amount of subdued improv led into a Trey-forced Ghost segue. Ghost is really the only place we’d see some decent jamming the whole night. Mike and Trey played off each other, notes circling before Fishman opened up his hi-hat and the jam moved in a more forceful direction, eventually plateauing nicely with the entire band. Then, oddly, Trey “teased” a sloppy Simple. It sounded more to me that he was considering moving right into Simple but then decided to start up Mike’s Song.
The short Mike’s featured Trey playing with his echo on various chords and notes. The Sand was guitar driven, more notes than chords, and after Wading in the Velvet Sea, YEM started up. However, this YEM couldn’t creatively compare to the other two exciting versions this year has seen so far. It feel pray to what most other 3.0 versions did: a complete lack of visions and just moving the jam linearly to the bass & drums section.
With everything said about one-city stops and small markets, I think Alpharetta tonight will be an exciting show. First, it’s basically Atlanta (a big market), second it’s on a Sunday night (they have been absolutely throwing down on Sundays this year), and finally it’s the final summer tour show (with a quick Dick’s run in a few weeks from now) that’s being webcast free–the entire show feels like an all-inclusive party.
What do you think about the small-market/single-night show theory? Am I just totally off base? Why?