Phish returned to the Santa Barbara Bowl for the first time since opening for Santana in 1992 which, according to Jambase, is the longest gap before returning to a venue ever. The very small venue generated a lot of buzz and tickets sold out immediately. Unfortunately, as is often the case in 3.0, the music did not match the hype.
The super-early 6pm ticket time led to the band coming out around 6:20. Some said there was a strict 10pm curfew (which is ridiculous for a Phish show), this probably helped east coast webcast sales. The uncovered venue is situated in the side of a hill with tiered general admission.
Phish opened up with Stash for the first time since 2003–something that’s fairly rare. Stash was also probably the best part of the entire first set. While it didn’t reach peaks that were exceptionally explosive, the tension created within the jam was smooth and exciting. The band then moved through a series of cookie-cutter, first-set songs that offered very little during the 77 minutes they were on stage.
Chalkdust Torture opened the second set with a jam that gave fans something they could sink their teeth into finally. CDT, while has had some great versions this year, seems to be falling into the stale characterization of a set II opener like DwD and Rock and Roll has at various parts of this era. Phish needs to really work at changing this concert structure up. First sets with straight-forward songs, second sets that have one of a few rotating set openers that are jammed. I know, I know, Phish “doesn’t owe [me] anything!!”, but comon–aren’t they sick of saying “I know! let’s open up with Down with Disease (or CDT) again!”.
Albeit my complaining the jam moved through a number of cohesive and dancable segments. There were a number of inspiring plateaus reached although there’s no specific part to point to as one highlight over another. The jam inevitably fizzles out just short of 17-minutes with rolling toms and a rising synth before finding the beginning of Ghost. Ghost was slow and dense. It moved in a linear fashion and took a while to find its place until it slipped into a dreamy segment with light guitar strumming and a playful keyboard.
After Birds and Wombat, Tweezer rang out and while fairly short, it found a powerful groove rooted in more simple strumming paired with matching keyboard playing all while Mike and Fish formed a driving rhythm as the spine. Trey went for an epic Julius segue, although not quite up to 7/13/94’s standards. The segue is interesting, no doubt, but not some seamless ‘butter’ segue that the “->” in the setlist might suggest to some. It definitely kept things interesting in the set.
A classic Piper > Wading combo emerged after Julius. Instead of this Piper roaring out of the gates with reckless abandon that so many do, Trey thoughtfully plays some thematic notes that, again, Page picks up on immediately. They both set a very contemplative mood moving forward into the jam–something not often seen in this song.
Overall, the show had a pretty bland first set with a completely standard second. The CDT, Ghost, Tweezer are all worth checking out but probably will be forgotten about by the weekend.