As of 2015, a great Phish show can take countless forms. In their 31 years, the band has been through their funk phase, their hippified-hyperjazz phase, and a dozen others. Rather than shed their previous skins in favor of a new one, though, the band seems to have melded them all into one. The result? One night’s improvisatory highlight might be a psychedelic odyssey, while the next one is a cowfunk clinic, and the one after that, a face-melting shredfest.
The high point of Friday night’s show at AmericanAirlines Arena was a different kind of beast entirely. While the band spent much of the night in familiar waters, they took an old classic for a rare ride in the second set, unleashing a musical creation that was not quite like anything they’d ever done.
Things started off in safe territory, with a Free, Moma Dance, Possum combo that the band could’ve pulled off with a hand tied behind their back and a vacuum cleaner stuck to their faces. While the middle of the set — Roggae, Stash, Back on the Train — featured its best improvisation, none of the songs ventured far from its structure, and none was an all-time version. The back third of the set was adequately played, but the many fans who’d complained about Thursday’s show must have been wondering if, for a second straight day, their best moments were spent out on the beach.
But all the sun’s rays, cold beers and beach babes in Miami couldn’t beat this second set.
When Phish plays Mike’s Song > 46 Days > Weekapaug Groove and Mike’s is the lowlight, you know they’re onto something good. The opening tune was fairly solid, with some percussion pedal stomps from Trey yielding to a tasty Type 1 jam. 46 Days did its usual shreddy thing, but then dropped into a funk jam so dirty that I was sure it would ruin the dinner I was making while I watched.
But as great as 46 Days was, this groove was all about the Weekapaug. Things started to get interesting when the jam petered out and Trey circled behind the drum kit. He took to Fishman’s marimba lumina, coaxing some percussion and vibraphone-ish effects out of it. As things got spacey, Mike traded in his bass for Trey’s guitar, unleashing a flurry of atmospheric notes. The overall effect was something that sounded totally new. It was as if Pink Floyd were jamming, but with Aphex Twin on bass. Though the spontaneity was part of what made this great, the sonic creativity itself was something to behold — so much so that I hope the band will explore this instrumental formation again.
From there, the band transitioned from experimentation to raw energy. Fuego, Slave and 2001 all did what they were made to do — make the fans rage, smile, and dance, respectively — and little else. The arena was just about set on fire by Trey’s solo in the set-closing Walls of the Cave, one of the more blazing versions you’ll see.
So, to recap: Mike’s Song opener, big funk jam out of 46 Days, a Weekapaug Groove for the ages, and 4 of the better songs in the band’s repertoire to close. That’s a damn good recipe for a rock and roll show. The band has one night left in Miami, and once again, we have no idea what will make that one special.