Phish returned to Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre for the second time ever to play a beautiful concert that had everyone dancing from start to finish. The first set was dotted with its own highlights before the band came out under the stars to play a nearly seamless second set full of jams that sound like they were plucked out of 1999 because of the tone, style, and the spacey-rock qualities of various jams.
Starting the night with a rare Gumbo opener–extra mustard included–the band kept things interesting with a solid KDF and a BOTT that featured guitar soloing beyond the typical for the song. Trey seems to be experimenting not only with what guitar he’s using lately but also with his tones and soloing styles. He has shown impressive command of his instruments this summer so far and last night was no different. The command of Trey’s guitar was highlighted in the set’s anchoring song: Divided Sky.
The last time Phish played Divided Sky was in Texas last week and the entire song seemed subdued, slow, and lacking teeth…last night was different. Trey’s chops were crisp, refreshing, and exciting. Trey holds a couple of particularly long notes going into the end of the jam that is reminiscent of early-90’s Divideds. After Divided Sky, the band attempted to play a MGB song…attempted. I’ll be the first to say that I hope they never play The Last Step again. The band sounded like a group of middle schoolers trying to play a song for the first time. Awkward singing and disjointed instrumentals in the beginning made this already boring song worse. A hot 46 Days closed the set.
But the second set is really where stars aligned, even though there’s no stand-out, banner highlights like we had in Nashville. The entire set just has this relaxed and comfortable style of playing, purposeful yet slightly ambient, psychedelic guitar but grounded in classic rock tones, no massive peaks but rather large plateaus of full-band improvisation. Starting with Jibboo, the band kicked things off with some sexy digital delay loops–WHY are they not the old-school “infinite” loops that used to lace psychedelic funk jams in the late 90’s though?! They just quickly fade away after Trey sets them now. But despite my bitching over technicalities of Trey’s digital delay loops, The band put forth a reflective and beautiful jam that sounded beautifully appropriate for a place named “starlight”. The moving jam drew eyes upwards as people lost themselves in the swirling improvisation that makes me feel like I’m home with the band that I’ve grown up on. Damn, that got pretty deep.
Moving onto the next song with open-water jamming territory, Twist’s composed section features prominent, slightly distorted guitar playing. The jam starts with Trey and Mike trading off lines of licks in a slow manner before the jam slowly builds to a psychedelic blues peak–I like how often I’m using the world “psychedelic” in this post. The blistering hot acid-rock peak left faces melted as the song came to a close before a mid-set Wedge.
People thinking that Phish was just going to finish the rest of the second set with a series of short filler songs would be wrong last night–something I’ve been harping on them about this tour–because they dropped a mid-second-set DwD spanning over 20-minutes! This is the second show in a row where the band offered a nicely balanced second set (not “top heavy” with one or two big jam songs and little improv the rest of the set). The best adjective I can offer for this jam is, again, “comfortable”. So much of the 3.0 era, we have witness a Trey that was anxious or seemingly uncomfortable. Last night he seemed so perfectly at peace playing within the safety of his three other bandmates. Disease started patient and thoughtful with beautiful leads on guitar, again, perfect for dancing under the stars. The jam slowly built with a series of powerful rolls from Fishman to a white-hot rock peak.
The Sand that followed featured some trippy jamming that was so thick you could cut it with a knife, I could have listened to this Sand for an hour, especially provided I had the proper spirits in hand. But they had to keep it short because there was still a YEM they were keeping in their back pocket to close the set. YEM started out with a driving rhythem before the drums and piano stopped for a prolonged Trey/Mike breakdown. After Fish and Page came back in, Trey and Mike took turns mimicking each other through. The theme of Fishman stopping for Mike and Trey continued throughout the unique jam.
Last night is just another concert in a string of concerts that shows Phish to be hitting their stride just in time for the string of shows this weekend at Blossom and Alpine Valley, the excitement is palpable.