Tour Opener: Back After 16 Years

Tour openers are unpredictable, they can be hit or miss–will the band dive head-first into the excitement of the tour or will they play it safe, focusing on the essentials to get their feet wet in order to have a good foundation to build off of? Last night fell somewhere in between and at points it was difficult to decipher if it was a Phish concert or Dolly Parton concert due to how BUSTY it was. Yes, that hilarious joke is referencing some of the large bustouts that occurred last night expanding the average song gap to 84.44 according to JamBase.

The show featured a healthy sounding band. Trey’s tone was dialed in and his dexterity was as good as it comes in 3.0. Page’s playing and volume in the mix was prominent and Mike brought his A-game. Also headlining the tour opener was Kuroda’s new lighting rig. The new lights are unlike anything he has used before. Half of the rig is video-like LED panels and the other half is a more typically-designed rig. Sure, sometimes it seems like the band is trapped in a WinAmp player, but overall it worked very well. It but it gave concertgoers the warm and fuzzy feeling that Phish had just landed a spaceship in the middle of Minnesota.

*drools*
*drools* | Rene Huemer

The show was pretty undersold, leaving much of the upper sections empty, many of the amenities were newer and nice, and the temperature was dry and cool inside. Unfortunately, the entire place ran out of water by setbreak and wouldn’t serve tap water…when it’s your state’s first rodeo in 16 years, I guess you can’t get everything perfect.

Opening the show with a second-time-played “Pigtail” for the first time since 2010 (195 shows) was a fun way to start, Trey’s vocals notably better than their previous effort. After a cookie-cutter first set “Wolfman’s”, Trey howled out the beginning of “Daniel Saw the Stone” for the first time since 6/30/12 (140 shows). The next highlight of the set would also be the largest bustout and the coolest part of the night (for me), the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”. The last time The White Album song was played is when they covered the entire album on 10/31/94 (796 shows). As the soft, initial notes rang out from Trey’s Koa, many were in disbelief that they were actually going to play the iconic song, but when Page began singing the cheering came to a rumbling head. This also marks the largest bustout since the “Skin it Back” bustout at Jones Beach in 2012 (1,418 shows)!

Much of the upper bowl was empty
Much of the upper bowl was empty

Two songs later would come the next bustout: “Round Room”. The last time “Room” was played was at MSG on 1/1/11 (192 shows). The intro to the song was pretty and spacey, perfect for Kuroda’s new lights to set the mood with the indoor darkness. Then, another two songs later, the next bustout was “Uncle Pen”. “Uncle Pen” has always been a sort of barometer for me to assess where Trey is with his playing. “Pen”, along with some of their other bluegrass staples, are demanding, correctly played. That is, playing individual notes and licks behind the other instruments throughout the song rather than just relying on a few chords while the piano and bass take their turns in the spotlight. Trey played the song well–better than he did in 2.0 (where he relied on chords) and early 3.0. As mentioned above, Trey’s dexterity last night was promising and this is an example of it.

The “WoTC” closer highlighted the band’s tightness and Trey’s pristine tone–which cannot be said for other recent versions. “WoTC” can sometimes feature screechy over-ambitious guitar playing, but not last night. Excellent version.

After all the first-set bustouts, the best tweet of the night goes to David Steinberg
After all the first-set bustouts, the best tweet of the night goes to David Steinberg

The second set opened in truly menacing fashion with the band making eerie pre-song noises that had people thinking they were about to sink into a “Bowie” intro or perhaps “DwD”… but instead the notes of “Mike’s Song” rang out of the sonic quagmire calling some minds to the fact that tonight was the 22nd anniversary of the epic “Mike’s Song”-fueled set on June 22, 1994. On the minds of more people, though, was the likelihood of a ‘second jam’–something that has only happened twice recently, last year in Tennessee and Wisconsin. Alas, there would be no second jam after an otherwise solid “Mike’s” where Kuroda used his LED canvases to paint the mood before moving into the traditional “I Am Hydrogen” landing pad.

“Weekapaug” rounded out the classically formed Mike’s Groove featuring some of Mike’s most powerful slapping this side of the hiatus. In fact, the entire song featured a prominent Mike. While some of Cactus’ playing was understated, if you listen, he offers a beautiful and powerful notes in both supporting and leading roles–outstanding.

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Following the “Bouncing” that acted as a partition in the 90-minute, 11-song set, Trey scratched out the introductory notes to “Ghost”. As is said often on this site, I absolutely cannot stand the fact that some songs are not started how they should be started, “Ghost” being the biggest 3.0 offender. “Ghost” is meant to be slipped into. “Ghost” is meant to approach us and overcome us. “Ghost” loses so much bite when Trey just painfully scratches out some notes to it and lets the band catch on. Let Fish and Mike start it up quietly, I won’t even get on him about laying loops down first…

Anyway, “Ghost”… The jam proved to be rather solid if not ambitious. Driven primarily by the rhythm provided by the drums and bass, Trey opted for a mesmerizing style of playing before latching on to some darting leads and segueing nicely into “The Line”.

Simple popped up next featuring a short but rather beautiful, bulbous jam that wonderfully segued into the next bustout of the night, “I Found a Reason”. The last time this Velvet Underground song was played was 10/31/98 (493 shows) when they covered the entire Loaded album. The ballad was a beautiful and welcome slow song for the set.

Throwing any notion of coherent set structure to the wind, “No Men in No Man’s Land” started up. “NMINML” is becoming one of my favorite new songs. The peppy rhythm, Phish-y lyrics and openess to funk/rock jamming makes it a blast both live and on tape. Following the strong version which boasted explosive piano and guitar leads was another excellent slow song choice: “Billy Breathes”.

Then, since they obviously cannot end a set on “Billy Breathes”, “Bathtub Gin” started up, completely throwing expected song placement on its head. Phish has closed a second set with a “Bathtub Gin” only twice since 1989 before last night. The previous time was just last year on July 31 in Atlanta. The song which has mostly been kept on a leash in the first set since the band’s return in 2009, approached hose-like status by the end of the joyous, whirlwind jam. Unfortunately Trey truly pulls a ripcord just as the song starts soaring–likely because curfew was approaching. This was quite disappointing!

Everything about last night points to a ridiculously fun summer for the band and fans ahead. The band was polished, excited, and having fun.

See you at Wrigley!