Well that was fun. I’m going to try to review every show this summer. But, first a disclaimer: I will not be at most of these shows (CMAC and MPP2 is what I’m hittin’). I don’t have the money, time, or family relations that allow me to go on ‘terr’, but I do think, as a lover of the Phish for two decades, I can “say something” about the music in itself (whether via streams or after the fact). Some of you only want perspectives from people who were there — that’s fine. I also should say it will be difficult for me to really review every show. I’ll try, but I might end up reviewing ‘runs’ at some points.
Onto the music! As expected, the first set brought us a Fuego-heavy selection. I think the interesting question will be how soon some of these songs will be repeated at SPAC. I would not be surprised if some of them show up again Friday.
The opener (that song we all want to guess) was “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan.” I have to admit — I do not care for this song. As sacrilegious as it might sound, I usually do not like Trey “wailing” high bluesy licks on his guitar (I was delighted to get some credence for such a view with @jbolognino’s statement on the recent @hfpod “I don’t like guitars”). This song’s first lick announces that Trey’s “wail” will be the flavor of the song, and that is what you get. That said, it’s high energy and a fine opener for that reason.
Next up was “Fuego”. Immediately, the interwebs interjected to say, “Wait, where’s my set 2/first quarter placement, brah?” For reasons unknown, most people have assumed that Fuego will be the next “big” type ii jam vehicle for 2014 Phish. This is despite the fact that the first two versions on the 31st of October and December did not contain exploratory jams. In my view, this song feels like it will be a “Pebbles & Marbles” or “Walls of the Cave” that is long and has some different composed sections — but usually stays in its structure jam wise (2.0 had some exceptional “Walls” though). The main reason that Fuego does not foretell exploratory jamming is that it actually has two jams that precede composed sections. Most “type ii” vehicles will go into a jam section that needn’t finish (think “Light” or “Ghost”). The first section in “Fuego” certainly precedes a lot of composed vocal material (“Diego!!”), but the second jam section which is just over the main chord vamp of the song also precedes a relatively intricate (and delightful) piano-based outro to the song. The jam has to resolve to that outro. Now, maybe “Fuego” will become the next DWD and “unfinished” will be the norm, but we should not expect this at this point. ANYWAY, this version was really well played and included the “viking warrior” lyrics that showed up on the record — and Trey even quoted the melody of said lyrics right into the “second” jam (not that second jam) of Fuego. Trey’s solo on the second jam was really spacious and melodic.
Next up was a “Back on the Train” that can only be described as tasteful. A couple things off that bat (1) It was up tempo (as were several songs throughout the night) (2) It started with the full band rather than Trey simply playing that first F9 chord alone and the band coming in behind him. I wonder if Fish told Trey he was getting tired of the slow tempoed “BOTT” and asked if he could establish the tempo himself. Whatever the reason, this version sounded fresh. The jam did not contain the normal blues build, but was almost jazzy with Trey playing a lot of ‘octave’ style chordal phrasing with odd rhythmic flavors. The song ended with Trey playing that F9 chord in a menacing fashion (very different than the normal rhythm) that drove the song into a climatic ending. I loved this version (and I usually am “meh” about this song).
“Halfway to the Moon” is the odd song on Fuego. Debuted in 2010 (!) it is the only song that wasn’t debuted in the “Wingsuit” set on 10/31. In any case, it is always nice to get a Page song on a Phish record and this one is great. It features this eerie sounding jam that is open and spacious.
“The Wedge” is a good old Phish song. Not much else to say.
“555" is a funky little number that sounds like a lot of Mike’s funky little numbers written with Scott Murawski. It features a wah-inflected Trey solo. It sounds like it could go type ii some day, but for some reason Mike’s songs (even his song) usually aren’t the big jam vehicles these days. Anyway, it’s a fun set 1 song.
“Stash” was the undisputed highlight of the set. The jam was not overly long, but developed a stunning transition into major-key territory (like MPP’s version last year). Very quickly, Trey repeated beautifully hypnotic lines and Page absolutely went off on the baby grand. The result: a melodic mush of piano and guitar. At one point, Trey just plays and sustains one note over and over, and the crowd erupted in glee: Phish had already found “the hose” mid first set, first show of tour. This was not only “bliss” Phish, but had this hypnotic or eerie flavor to it as well. The jam seamlessly transitioned back to the D minor Stash ending.
“Bouncing Around the Room” is a classic Phish song. Don’t hate it.
I much prefer a (non jammed out) “Birds of a Feather” in the first set than the second (as someone who witnessed 7/25/99 I always feel like Birds is best allowed to fly into type ii territory). This was well-placed. In a set that hadn’t featured much Trey peak guitar work, this actually was a nice release of energy.
Boy, Bob Ezrin’s produciton work on Fuego might just be summed up in one song: the transformed “Wingsuit”. The Pink Floyd-esque soaring (I mean soaring!) solo that emerges out of the end is simply breathtaking. Even though the song “closed” the record, I was first surprised to see it in the “set closer” spot at a live show. But, it actually makes sense because of that solo. Wow.
Set 2 — Well, when the opening riff of “Mike’s Song” erupted, everyone in Mansfield and on the internet held their collective breath for the “second jam” that now at least Fish and Trey are aware the fanbase is clamoring for (my favorite line was when @heyscottyb asked @drewphish to, “hold me”). OK, so the “second jam” did not happen (in my view, once they play the 3rd of 4 DEF#m power chords, it signals the song will go into the chromatic ending — mid-90s second jams were preceded by only 2 rounds of the power chords). What was lost in the disappointment, was that the “first” Mike’s jam was really quite nice. Out of the gate, Trey establishes some funky rhythm chords, and the subsequent solo was very patient and even veered the jam off ‘normal’ territory for a couple ephemeral moments. What, I wonder, would people say if this “first jam” went into type ii territory and didn’t “finish” Mike’s proper. Would that satisfy folks? Or, do people really need those power chords and the key change to “F” to be satisfied? What I would like is to see “Mike’s” return as an exploratory jam vehicle in any form. As Fishman seemed to hint, counting the jams doesn’t matter much to the band.
When the opening riff of “Simple” rang out, people thought they were being “trolled”. But, as @heyscottyb pointed out, this was the 50th time (!) “Simple” has followed “Mike’s Song.” No surprise, and probably no attempt to “troll.” This “Simple” featured a cool “Magilla” tease from Page, and the normal gorgeous solo over alternating Bb and F chords — the way Mike drives this jam is under-appreciated. His bass work is so melodious. Near the end, it came ever-so close to launching into one of those type ii legendary “Simples” (in 3.0, see 8/6/10, 1/1/11 and 6/23/12), but, alas, it was not to be.
“Free”, like BDTNL, is a “ripchord” song. When its not oddly opening a show, it usually comes in a second set. And, it usually comes out of an ambient, abstract soundscape that sounds “close” to going into a type ii direction. For this reason, I usually greet this song with disdain. It’s a great song, with a cool bass solo. But, I’m over it (unlike 95 versions it is virtually identical every time out).
After “Free” the band took a long break to converse. Something you don’t see often in the middle of a supposed “Mike’s Groove.” The break was probably to set up “Waiting All Night.” I hope some day this song will emerge out of a jam with a true “segue” (I think “Wingsuit” could do this too). But, for now, it’s a really nice song and was nicely placed in this set.
“Ghost” came next. Talk about perfect placement. After the type i “Mike’s Song” and the aborted “Simple” jaded vets like myself were probably starting to wonder if any exploratory jamming would happen this set. The best was yet to come. This “Ghost” is top notch. It not only features ethereal and hypnotic jamming over the Am chord in the first part of the jam, but the “peak” over the D major chord was stunning and gorgeous hose music. Some remarked that it was similar to the “Holy Ghost” from 12/31/10. In truth, it is quite normal for Ghost jams to transition into that D major ‘bliss’ territory (for another example check out Asheville 09). But, not every version, locks into the type of peak and celebratory phrasing — 12/31/10 and 7/1/14 stand above on that front. My only complaint with this jam is that perhaps they did not hang out long enough in this gorgeous “peak” — overall the song was under 10 minutes. Quickly, Fishman picked up the tempo and the band seamlessly transitioned into “Weekapaug Groove” (anticipating the D major bliss section, I wondered if this segue would happen before since ‘Paug is in D as well).
This was a standard awesome “Weekapaug” featuring the soaring melodic solos from Trey, some breakdown “funk” sections (the second of which had Fishman go off the hook over an echoplex chord vamp), and back to the soaring solo to end it.
“Harry Hood” came in is normal end-of-Set-2 placement, but this version was far from ‘normal’. First of all, Fishman played the intro on his high hat (rather than his resonant toms). What is up with that? Anyway, we as Phish fans tend to “fetishize” the type ii versions of songs that normally stay within a particular structure. Hood almost always sticks to its DAG chord progression and Dmajor bliss-peak. As @waxbanks just reviewed, it seldom goes “type ii” — with the “Hollywood Hood” being the latest example. But, just because a song goes type ii when it shouldn’t does not mean it is a good version. For that, the jam actually has to go somewhere interesting. I personally think that the Hollywood Hood was overrated and I didn’t particularly care for the jam itself — it covered some cliche blues-rock vamps and awkwardly led back into the Hood peak. Now, this Hood. That’s a different story. Right out of the gate, Trey played this menacing lick (it sounds like the chirping of some insect) that often signals he wants to do something different to a jam (see, 8/28/12 Limb for another example). He then let out a whale call, before playing some rich melodic lines that were not in that D major structure we might expect. The jam morphed into the vast wide open terrain with Trey playing some subtle chords and arpeggios. Again, the overall feel of this jam is hypnotic with Trey often repeating lines that lead to rich textures provided by Page and Mike underneath. Once the hypnotic texture is established Trey will slightly morph the melody and layer other lines upon each other with his assorted pedals. As the jam got thicker, Trey had several lines looping at once. After this loopy section, he started playing rhythm chords again — signaling a groove-orientation not common to Hood jams. As the jam, got more rhythmic, Page and Mike layer the groove perfectly. Then, as Trey starts playing melodies again you think Hood is about to return, but once again, he starts looping and repeating these hypnotic lines and Page is playing some sick clavinet over a groove that refuses to die. Finally, the jam found its way back to those DAG chords and Trey offered a melodic peak that every Hood deserves (no machine gun ‘94 like Hood peak, but nice nonetheless). The amount of musical territory and communication between the band members in this version of Hood was truly remarkable. I think it easily can be called the best Hood of 3.0 (better than 12/28/10 and 8/5/13). And, this was only the first night of tour.
“Cavern” and “Julius” were appropriate high energy rockers to end the night and Phish met the 11pm curfew. Overall, I feel like the jams — whether the Stash, end of Simple, or the Hood — featured what I would call “hypnotic bliss”. This is not just melodic, “pretty” jamming that we love from the band, but also featured eerie sound-textures and repetitive looping of melodic ideas. The highlight was Hood and to be honest it sounds like the band is still breaking new improvisational ground. This foreshadows a good summer ahead!