What a difference a couple days off makes. As I discussed last time, Trey seemed really “off” on Saturday night at SPAC. It wasn’t just the flubs, but he was playing with a lack of confidence. Each note seemed uncertain and half-hearted. Well, I don’t know if he practiced like a madman on Sunday and Monday, or if he figured out some gear problems, or if he just took a different attitude/confidence to the stage, but he played great last night. He nailed hard composed sections like “It’s Ice” and displayed his remarkably diverse playing with swampy funk, shredding peaks, and laid back rhythm. The main thing is he played with confidence — his attack on the fretboard was assured and tasteful. Even if he made a mistake, he quickly recovered. But, enough about Trey (sorry, I’m a guitar player).
“Axilla" — Wonder if they’ll ever bring back “Part 2"? (see, Hoist). I was surprised to read this was the first Axilla opener since 7/18/2003. It is a perfect opener. High energy fun.
Next up was slowed down swampy “Gumbo.” When you slow the tempo there is always the danger it will drag. That was not the case with this version….Tight, cohesive bands can use a slowed down tempo to create space to fill with intricate fills and communication. Also, since Fall 2013, the piano breakdown section has become less Page’s take on “ragtime” and more a funk breakdown. It’s no 1.0-2.0 20 minute “Gumbo”, but it’s fresh and I’ll take it.
“Taste” is one of my favorite mid-90s post-Guyute (that is, post epic composition era) songs from a musical perspective. It has very interesting chord changes, and draws its driving rhythms from Latin music. If that’s not enough the guitar solo is based off of a “Norwegian Wood” vamp. Trey kind of struggled with the end changes, but like I said, if he played a bad note he quickly and confidently recovered to the correct progression.
“555" brought more swampy funk. They clearly love playing this song and for good reason. It’s got great changes and vocal interplay — and a sick jam at the end.
“Tube” — OK, so I need to rant about the complaints about Tubes being “too short.” First of all, you can’t just take song lengths at face value. The lyrics/composed section of “Tube” is 45 seconds to start (add a minute at the end). This means last night the 6 minute version (the LivePhish track as a minute of crowd noise) was really 4 sustained minutes of jamming. You know what had less than 4 minutes of jamming last night? Tweezer. I’m sure some complained about “Tweezer” being too short last night, but at 8:31 it doesn’t seem that short. But, “Tweezer” has 5 minutes of lyrics/composed material (for comparison’s sake “Fuego” has 7-8 minutes of composed material before the “jam” starts — so that has to be taken into account with the 26 minute number). Second, the Tube jam is a very basic driving funk rhythm based on a Am7-D7 chord progression. Rarely (even in in 1.0-2.0) does it diverge from this basic funk vamp (it’s what Page, Mike and Trey do over this vamp is what matters). Some people might want them to “jam” over this funk vamp for 10-15 minutes as they sometimes did in 1.0-2.0. Others might call that navel-gazing. Or, maybe “boring.” To me, last night was a pretty perfect “Tube”; the jam was absolutely ferocious. Trey was creatively using the echo-plex and the groove got incredibly thick and textured. But, when it transitioned out into the blues jam it seemed about the right time. There wasn’t much else that could be done with this driving funk vamp.
“Halfway to the Moon” — Sorry, I’m already a bit sick of this song. It seemed in 2013, the jam was getting weirder and more dissonant, but perhaps for the sake of album promotion they’ve played it safe so far in 2014. Pretty standard Trey solo at the end.
“Camel Walk” — Even on the SBD you can hear a dude screaming “Camel Walk” over and over again. Trey, almost irritated, finally says, “We’ll play your request, I heard ya, I heard ya….This is for that guy.” This is a sick version of the song (it is also a cover of a Jeff Holdsworth tune, ha!). I think this song is a bellwether of how tight the band is — its got really odd rhythmic changes— and tight they are. Trey’s playing on this version is downright nasty.
Next came some fun “sing-a-long” songs “Sparkle” and “Halley’s Comet.” Not fun for a jaded vet like me, but the crowd will love it. In the mid-90s (93-95), Halley’s was never “jammed” ala 11/22/97 or 11/11/98, it always was a platform to segue into a song very quickly; kind of like “Oh Kee Pah”. They’ve used it as this segue platform in 3.0 (apart from a jammed out version at Bethel in 2011), but without the same intensity and fervor of 93-95 era Phish. Last night, the “It’s Ice” segue was pretty breathtaking — and not an easy one to pull off.
“It’s Ice” is one of the hardest songs in their catalog. And, all and all, they nailed it last night. Impressive. Since Summer 2013, it now also includes a funk jam breakdown in a ‘jam’ section that had featured nothing in most of 3.0. The funk theme continued this set!
Most of the First set was “funky”, but “Ocelot” and “Walls of the Cave” allowed Trey to take the lead and play some really amazing ‘peaking” rock solos. The “Ocelot” was a bit more straightforward and rock-oriented, and the “Walls” peak was absolutely stellar. A great closer.
Set 2 came quickly (20 minute) because of the rain delay. The question was one of curfew. Would they have to play a short set? Nope. They must have gotten an extension because this set was long by any standard. They played til after 1230. Set 2 also featured an interesting “bipolar” presentation of Phish music. Almost in alternating fashion, it featured scathing, Trey-led shredding, followed by patient, full-band interplay that, if anything, was led by Page McConnell — who was the undisputed MVP of set 2 if not the entire show.
“46 Days” can go out there into type ii territory. See 8/15/09 for an underrated and mostly forgotten great version I saw live (also, see IT obvi). This was not the time. It was a straight ahead rocking version led by Trey shredding a peak. Give what was to come, this is totally fine.
“Fuego” — Any complaints about “overplaying” this song are ridiculous. If it is going to include 10 plus minutes of exploratory jamming they can play it every night as far as I’m concerned. This was another amazing jam. Both the SPAC and MANN versions spent awhile exploring very spacious melodic space before building the jam to a glorious peak. I will say that last night’s version seemed to grasp and search for the peak and never quite find it (the SPAC version didn’t hesitate once it found the theme and built it to a glorious crescendo — it was more cohesive in that sense). It started with a beautiful trilling melody (Trey is “trilling” a lot this tour — essentially hammering a note with some rhythmic regularity to create a beautiful effect), which built up to a moment where Trey started playing a pretty glorious melody. But he quickly abandoned that, started playing a faster flurry of notes, Fishman increased the tempo, then again, Trey started searching for a climax melody, appeared to find it, but didn’t let it develop long enough. That was OK, because unlike the SPAC version, this “Fuego” didn’t fizzle after the “peak”, but went into an extended rhythmic groove jam that featured dazzling soloing from Page and laid back rhythm playing from Trey. Some searching for sure, but all in all a great jam.
“The Line” and “Backwards Down the Number Line” was a nice “Line” theme. And after 26 minutes of jamming is a fine breather.
“Tweezer” has now twice occupied the late-mid set 2 spot which will inevitably lead to shorter versions. This was the shortest in recent memory, but was a straight-ahead Trey shred-fest. After his patient and laid back approach in “Fuego” this was fine. There will always be a large proportion of the crowd that wants these tension-and-release “peaks” led by Trey the “Rock God.” I’m not one of those fans, but Phish knows the energy of the room depends on them. Again — just saying, this jam was shorter than the “Tube” jam.
Perhaps the most sloppy, awkward moment of the night was the segue into “Ghost.” Trey appeared to force the chords — and then really forced the first vocal line “I Feel I…” Both songs are based on Am Dorian funk grooves — its surprising they don’t segue into each other more often. Apart from the awkward “segue” this “Ghost” paid off with a absolutely beautiful, spacious, and patient jam that featured more Trey trilling. His laid back approach (no more Rock God!) also allowed Mike and Page to really fill in the textures of this glorious jam. Also, while most “Ghosts” these days go into a D chord to get to the “bliss” jam space (see the Mansfield version), this one interestingly settled on a C chord. It migrated from C Lydian to full on C Major (really making use of the major (correction: “perfect”) fourth note of “F” to add color to melodies). This is full band patient Phish at its best, and some might argue the Ghost jam was the highlight over the Fuego.
“2001" is a cover. Yes. But, Phish’s version of it is singular (correction: I forgot that this is actually a cover of a cover. Phish’s rendition is a cover of the 1970s “Deodato” funk version — I maintain that this is not your normal Phish cover). This is their specific take on an orchestral piece. It is not “Good Times Bad Times” where they are clearly covering another rock bands’s tune. We shall see if they eventually do that, but I think we are still in a kind of “exception” territory. This version was short and sweet.
“Harry Hood” — perfect placement (I could see it coming). And, I’m sure people were a bit surprised given the clock (no curfew in sight!). I would never want “Hood” to always go type ii ala Mansfield. Its type i jam is beautiful and quintessential Phish. It’s placement at the end of a set 2 after so much exploratory jamming allows for focused contemplation toward a glorious “feel good” peak — these “bliss” peaks (melodious, see Slave, Reba, etc) are different than the “Rock God” peaks (more bluesy and edgy). This version was nothing out of the ordinary — sure, sometimes I yearn for those ‘94 era machine gun Hood peaks — but still great.
“Tweezer Reprise” need not always be the encore song.
“Possum” is a fine encore when you’re not playing “Loving Cup” or whatever. Sometimes lately Trey will give Page a solo to start “Possum” — I prefer that approach. Page should solo on all the blues numbers as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps because of the late hour, Trey took this solo himself — and took it to a normal tasty Possum place. Don’t hate on this song. It encapsulates Phish’s energy. I love the fact that Trey said at the end, “We are THE PHISH, from Burlington, Vermont!!!”
All in all, a really solid show start to finish. Funky First Set with tight crisp playing. And, two top notch jams and a Hood for Set 2. I’ll take that every time. With the band this tight and this cohesive this early in tour, amazing things are yet to come.