Only three dates remain in Phish’s reinvented and redefined Summer of twenty-eleven. Before we look forward to the turquoise (okay, maybe they’re closer to purple) mountains of Colorado let’s take a glance back at what Phish served up to the West Coast and Chicago. Instead of dissecting every nook and cranny, let’s cut out the red tape and hit the high notes.
“Rock and Roll” @ The Gorge
To say Phish topped their 25 minute version from two years earlier at the same gorgeous venue would be an understatement. They not only topped it, they pretty much made you forget what band you bought a ticket to that night. Once the foursome departed from the structure and Page’s Theremin decided to knock on our doors, things got weird in all the right ways. You can call this “Storage”-style jamming, “Pink Floyd-esque psychedelia”, “Theremin jam”, whatever floats your boat. I’ll just call it one of the finest Phish moments I’ve been lucky enough to witness. With the sun settled, yet somehow still in view as an orange line dividing the sky in two, it became the perfect setting for this abstract departure from the norm. Rarely does the performance of one tune carry an entire weekend on it’s back but this version of “Rock and Roll” does just that. The band could have played anything at this point but instead they carried the energy into “Meatstick” (A surefire nominee for Best Segue of the Year) and then flowed that into “Boogie On.” I actually have trouble re-telling my friends how great that version of Rock and Roll was… I don’t want them to hate me anymore than they already do. Instead I just point them to this video, specifically the 4:30 mark where Cactus shakes free whatever brain cells you may have left…
“Golden Age” @ Anywhere
Has a song in 3.0 done more for Phish than this cover from TV On the Radio? When it was first played at Albany in 2009 I turned to my tour buddy (@mcook131313) after its conclusion with eyes grown wide — I need to hear that one again, in the car…on the way home…immediately. Never even realizing it was TV On the Radio until later in the set, fans were whispering about the origin, some texting and tweeting during the show wondering what it was. (Beck seemed to be a common question/thought). Not only did the lyrics seem appropriate for their return year, it was the bass groove and slick guitar licks that had fans paying close attention. I hadn’t heard that type of sound from Phish before! I likened it immediately to what Phish did with the Ween classic, “Roses Are Free.” They turned a stylistically different tune into one of their own — and in the process created a launching pad for musical conversations we crave. In this one track, at that moment in time, two years ago, I was assured that Phish would not be a nostalgia act. Nostalgia acts don’t re-invent new covers and develop a sound from them. If Albany was the small nudge going forward (and I believe it was for many reasons), the Summer of 2011 let “Golden Age” become the smack in the nuts. The version from SuperBall IX is certainly the cream of the crop so far, but with the West Coast debut of this cover at the Gorge, Phish continued to push the songs limits. They showcased it within multiple second sets, not just in the jams but in teases (See Gorge’s Antelope). Then, proving it was indeed part of the regular rotation, the band played it again in Tahoe, then subsequently weaved the catchy guitar licks into “Also Sprach Zarathustra” later in the set. Watching folks clap their hands if they’re in the right place should be a welcomed addition, not a distraction. It’s easier than clapping during “Stash” or “Mound,” that’s for sure. Come to think of it, what an appropriate tune for New Year’s Eve…hint hint.
The Element Set @ UIC Night 1
They certainly like to take the bull by the horns when opening a run or tour these days. No longer can one confidently say “Just skip the opener.” Inside the confines of the UIC Pavilion, Phish delivered arguably the best show of the summer so far. The band weaved a second set compiled of one-word songs, with unique jam after unique jam, hitting on themes of Earth, Wind, Water and Hendrix’s Fire. All this UIC show was missing was a cameo by Captain Planet. Included within this set was an “Undermind” which quickly saw it’s short 3.0 career blossom into a “best ever” version and a “Waves” that would make the Tech Rehearsal from Bethel a proud papa. For me, listening back, this set is what Phish does best if they are up to the challenge. They don’t rely on the typical jam vehicles or gimmicky bustouts to set the stage. Instead Trey decides to bring some of the more evolved 2.0 songs (+Sand) into the forefront, a catalog which didn’t have much time to expand when the band was on their downward spiral towards Coventry. Maybe I’m a sucker for songs like Waves, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Seven Below and Scents & Subtle Sounds (w/ INTRO!) but those tunes (whenever played) give the band the necessary tools to open up and bring it. Lets hope at least two of them show their O-face in Colorado.
“Still Waiting” & Painless @ UIC Night 3
I believe it was @taopauly of @CoventryMusic who said it best during the show, “Schizo Phish in 2nd set. Trey cutting shit off left + right. Someone eat speed at setbreak?” Many in attendance loved this show’s energy and the “Still Waiting” references throughout, but how can you blame them? The energy was top notch and the previous two nights were pretty much two of the better shows of the year. The band was having fun. However, on re-listening to Night 3 you can tell Big Red is trying to fit in a bunch of ideas and songs for the finale. There wasn’t that relaxed “We’re here for awhile we can play anything” outlook that showed it’s face during the encore of UIC Night 1. An interesting theory I have is the following (and I’d love your opinon on this in response): If you put Night 3 of UIC in the year 1996, I think you’d have fans calling it one of the better shows the band has pulled off up to that point. Now with such a refined and mature Phish, we have those calling it “too rushed and sloppy”. With such a robust and storied history, Phish has set the bar pretty high for all future events and we keep expecting them to top it. This is a good thing. It means we think they can.
CK5 @ Hollywood Bowl
Has Chris Kuroda ever been given a better canvas to play with than the historic shell of the Hollywood Bowl? I knew going in this would be a light show not to be missed, but CK5 surpassed all my expectations. I tried to find a video that does it justice and I think I have. This segment from the show features Tube, but keep watching through til Back On the Train. Towards the end of the song, Kuroda mixes in some of the more brilliant color schemes I’ve seen since he lit up Red Rocks. Check it out here:
I truly believe that based on visuals alone and keeping CK5’s creativity sharpened, the Hollywood Bowl should be a tour staple for West Coast Phish. You listening, Mr Capshaw? Note that shit.
And well … I guess this wouldn’t be a Phish piece without some good ole’ fashion bitching. Here are a few moments on the second leg that raised an eyebrow for me going forward …
Piper @ The Hollywood Bowl
Do any of you remember how good that “Piper” was getting under the sonic shell in the Hollywood hills? Well as it veered into the stratosphere, I must unfortunately report with 100% confirmation that Trey did indeed ripcord/cut off/slash the tires from this sure-to-be Type II Piper. With my closest seats ever (Thanks Hutnik & @3point0) and in the midst of the ‘storage shed’ infused sound that has thankfully seeped into jams this leg, I was witness to a Theremin abortion. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds. With the band locked in, Page walked over to his theremin, sat down, adjusted a nob or three, all while Chris Kuroda was settling into a cosmic light pattern…BUT with visions of that space-laden Rock and Roll from the Gorge a few days earlier dancing in my head, Trey unfortunately doesn’t see Page and cuts into the opening riff of Mike’s Song. Page looks up, gives a laughing shrug of the shoulders, then walks back to his kit. The setlist footnote of “*Page on Theremin” was not to be. If you don’t believe me, check out this fan video and just fast-forward to the last 30 seconds…
Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley @ Lake Tahoe
The version unleashed in Lake Tahoe was so uneventful I actually forgot they even played it. It’s too bad because that second set had its moments and needed just one jam to take it out of the average and into the above. You’d think after starting off a second set with “Down with Disease” and one of the more interesting versions of “Runaway Jim” in years, the band was ready to capitalize after a “Ghost > Golden Age > 2001″ but it wasn’t to be. The bar for Sneakin’ Sally was set at the Gorge in 2009 and then again at Blossom earlier this year, so sue me if I have somewhat higher expectations when it arrives late in a 3.0 set.
Halley’s Comet @ Everywhere, USA
I’m nicknaming this song “blue balls.” After giving us what we wanted in St Louis two years ago, then throwing us a 12 minute version at Bethel Woods where the training wheels were indeed off, Phish has put the kabosh on Halley’s once again. A song so simple in structure, it needs and begs to be jammed out. I’d say either shelve this baby or take it to the park next time it makes an appearance. We don’t need a quick transition into “It’s Ice” next time. We crave that strawberry goo on a consistent basis now.
Ghost @ UIC Night 3
After a rousing version in Tahoe (pats self on back for wearing @JiggsLikesPhish ‘s Ghost”busters” T-shirt that day), Phish decided to play what has to be considered the shortest version ever in Chicago. Clocking in at a mere 3 minutes 48 seconds, the studio version is actually three seconds longer. When do we ever get to say that? I have a feeling they’ll make this up to us in Colorado but the masochist in me hopes they play an even shorter version just to start more controversy and complaining. (I’m half kidding…kinda).
Tube @ Everywhere, USA
Bruuuuce can’t be happy with the recent treatment this song has received (or lack there-of) recently. I thought we’d get a little “extra mustard” at the Hollywood Bowl (© @HeyScottyB) …given the “On a Freeway in Los Angeles” line…but alas this was also not meant to be. With such an infectious tune for Page to play, you’d think this song could start off a second set once in a blue moon and maybe actually, you know, go somewhere. It’s been a “quick-out” for a while now which is starting to feel like an eternity. “Tube” would benefit greatly from this “plinko/staccato” style that has manifested itself in the 3.0 era; let’s roll out the board and aim for 10,000 again!
With Colorado now just days away and the first Phish shows in Septebmer in 11 years, fans are excited to get this show on the road. No Fall tour means this three-day run will likely be it until the heavily rumored New Years Eve run (likely at Miami or MSG again) takes place; Page will be changing diapers coming November instead of tickling the ivories. And Trey has said publicly the band hopes to work on a new album this winter and that touring will actually be less in 2012.
Yikes. Am I missing something? Because I didn’t really think they toured much this year…what does less touring actually mean?
Right now the focus will be on Colorado. Will the ‘storage style’ continue to impress and push the band to newer heights? Will songs like Page’s oft forgotten “Halfway to the Moon” and Mike Gordon’s newcomer “Babylon Baby” make their way into sets this weekend? Will Phish continue to pepper the first set with audience sign requests, and if so, can someone please make both a “Shafty” and “Dog Log” sign please? I’ve got a free set of hands if you need help holding it up.
All in all, it’s been a damn good summer so far, one that has given us a smorgasbord of musical highlights that we’re already listening back to with impressive replay value results. Let’s hope the band doesn’t “Dick” around (heh) and offers us a few more jams to digest during this Phish-free Fall season. Colorado is surely being primed for a Labor Day blowout. See you there!