Editor’s Note: Thanks to Billy Morgan for contributing his first review to Live Music Blog – stay tuned for more from his run through Burgettstown and Blossom!
Whenever Phish heads to the Midwest it seems the magic flows right out of them. This first portion of the 2012 run exemplifies just that. Our first stop was the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, a city the band has been routinely tearing up for years. The vibe was electric from the second we stepped foot in the lot. Everyone was excited and ready for the ensuing throw-down.
The show started with a bang in the form of an upbeat and well above average “Wolfman’s Brother”, which is saying a lot considering it has been one of 3.0’s undoubted MVP’s on a regular basis. Immediate remembrances of the first stop on last year’s Midwest run in Clarkston, Michigan flooded my mind. That show also opened with Wolfman’s and turned out to be one of the better shows of the era. I was hoping for similar happenings this go-round. Trey laced in some “plinko” stylings early in the jam and the funk began to flow. Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” followed. The always-welcome fan favorite had the place rocking early. Next came the major bust-out, “Shaggy Dog,” which hadn’t been played since 10/29/95. This was only the 3rd version since the 80’s and those who knew what they were hearing were losing their s*** (6 people according to commenter in above linked video). Then things really started to take off when the band launched into a killer “Runaway Jim,” which featured a “When the Saints Go Marching In” tease from Trey before easing into a tasty little jam. Trey laced in some nice, delicate, clean playing right off the bat that led to a stellar early set Jim.
Keeping the energy high, Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” was next. After a super funky breakdown from Page early on, a great jam with a bit of a slower tempo than normal followed before rather abruptly segueing into Wilson. After the standard rocker, “Alaska”, placed perfectly for a piss break, was next. I was happy to see this song in the first set where it belongs and not killing another second set, which it has been known to do. This version featured a solid, laid back Trey-centric jam. Keeping true to recent trends, the band rattled off another solid “Stash.”
To follow, a comical segment ensues, leading to a fantastic second half of the set, in which “Poor Heart” and “Moma Dance” are aborted due to Fishman flubs. After two in a row, Trey suggests they play a tune that starts with the drums. Fishman almost instantly breaks into a raging rendition of Llama that nearly blew the roof off the place. Trey attacked his solo with reckless abandon, bringing the crowd energy to a new high for the night. Next, Trey mentions that “Buffalo Bill” contains one of his favorite drum intros. At the conclusion of the rare tune, Trey introduces Fishman, “the intro master,” “master of songs that start with himself.” Trey then challenges Fish to another one that starts with drums, “Saw It Again.” I, and everyone else in attendance, were super pumped to hear this rarity. A fairly standard, yet always funky version led into the “Bowie” intro. Trey, in a very talkative mood, told the crowd that this was Chris Kuroda’s, the band’s jedi lighting master and honorary fifth member’s, favorite Phish song. He said they ask him every night what he wants to hear and he only says one song, Bowie. A great set-ending rendition followed featuring more of the same crispy, clean playing from Trey.
This was a fantastic first set filled with rarities and good playing alike. The energy level was great and the song selection was very unpredictable, in a good way. Just a fun set of Phish from start to finish. Our decision to make the drive for this run was already being validated.
After a shorter than normal set break, the familiar sounds of “Down With Disease” began oozing out of Mike’s bass. Don’t get me wrong, I always love a disease for the endless jamming possibilities, but I feel that the standard second set openers are growing a little tired these days and becoming a bit too predictable. However, after the composed section this disease had a fresh feel to it from the get go. Trey came out firing on all cylinders and set a pace for a jam that seemed bound for glory. Once things began to settle in, memories of the monster Disease from the Clarkston show I mentioned earlier began to trickle into my mind. The feel was very similar including the bass notes Mike was playing and I hoped this one would go the distance. As things moved towards ambient territory, Trey out of nowhere started “Guelah Papyrus.” This was a bit of a head scratcher. I do love this song and always welcome it, but at the cost of the first serious type II jaunt of the evening? Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, a solid version in an interesting set position. Fortunately, there would be more jamming to come.
Next was the new school ripper, “Kill Devil Falls,” that often contains some serious improv, but I feel this one works better in the first frame. This was a solid, yet fairly tame version, aside from a spacey outro that led into a monster “Twist.” Easily the highlight of the first night of the run, this “Twist” veered off the beaten path quickly and stayed out there throughout the jam. This was a very unique, fresh take on Twist featuring elements of this era’s dark and focused “storage jamming.” Trey introduced a very floyd-ish lick that sounded close to a “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” tease, but never quite got there. During the latter part of the jam, in a very rare 3.0 occurrence, Mike, Page, and Fish return to the structured portion of the song while Trey continues to push it a bit further. I have to give props to Big Red for that. “Halley’s Comet” emerged out of a tasty “Twist” outro. Would they continue the envelope-pushing type II jams?
Every time they play this song this era I hope for them to stretch it like the storied versions of past and unfortunately it never seems to happen anymore save for Bethel’s standout version from last summer. This Halley’s quickly segued into “Sand,” which I’m always happy to hear these days, as it almost always contains interesting playing. This version was no different and quickly jumped into super funky, “plinko-esque” territory reminiscent of last summer’s “Sneakin Sally” jam from Blossom. Trey played some super clean, tasty licks over over the funkosaurus the other three created before smoothly transitioning into “Roggae.” One of my favorite slower Phish tunes that often leads to some great, patient group improvisation as last summer’s version from the Gorge exemplifies. This was another great rendition. A late set “Carini” followed and was welcomed with open arms since every version this tour has been a standout. This one, however, would not continue the trend as it was abruptly cut short for another ill-placed “Chalkdust Torture”. I enjoy the song as much as the next guy, but I feel it’s a dish best served in the first set, or at least not at the cost of prime real estate second set jamming. Not to mention, this was a pretty uninspired, standard version. A rocking “Golgi Apparatus” in its most famous position closed the set.
All in all, this was a good set that had a couple major highlights in the “Twist” and “Sand”->”Roggae.” Despite a few questionable placements, this set continued the great playing from the first set. The crowd was reignited as Trey literally ran to his guitar to start the opening licks of “Fluffhead.” This was the first time this classic had found its way into the encore since 11/3/1990. It was very interesting placement that I think worked extremely well. The band played a spectacular version that punctuated a killer first night in the Midwest. Trey crushed his solo and ended the evening on a high note that had the crowd hungry for the next stop in Burgettstown.
Set I: Wolfman’s Brother, Peaches en Regalia, Shaggy Dog, Runaway Jim, Light Up or Leave Me Alone, Wilson, Alaska, Stash, Llama*, Buffalo Bill, Saw It Again, David Bowie
Set II: Down with Disease > Guelah Papyrus > Kill Devil Falls -> Twist > Halley’s Comet, Sand > Roggae > Carini > Clalk Dust Torture, Golgi Apparatus
* With Poor Heart and Moma Dance started and aborted quickly…with some banter in there.
Average song gap: 35.26
First Shaggy Dog since 10/29/95
First Saw It Again since 10/20/2010
First Fluffhead encore since 11/3/1990