As each show in Hampton grew in musical stature and improvisational meat, Phish finally let loose during the last set of the run. Starting off the culminating set with their first truly exploratory excursion of chapter three, it was only fitting that this jam grew from one of Phish’s most popular anthems, “Down With Disease.” While the band had wet their improvisational toes during the previous night’s second set, this time they would dive right in. Taking over twenty minutes to explore their musical musings, Phish created their first free-flowing jam of 2009.
It was only a matter of time before they busted out the big welcome-home “Disease,” and once the last set had arrived, it was a virtual shoo-in for the set opener. As the defining bass turbulence signaled the onset of the song, you had the feeling that this would be the most extensive trip yet. “On [our] way” back to the land where Phish frolic freely, the band carried us with a blistering composed section of “Disease”- one of the Phishiest pieces of music out there. As the acid-rock rhythms guided the refreshing melodic path, both Trey and Page complemented each other, leading the band through a triumphant return of one of their favorite songs.
The jam began to move away from its structure as it continued to pick up steam. Trey began offering some choppy licks as Mike and Page began steering away from the song’s melody. Fishman caught on immediately and switched beats into a more amorphous, rolling pattern. All the band members came together here, offering shorter-almost staccato phrases- that combine to create a sublime meandering journey. Trey and Mike played off each other’s lines, lending a more spiritual and soul-searching quality to the jam, as Page colored the canvas with electro-washes. Trey’s melodies really took center-stage here; while he may have been in the background of some other weekend’s jams, he most certainly emerged at the forefront of this one, guiding us through the dark forests of our mind with guitar licks of discovery and exuberance. Like the Pied Piper, Trey led us into Hampton’s deepest segment of improv, as the band followed him down an increasingly ambient path of mystery and exaltation.
As we glimpsed the first light out of the forest, the music transformed into a spacescape, sounding like the onset of the first “Disease > 2001” ever played. The two-song combo seemed like the perfect entrance into the revelatory plane of Phish 3.0, and while the band built up effects to this nature, Fish sped up a beat that could have easily brought liftoff. Yet, as the audience’s eyes gleamed wide for this potential combo, Fish kicked it up a notch with a far more aggressive beat and the band hopped onto his tempo, creating scorching improv, but leaving any possibility of a “2001” segue until later in the set.
As the music came to a natural ending, the band never returned to “Disease,” but came out of their experiment with the opening of “Seven Below.” Much like the “Limb by Limb” provided melodic closure for Saturday night’s “Rock And Roll” jam, “Seven Below” gave the same arrival for the band’s Sunday night journey. The beautiful Round Room staple of 2.0 carried us into a piano-led jam in which Page set the melodic framework. Trey and Mike picked up on his ideas and began adding solo lines of their own, each of them flowing around each other brilliantly. Trey’s playing in this section was some of his most precise and uplifting of the night, as the jam took on a cathartic energy of its own following the deep introspective nature of “Disease.”
A compact amalgamation of harmony and melody, “Seven Below” capped the set’s diverse opening adventure in high-style. Spanning the spectrum of human feeling, Phish’s path brought us from the celebratory composed “Disease” jam into darker, open-ended improv that reached the greatest depths of the weekend, through some building ambient soundscapes and into a pool of refreshing melodic release- classic Phish.
While the band spent most of the weekend showing off their practiced chops and relearned songs by running through a huge part of their catalog, this segment of the last set sent the message, “Yes, we can still melt your minds.” Merely scratching the improvisational surface of what will take place this summer, Phish gave us the first preview of the beautiful abyss we all seek to swim circles in come June.