Over the course of a three hour set, Phish threw in a little bit of everything, creating a musical melange specifically designed for the massive and mainstream Bonnaroo audience. Following a snooze-fest of a Beastie Boys show that didn’t translate to the huge stage, Phish introduced themselves at 11 pm with the straight-ahead rock of “Chalk Dust Torture.” Indoctrinating the colossal crowd into the world of Phish, the band followed up their popular opener with “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan,” “Divided Sky,” and “Possum.” For those of us that have been on tour, the first quarter of the set seemed a bit boring, featuring songs that have been played multiple times each, but with the onset of “Down With Disease,” a song that was bound to go big after such a tame opening, the show started in earnest. The band tore into the energetic jam that quickly morphed into the first show highlight with a stretched out, dirty segment of improv that remained creatively anchored to the song’s theme.
For most of the show, Phish inserted “singles” in between jams to keep the attention of the massive crowd, and one of those jams was a standout “Stash” that took a psychedelic excursion outside the structure of the song. Creating a textured jam, the band eased their way from adventurous a type-I+ “Disease” to a more exploratory “Stash,” and would soon enter the most adventurous jamming since their return later in the set. But before the band launched us into the stratosphere, we were served a healthy dose of swanky funk with the on-point grooves of “Wolfman’s Brother.” Playing meaty versions of some of their classic vehicles, the band eased the audience into their path of improv; a path that would lead to the darkest, most psychedelic adventure yet- ironically stemming from the rock-based “Kill Devil Falls.” Leave it to Phish to create the biggest jam of the night- and one of the most interesting of the 3.0 era- out of the one song that it seemed least likely to stem from. Certainly the type-II highlight of the show- and the tour- Phish was back at IT, creating magic out of thin air under the wide open skies of Tennessee. If you could only listen to one jam from this show, this would be it- but there was still plenty of excitement to follow.
Segueing out of show’s improvisational highlight, Phish slid into “Free”- a fitting song for the huge open-air setting of the festival. Mike’s bass leads bellowed across the acres, as fans enjoyed limitless dance space in the over-sized setting of Bonnaroo. A perfect climax to the improvisational odyssey that preceded, “Free” put an exclamation point on Phish’s most “out-there” jam of the tour. Adding a ballad to diversify their set, and to illustrate the full spectrum of their skills, Phish pulled out a well-placed and poignant rendition of “Wading In a Velvet Sea.” As the band held onto the song’s ending, they once again dropped into the re-focused “Harry Hood.” Taking ample time to delicately build the jam, Phish crafted yet another patient improvisational journey, taking the audience on a thrilling ride to a soaring peak. It’s hard to put myself in the mind of someone seeing Phish for the first time- of which there were many- but if anyone had given themselves over to the experience, this “Hood” may have been the piece that hooked them. A gorgeous build of their emotional classic, one would have been hard pressed not to be touched by this improv. Reminding us of sacred “Hood” experiences under the stars at Phish festivals past, this was another “Wow!-Phish is actually back!” moment, as the confluence of music, memory, and emotion swirled into a colorful ball of bliss.
The band collectively turned the last hit of “Hood” into the first beat of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” breaking out the cover for the first time since Stuttgart, Germany on 2.26.97. Showcasing yet another aspect of their game- cover songs- the band busted out a rarity to please the Phishhead and the Bonnaroo contingents. Not knowing what time it was, this seemed like the fitting end to the festi-set, but upon the final hit of the song, Phish blasted off into the tour’s second “2001”- a wide open funk session that was a perfect match to the larger-than-life surroundings. A laid back dance-session in the middle of the night was just what the doctor ordered as we bounced through the warm southern air to the bulbous rhythms. Complete Phish crack, the magnitude of the experience was undeniable as the band took it to the top, then dropped into a set-closing “YEM” that could be seen from a mile away.
However, the Phishy smorgasbord wasn’t over just yet. As Trey and Mike jumped off their trampolines and into the beginning of the “YEM” jam, the band entered some excessively relaxed funk that looked to be the onset of another patient jam. But as soon as we got acclimated to the grooves, the band seamlessly, and surprisingly, segued into “Wilson,” bringing some audience participation into the mix. Following a brief, yet fierce, version, the band tore back into the “YEM” jam in cathartic fashion. While they certainly could have let the “YEM” jam play out a bit longer, they had a curfew to deal with and an encore to play, hence the vocal jam arrived a bit prematurely. Stamping the show with “A Day in the Life,” Phish played a classy cover in front of such a diverse crowd.
Combining straight rock and roll, funk, bluegreass, compositions, covers, and sublime improvisation, Phish created an ideal sampling of what they are all about; a formal introduction to the greater masses. In one of the more unique slots ever played by the band, they pieced together a set that pleased just about everyone in attendance. Closing out the main stages for the day, Phish left their indelible mark on Bonnaroo 2009- an imprint that will only become greater with their festival closing two-setter on Sunday night. Despite all the clusterfucks involved with this festival, once you arrived in the open field- with all the room you could ever imagine- under the sky and the all-mighty power of the Phish- things couldn’t have been better.
Chalk Dust Torture, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Possum, Down With Disease, Alaska, Stash, Golgi Appartus, Wolfman’s Brother, Poor Heart, Kill Devil Falls > Free, Wading In The Velvet Sea, Harry Hood, Highway To Hell > 2001 > You Enjoy Myself > Wilson > You Enjoy Myself
E: A Day in the LifeTags: 2009, Summer '09