Finally- IT Happened. Amidst a deluge and lightening storms surpassing the intensity of Raleigh ’97, the first real Phish show of the modern era happened at Deer Creek last night. While Camden ushered in the band’s new age, Deer Creek’s 2009 edition will be forever remembered as the night that all things truly came together. For two complete sets, Phish improvised their way through an epic evening that will forever be embedded in the annals of the band’s history. After a couple of shaky shows, Phish delivered by absolutely slaughtering their one night in the cornfields with the most impressive group jamming of current times.
Menacing nature mixed with sinister Phish in a to-die-for second set that was delayed an hour due to severe weather danger. As the set was due to start, a stage announcement asked everyone on the lawn to return to their cars due to the danger of lightening, and come back at eleven for the start of the second half; and boy was that a good idea. As the lawn cleared the skies opened in a biblical sized storm with bolts of lightening that are still imprinted in on the back of our brains. The stage equipment was covered and the left speaker stack lowered, while fans squeezed into the pavilion for what turned out to be a ninety-plus minute setbreak / rain delay. But as promised, the tarps came off just before eleven and the stage lights began to glow. As the rock and roll adage goes, “The show must go on!”- and go on it did. Following the most improvised and adventurous first set of tour, everyone knew Phish would throw down something big- but what actually happened was far beyond anyone’s dreams.
Musically referencing the monsoon with the opening “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing,” this time we knew it was for real. After a succinct guitar-based version in Knoxville, when the band dropped into the song this time, it had the aura of greatness- and that would turn out to be the understatement of the year. Peaking the heavy rock jam, the band briefly returned to the song’s theme before moving out into the deepest piece improv we’ve heard yet. Without having listened back to the show, as I type in the car on the way to Alpine, I’ll go right ahead and say that this was IT; this is what I’ve been waiting for. In a voyage of open-ended improv, the band naturally flowed through several stages of searing psychedelia. This is the jam we’ve all been awaiting since the song was busted wide open at SPAC ’04. Dark and exploratory, this version grew hugely ominous before Phish slipped out of the abstract textures and into “Drowned.”
Continuing the aquatic theme, Phish tore apart The Who cover with a ridiculously dynamic jam that also grew beyond its confines into the realm of the other. Breaking down the improv with some rhythm chops, Trey helped bring the normally confined piece into unstructured territory as the band, again, took the improvisational plunge, stepping onto the precipice with another musical risk and succeeding. As the band finished their thoughts, Trey ripped into the opening of “Twist.”- the final piece of this mind-bending puzzle. Taking the vehicle far beyond its composed groove, we were knee deep in the most psychedelic set in eons. “Oceans > Drowned > Twist”- put that in your pipe and smoke it.
After a perfectly placed “Let Me Lie,” Phish brought the house down with the opening of “Tweezer.” The over-crowded pavilion exploded as the band went for the jugular with a late set dance odyssey. Splashing into the jam with some of the tour’s first earnest rhythm grooves, the band got dirty before stepping into the build of this “Tweezer.” And once they started to climb, the band brought this jam to a glorious peak, yet the peak of the jam was hardly the end. Phish delicately brought the music outwards into a layered ambient section that seemed heading for the stars. Before too long, Fishman hit the snare and we spun into a sublime “2001.” Crafting a late-set transition that fed the craving of even the largest Phish-crack junkies, “Tweezer > 2001” was pure, unadulterated bliss.
Carrying the massive energy of the lightening-laced peak, Phish crashed into “Suzy,” putting a fun exclamation point on the second sky-scraping jam sequence of the set. Although it seemed like an “Antelope” was lurking just around the corner all night long, this wouldn’t have been Phish 2009 without a “Possum” closer. With the wave of energy cresting in the amphitheatre, Phish tore apart the set closer with an aggressive gusto that hasn’t engulfed every version this tour.
Reserved for slots following extraordinary Phish madness, the band broke out a “Sleeping Monkey” encore for the first time since returning, showing us that they felt exactly the same as we did about our night at The Creek. Blowing out the show’s ending with a surreal “Reprise,” crackling bolts of lightening surrounded the stage, as the heavens once again split open, bringing on a storm every bit as intense as the one that delayed the show. As the no-brainer show of tour came to a close, everyone who was there knew they had been a part of IT, and everyone glowed in post-show revelry. In a most-unique scene, very few people left the pavilion for about a half an hour as the venue allowed us to let the storm pass before braving the outdoors. It took on the feel of a post-show party, and we didn’t even have to go anywhere! People mingled about, smoking and joking, as the wind and rain scoured every inch of land that wasn’t covered by the pavilion- a crazy end to a most crazy evening.
And that is just half the show! The first set was by far the most impressive opening frame of the tour with improvisation galore. Highlights included an incredible “Split Open” that popped up for the first time since Jones Beach, the first jammed-out “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan,” and the surprise appearance of Undermind’s “The Connection” that saw the band improvise a Dead-esque, noodly groove. “Ocelot” appeared in its grandest form yet- an addictive song that continues to grow with each appearance. And to close the set, Phish pulled a “Fluffhead” out of nowhere that brought a triumphant arrival to a set that foreshadowed the greatness to follow.
With only Alpine left to go, Phish has two more nights on their opening leg of summer. And by the looks of things, our two nights in dairy land could bring some of the best nights yet.
I: Backward Down The Number Line, AC/DC Bag, Limb By Limb, The Moma Dance, Water In The Sky, Split Open and Melt, Lawn Boy, The Wedge, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Connection, Ocelot, Fluffhead
II: A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing > Drowned > Twist, Let Me Lie, Tweezer > 2001 > Suzy Greenberg, Possum
E: Sleeping Monkey, Tweezer RepriseTags: 2009, Summer '09