One night after Phish played their most adventurous show since their return, the band reeled it in a bit with a well played, yet safe, show for 40,000 deep at Alpine last night. With copious structured (type I) improv, Phish used a long list of songs to create an entertaining kick-off to Alpine’s two-night stand. When all was said and done, the first set musically outshone the second. With an old-school setlist played triumphantly, Phish nailed a series of classics; while set two featured a few hot spots with some definite musical lulls.
Popping off in style, Phish opened the show with “Punch” before launching into a four-song improvisational run of “Runaway,” “Stash,” “Yamar,” and “Bathtub Gin.” Without much adventure, Phish nonetheless shredded their classics much to everyone’s delight. Each song brought a quality version, but none pushed the confines of exploration. In a celebration of Phish songs, the entire show carried a upbeat, happy vibe all the way through- a real Saturday night special. The highlight of the set came in the set-ending “Antelope.” With some heavy-handed guitar work, Trey built this jam to a dizzying peak while the band fomented a series of shredding grooves along the way. The bookends of “Punch” and “Antelope” framed a high-paced set of Phish rock that enraptured the massive Chicago-metro audience, each song bringing thunderous applause.
The groundwork was laid for a big second half, but Phish came out with a set which lacked any real continuity, and featuring only a couple of jams. Each time the band played a piece that contained any improv, they followed it up with a straight composition, creating a choppy, flow-less feel. The band- no doubt- played well, but their creativity didn’t necessarily shine in last night’s final frame. The highlight of set came in the highly-anticipated follow-up “Ghost” to Asheville’s standout version. While this “Ghost” didn’t reach the places of it’s predecessor, it still featured an interesting, oddly-cadenced jam that built and peaked with out ever earnestly hitting any deep grooves. Fishman creating a divergent feel to the jam, playing a more varied beat and not sitting in the pocket with Mike. This was a controversial version at my post-show soiree last night, and I’m interested to hear the reactions of readers.
Other engaging parts of the set came with a reggae-laced “YEM” jam that segued, unfinished, into “NICU,” and a hot “Maze” that was placed in the spotlight as the number three batter in the lineup. Otherwise, while certainly a great time, the second set didn’t reach into any other improvisational places. A surprise “Fire” capped the set before the band encored with the Hendrix-esque “Character Zero.”
Greeting the weekend crowd with a playful, song-based show, one would guess tonight’s Sunday tour closer will bring some far deeper moments. Phish has been known to pull out top-notch shows to punctuate their tours, and I have a hunch that tonight may be one to remember. As we wind down the first leg of Summer Tour ’09, it has been an interesting road with definite peaks and valleys. Playing live consistently for the first time in five years, the band has been moving though a process of honing their nightly consistency and regaining their improvisational moxie. Certainly moving in the right direction, Phish will make their final step of June tonight, capping their return to the road in what could turnout to be a real throwdown at Alpine Valley. I’ll see you there!
I: Punch You in the Eye, Runaway Jim, Stash, Yamar, Bathtub Gin, Kill Devil Falls, Train Song, Farmhouse, Sparkle, Run Like An Antelope
II: Waves > Sample In A Jar, Maze, Makisupa Policeman, Ghost > The Lizards, You Enjoy Myself > NICU, Prince Caspian > Waste, Fire
E: Character ZeroTags: 2009, Summer '09