Phish concluded their triumphant Red Rocks extravaganza with another eye-popping show that was anchored by a stellar second set of fluid improv. With the help of Grateful Dead drummer, Billy Kreutzmann, Phish once again showcased their new-found desire to explore the musical unknown, concluding their stay in Colorado with one of the most impressive sets of the weekend. Blending in with ease, Kreuztmann added complimentary rhythms and percussive nuances, while often playing overlapping beats with Fishman- giving us a taste of what Phish might have sounded like with a second drummer. Having played with both Trey and Mike in their side-project, Serialpod, Billy K clearly felt comfortable onstage with Phish, and turned out to be a outstanding guest that certainly enhanced the music, and provided symbolic significance on the weekend of Jerry Garcia’s birthday. In a venue the Dead also played in their heyday, Billy was the third member of the Grateful Dead to join Phish onstage, providing a special surprise ending to the band’s magnificent stay between the iconic rocks of Morrison.
Before Kreutzmann joined the band, however, Phish had a bit a business to take care of themselves. Opening their third consecutive second-set with a cover, this time “Boogie On Reggae Woman” was the chosen vehicle to commence the psychedelic festivities. Phish took the rarely-extended song on an odyssey that strayed miles from the song’s structure, and like the best jams this weekend, featured several unique segments of bold, cohesive improv that connected seamlessly and artistically. Phish was tapped in again last night, going for it and succeeding with flying colors. Taking the set opener far beyond the funk, the band got into some high-paced dance rhythms as Trey threw down continual nasty licks with Jedi-like confidence, while Mike held down the bottom end with uber-creative playing- a characteristic of his entire night. Taking the jam beyond faster grooves into a darker milieu with dissonant guitar growls and sustained organ swells, Phish was again creating totally unique music on the spot without hesitation, tickling that part of us that has been waiting for this for so long. Passing through a segment of rock grooves, the band eventually reached a more subtle and percussive canvas, and wound down the set opening excursion masterfully.
Following up the massive opening jam, and after a brief pause, the band dropped the big Red Rocks “YEM” that everyone was so eagerly anticipating. Moving through the compositional opus sharply and cleanly, Phish was playing this one like they meant it. Placing “YEM” early in a set rather than at the end always makes it more exciting and dramatic, two words that could definitely be used to describe last night’s version. Tearing apart every aspect of the song, the band oozed energy and enthusiasm as their music pierced the night air with sublime interplay. A version played with more passion and creativity than any we’ve heard in this era, the Rocks were certainly rocking as ten thousand deep got their groove on. But just as Kuroda covered the stage in darkness and smoke for the vocal jam, a second drum set was set up on the down low. And when the band concluded with a rhythmic vocal pattern, Fishman and Kreutzmann- un-introduced and in reflective goggles- began subtly drumming along. Picking up the groove, the band segued perfectly into “Undermind.”
Interestingly, when Kreutzmann joined the band, they unveiled many of their most rhythmically intricate pieces. Between the chunky grooves of “Undermind,” the space-funk of “2001″ and the odd time signature of “Seven Below” and “Waves,” Billy clearly wasn’t sitting in just for kicks. Taking their collaboration seriously, Billy and Fish went to work creating dynamic percussive patterns throughout the rhythm-based “Undermind,” in the best version to date. As the song wrapped up, Trey, Mike, and Page, turned to the drummers and stared motionlessly while Fish and Billy went into their own version of “Drums.” Drum solos can sometimes become lackluster moments at shows, but with two of the greatest drummers on earth sitting next to each other, that just wasn’t going to happen. Getting into some polyrhythmic patterns, the drummers showcased why they are the backbones of the two most legendary improvisational rock bands in history.
Without stopping, the band joined back for the beginning of “Seven Below,” centering the post-hiatus launchpad in meat of the show. As they worked their way cohesively through the initial build of the jam, Gordon was littering the music with disgusting bass lines, and the two-drummer combo added a rhythmic density to the piece that would soon depart the song’s structure for the most psychedelic segment of the show. As effects were layered into the mix, the drummer’s added an organized chaos, creating a primordial musical stew. Trey began a repetitive lick in the midst of this madness that turned the jam up to 11. These were some of the most unique moments of the weekend, as Phish threw down some heavy music that barely sounded like themselves, and soon, it was apparent that we we heading for the “2001″ that everyone knew was coming Sunday night.
As the drummer’s made the initial hits and settled into a groove, their beats became infectious. With slower, more accented backing, the band was able to get more creative with their funk cover. Following the first theme, Fish and Kreutzmann got into some distinctly divergent beats, creating much jazzier feel to the song and inviting Mike to add some simply redonkulous bass lines, continuing his masterful night. In all the Phish-Dead fusion, no band has ever thrown down a “2001″ and this one grew into the closest thing to “type II” material we’ve ever heard from the song. In another set of non-stop highlights, “Seven Below > 2001 > Waves” stands out as one of the brightest passages. When the band took “2001″ to the top, they didn’t sit there, but instead moved into some outro funk that quickly transformed into “Waves”- a song that Trey, Mike, and Billy played together in Serialpod. The rhythmic familiarity that Billy brought to the song facilitated a soaring rendition that saw some all-star guitar work by Trey leading the charge. This inspired improv capped an incredible non-stop segment of music that had started with “You Enjoy Myself” before a dirty “Charcter Zero” closed the set and concluded Kreutzmann’s stellar sit-in.
When Phish came out for their last encore of the weekend, there was a feeling of joyous appreciation for everything that had happened since Thursday- and taboot, everyone knew that “Slave” would be the musical confirmation of that emotion. But before Phish finished one of the greatest four night stands of their career with their majestic show stopper, Trey honored his daughter’s persistent request of “Bittersweet Motel” whose simple, heartfelt melodies fit the ending of such a special weekend. And when “Bouncing” started, a triple-encore was imminent.
The past four nights were nothing short of the most magical Phish in memory. Challenging themselves and us, like the band we know and love, things could not be more encouraging as we start a new week of our lives. Any expectations anyone could have possibly had for these shows were so far surpassed that it’s silly- and this was only the beginning of tour. Whatever happened over the past five weeks has transformed Phish into a whole new monster who will be visiting the Bay Area on Wednesday. I’ll see you there.
Set One Notes: A marathon first set was one of those “list of song” sets, but had many pieces that stood out. Opening with “Roses Are Free” got the party started right, though the band didn’t take it anywhere. “Prince Caspian” was the first piece to really stand out in the night, as the oddly-placed first setter got the full treatment, and a stirring “Reba” brought us from light to dark in an ideal sunset soundtrack. The set also featured the second-ever versions of Page’s “Beauty of a Broken Heart” that was debuted in Hampton and Mike’s “Sugar Shack” that was debuted in Camden- both welcome additions to Phish’s catalog. The band closed with “Kill Devil Falls” that got into a jam the vain of Bonnaroo’s version, but not quite as extensive, illustrating the band’s desire to explore their new pieces. This was one of those well played, but fairly tame sets that set up something much bigger after the break -and it did its job quite well.
I: Roses Are Free, Wilson, NICU, Prince Caspian, Get Back on the Train, Reba, Grind, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Sample in a Jar, Sugar Shack, Waste, Kill Devil Falls
II: Boogie on Reggae Woman, You Enjoy Myself > Undermind* > Drums* > Seven Below* > 2001* > Waves*, Character Zero*
E: Bittersweet Motel, Bouncing Around The Room, Slave to the Traffic Light
* with Billy Kreutzmann
8.2.09 (Photo: Graham Lucas)