In a powerful final stanza of summer tour, Phish played a second set at SPAC that showcased some of their newest and oldest songs, weaving together their past and future in a musical tapestry. Leaving us with one last summer memento, and reminding us that the current state of the Phish is one of pure joy, the band drew from the full spectrum of their bag of tricks. From a masterful twenty-minute psychedelic exploration and a seamless segue, to a Summer ’09 anthem and an always-elusive bust-out, the band’s full repertoire was on display in summer tour’s closing show.
Following a musical dip in the road at Merriweather Post, Phish stepped up their game for the final night at SPAC, providing a triumphant conclusion to their tour. Coming onstage shortly after a torrential thunder-shower drenched a good portion of the uncovered audience, the band opened with the roaring bust-out of “Llama,” instantly juicing the crowd before slowing things down with the laid- back “Moma Dance.” A engaging combination, the two opening songs existed at opposite ends of Phish’s musical spectrum reached out to their diverse fan base right off the bat. But after this bombastic opening, the set seemed to drag for a bit, featuring a string of songs that didn’t exactly pop. The exception was a stirring rendition of Round Room’s “Anything But Me” in which the band showed ultimate control, painting a powerfully emotive picture with the introspective ballad.
The extensive first set picked up the energy with a mid-set “David Bowie” that, while solid, didn’t compare to Darien’s blistering version of three days earlier. Yet the first set highlight came in the late set menagerie of the “Poscelope!” Merging three of their animal-named songs to close the set, Phish played a bumping “Possum” that finalized a portfolio’s worth of versions played this summer. Ironically, my friends and I had been joking about the “Ocelope” combo since the song’s debut at Fenway, and on the last night of tour, our inside joke came to fruition on stage as the high point of the first set.
Stretching out “Ocelot” time it comes out to play, Phish sat into another jam session in the affable song. And to the same musical degree that Ocelot is laid back, Antelope is not- providing a starkly-contrasting couplet that ended the set just as it began. Both versions were legitimate, if not extended, versions that punctuated the set with a bang. “Ocelot” followed its now-established bluesy path, turning into a well-phrased, guitar-led piece of improv. A smooth “Antelope” closed the set with a relaxed and dancy vibe- more reminiscent of the west coast renditions than Darien’s scorching second-setter.
After the first half ended, there was definitely a sense that it was a tone-setter for something bigger to unfold in set two; and it most certainly did. In a fitting decision, the band opened their last second set with “Backwards Down the Number Line”- the first new-school Phish song, which carries a thematic significance for this chapter of the band’s career. Tom Marshall’s birthday poem to Trey about old friends reuniting has grown in stature from it’s Hampton debut to its emergence as an improvisational vehicle over the past couple weeks. But last night’s version was a different monster all together- generating a supremely psychedelic excursion that provided not a standout summer highlight, but a preview of what is to come from Phish 3.0’s theme song. Building the jam into some extra-terrestrial territory, Phish unfolded their final- and arguably their greatest- creative jam of of the summer. A piece that continued deepening into the musical ether as it progressed, there were more than a few spine tingling segments throughout. Completely fluid and one of the indelible memories from tour’s last weekend, this “Number Line” segued seductively from its concluding ambiance into “Twenty Years Later,” creating a set-opening suite of their newest material. Breaking out their rarely-played new song, its placement was impeccable and the performance foreshadowed what could turn into a heavy jam come Fall.
As Phish concluded their escapade through their- soon-to-be-released music, they delved into their earliest archives with a mid-set “Halley’s.” Based on the infectious energy of the show, it seemed like Phish would finally settle-into a looser, funk-based version of their college classic, but when the musical fork in the road divided, Trey ripped into a brief guitar solo before quickly switching to “Rock and Roll.” Used in the old-school vein as opposes to as a jam, “Halley’s” nonetheless upped the adrenaline of the entire audience before spilling into one of Summer ’09’s standout songs. In tour-closing shows, Phish often showcases their successful pieces of that particular tour, and this summer, the Velvet Underground cover certainly fit the bill. After sparking Bonnaroo’s second set with one of June’s more interesting jams, the song expanded into a second leg highlight with a dose of heftier improv at Red Rocks and one of the summer’s defining pieces at The Gorge. A certain nod to the song’s significant place in their tour, Phish once again leapt into the fray- locked and loaded- with dense and fiery playing. Trey undertook some inspired leads that pushed the song out of its comfort zone into more collective improv. Rooted to the songs quicker tempo, however, Phish explored the given textures without creating wholly new ones.
Sustaining the jam’s sonic residue, the band took a minute before stunning the New York audience with a last-set-of-tour appearance of “Harpua.” Only days after playing “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” and “Icculus” in Hartford, Phish reached back into their early-history, un-shelving the ultimate bust-out and the “ever-evolving” saga of Jimmy. Recounting a low point in Jimmy’s live, Trey told the story of how Jimmy discovered his Fishman-eqsue “spirit guide,” who floated in through his window to give him life guidance, delivering the “great truth of all time.” At this point, Fishman came front and center for a cow-like rendition of Katy Perry’s global top-40 smash-hit, “I Kissed a Girl.” The bizarre Fishman interlude seemed less than congruent within the flow of the set, but in the zany context of “Harpua,” anything is fair game. As they entered the final segments of the song, the band was both physically and musically animated as they performed Jimmy’s fateful conversation with his dad and moved into the song’s ragtime ending. It was warming to see Phish bask in their old-school wackiness again, something that was so noticeably absent from the post-hiatus years.
And to cap the tour, one last run through “You Enjoy Myself” after Hartford’s comedic, but musically-minimalist show closer. The moment seemed right for a tour-ending “Mike’s Groove,” but nobody can scoff at a celebratory blowout of the band’s seminal piece. Fitting in every sense of the word, Phish finished their summer comeback where it all began- with the song that Trey offered up a gonad to play five times a day for the rest of his life while coming to his post-rehab realization that Phish is IT. The feel-good dance-session hit the spot, putting an exclamation point on a summer of dreams.
Who knew that on the thirteen-year anniversary of The Clifford Ball, Phish would be we at this point of re-evolution? Over the course of one tour, broken into two legs, Phish has redefined themselves and the possibilities for their future- and to be honest, things have never looked brighter. Engaging in their best playing in so many years, the universe now holds no barriers for how our musical super-heroes; and so many lives, souls, and imaginations have been revitalized in a summer where inspiration and mystery seemed to lurk around every musical corner. Though it took a little while, things are finally back on course for the Phish from Vermont, and we are all blessed to be along for the ride.
I: Llama, The Moma Dance, Guyute, Anything But Me, Cars Trucks Buses, Chalk Dust Torture, Golgi Apparatus, David Bowie, Cavern, Possum, Ocelot, Run Like An Antelope
II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Twenty Years Later, Halley’s Comet > Rock & Roll, Harpua > I Kissed A Girl* > Hold Your Head Up > Harpua, You Enjoy Myself
E: Grind, I Been Around**, Highway to Hell
*debut, (Katy Perry cover) **debut (original; final track of Joy to be played live)Tags: 2009, Summer '09