You’ve probably already read my view that nothing from this standout summer quite matched the improvisational majesty of The Gorge’s first night. But the single set that I find myself listening to the most is July 31st, set two- the gem of Red Rocks, and my personal favorite frame of ’09 Phish. With an unmatchable energy, the most astounding segue in years, a “Tweezer” that simply owns, and a paradigm-shifting “Fluffhead”- it’s hard to match the non-stop quality of this stanza of music.
The tone had been set on night one- Phish was far more comfortable than they were June, and ready to explore their songs in earnest. We got tastes of their revitalized jamming throughout the 30th, particularly in “Stash,” “Ghost > Wolfman’s,” and “Bowie.” And the message was clear- things were on! Embodying a far more confident style of play, Phish seemed ready to rule the stage again for the first time this era. And on night two, they did just that.
Following an energetic first set that brought an extensive exploration of “Bathtub Gin” and a mind-numbing, abstract “Split,” Phish stepped onto the Rocks after a setbreak downpour. Throughout their career, the band has often been spurned to greatness by inclement weather, and when Phish took up their instruments and played nothing short of the hottest set of summer.
Kicking off the frame with a super-charged “Drowned,” the band’s energy was explosive as they slaughtered the song, carrying their steam-engine momentum into some full-powered improv. The entire band was a collective volcano spewing white-hot musical lava as they careened out of the song’s structure with meteoric jamming. Trey turned his leads into sheets of sound and effect, cranking the intensity before eventually settling a more percussive pattern. Without missing a beat, the band shifted into the opening groove to “Crosseyed” in a stunning transition that nobody saw coming. After so many trainwrecks in June when the band attempted segues, it was amazing to see them pull off one of such mastery in their second show back. This moment instantly jacked the Red Rocks crowd, who responded with significant fervor. Things were flying again, and Phish was at the helm directing this heat-seeking excursion.
As the band tenaciously tore into the cover, Kuroda pained the natural backdrop with psychedelic patterns, providing a dose of sensory candy to enhance the ride. Jumping out of the composition into a galloping groove, the band’s virtuoso communication- a central factor in facilitating top-notch jams- was back on display as they began to create. Not contained for long, this jam evolved into a multi-faceted beast in the vein of “Crosseyeds” past. Completely leaving the song in the dust, the band was off, crafting a dark adventure of the sorts we had longed for during June. Phish was absolutely going off- and it was during this jam I realized everything is moving towards places we’d never dreamed. A true highlight of the summer, this “Crosseyed” was led out of the darkness by some surreal leads and harmonies from Trey and Page. Triumphant in every sense of the word, this was one of those times your face hurt from smiling so hard for so long while raging- everything felt right again. The band collectively peaked the jam, as Trey effortlessly flowed through high-paced, spine-tingling licks in one of the most exploratory 3.0 pieces up to that point.
Creating a soft, layered ambiance to come down from such a high emotional mountain, the music seeped into a mid set “Joy,” a song that continues to pop up amidst the band’s the most exciting sets. It couldn’t have felt better after the full-throttle roller coaster ride of “Drowned > Crosseyed.” And once it ended, the opening lick of the Red Rocks “Tweezer” echoed through the night, instantly shooting the adrenaline of everyone into the stratosphere.
My favorite piece of music from the summer, this “Tweezer” is pure Phish crack of the highest grade. Redefining the song for the modern era, this version set a new-school standard for the psychedelic vehicle. As they bust into jam, we salivated in anticipation of the oncoming dark, musical elevation. And what resulted was nothing short of masterful. Coming out of the gates as smooth as ever, the band hit up some rhythmic patterns as Page washed the music with some spacey effects. Landing in a ferocious bass-led groove, the band was locked into some new-school shit. Completely overtaking my consciousness in a cascade of nasty grooves, I was this “Tweezer;” there was zero separation between self and music- this is what I live for.
When the band stepped into the next section of improv, Trey rolled out one of the most infectious licks of the entire tour; and the whole band was slamming it down in a dream come true. That intense inner fire, those rendonkulous dance grooves- it was a feeling I hadn’t felt in so long- like shedding a skin and being indoctrinated into the new universe of Phish. Naturally sliding through the most addictive dance grooves of tour, the band hit a change as Trey nailed a slick rhythm pattern that set up the rest of the jam. He would alternate between these rhythm licks and darker leads for the rest of the piece in a dynamic juxtaposition. As the band wound down, seemingly ending the piece in old-school fashion, they ripped back into the jam, creating a downright raucous. One of Red Rocks’ defining moments, and one of the summer’s indelible memories, this “Tweezer” ended in a slower repetitive pattern that set up a transition into “Number Line.”
The new song’s first appearance of the tour would be more improvisational than any previous version- the first step in a second-leg evolution that saw it develop into a major jam vehicle by SPAC. The upbeat jam saw the band weave their quasi-staccato offerings around each others at a spirited pace, taking the jam outside of its norm for the first time. And then, just as we were catching our breath and when we least expected it- “Fluffhead!”
Stamping the already crazy set with their hallowed composition, the band hit the top of “The Arrival” with cathartic enthusiasm, as Trey’s soaring solo led us in what was presumably the final peak of the show. But when they got to the top of the song, in an unprecedented maneuver, they began improvising out of the peak of “Fluffhead”- an experiential mind-fuck. And as Phish held the sonic intensity of the jam, they dissolved into “Piper,” leaving “Fluff” unfinished. Whaaat!? It was a certain Scooby-Doo double-take moment of disbelief- did that just happen!? It did; and Phish sunk their teeth into a thunderous “Piper” jam that carried no feeling of the show winding down.
The band stepped into some blistering textures, as all members came together in a fiery musical tornado, carrying the same sense of connection that had defined the set itself. One could see the moment in the madness when Trey figured out how this adventure would come close, as he stepped to Mike and Page, sharing his ideas. Before long, Phish had the fiery passage to a point of relative calm as each member dropped out for piano solo. Page artistically used his solo to begin The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and Phish had finally reached the landing point of their non-stop odyssey. With the powerful cover that was debuted at Red Rocks in 1995, the band came full-circle, closing the incredible set in an homage to the original Fab Four.
This entire episode was like being reborn into the revitalized fire of Phish’s new world, and leaving Red Rocks on the last night of July, spirits were higher than ever. Taking a step far beyond their their first night’s performance, this transcendent set of music sent us the message loud and clear that June was over and things would be different now. And so it began- our initiation had ended- and chapter three was now fully underway. Sparking the rest of the summer, the significance of this night should not be lost, deserving a pedestal among the sixty frames of 2009. Continuing the musical snowball that started the night before, this night would give the band some forceful moemtum that would carry them through the rest of the summer.
Jam of the Day:
“Tweezer > Number Line” 7.31.09 II
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
7.31.09 Red Rocks < Torrent
7.31.09 Red Rocks < Megaupload
After perusing a handful of great AUD sources for this night, this one gets my vote. No matrix has surfaced yet to my knowledge.
I: Runaway Jim, Chalk Dust Torture, Bathtub Gin, Time Turns Elastic, Lawn Boy, Water In The Sky, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Split Open and Melt
II: Drowned > Crosseyed and Painless, Joy, Tweezer > Backwards Down The Number Line, Fluffhead > Piper > A Day in the Life
E: Suzy Greenberg,* Tweezer Reprise
* w/ “Drowned” and “Crosseyed” teases
Source: B&K 4022 (ortf) > Sonosax > 744T (Taper: Craig Davis)
7.31.09 Red Rocks (Photo: Graham Lucas)