Philadelphia Phish – there ain’t nuthin’ like it! As the band hit the first show of their major east coast arena run, they rolled out two sets of top-notch playing and a setlist that bordered on make-believe. With no filler in either frame, the band threw down a full-length party at the Wachovia Center last night. With a first set filled with rarities, and improv strewn throughout both sets, Phish slaughtered what has to be considered the strongest full show of the fall.
When looking at it on paper, last night’s first set appears to have been written by an online fan listing the songs he wanted to hear. With six songs appearing for the first time this fall, including “Camel Walk” for the first time since their return, the opening frame felt completely fresh and energetic. Throughout the entire set, and show, Phish sounded as good as they have all year, completely on point and flowing with their seeming effortless nature of lore. Nailing song after song as if they were mere calisthenics, the band was clearly overjoyed to be back in Philly again. Wearing a Flyers jersey throughout the set, Trey continued his guitar acrobatics, leading the band through a “Chalk Dust” opener and splashing into an early “Bathtub Gin.” With the first “Gin” of tour coming right at the beginning of the show, one immediately got the feeling that things were on for the evening – and that inclination turned out completely accurate. With tasteful, contained improv, the band took command of the audience right away, peaking “Gin” with a fury and eliciting a massive ovation after the fact. With the liquid funk of “Cities” and “Camel Walk,” Phish quickly found themsleves amidst one of their most exciting first sets of the year, and as they dropped into “The Curtain (With)” things only kept building. Taking their hallowed composition indoors for the first time since Fall 2000, the band floated floated into a virtually note-perfect “With,” where the band showcased both their compositional and improvisational chops. And we somewhere in the middle of the opening frame.
Following the the dancy combination of “Wedge,” “Moma,” Phish dropped the first “Reba” of tour, and this time, there wouldn’t be any flubs. In a spectacular rendition, Phish not only nailed a note-perfect composed section, they offered delicate smorgasbord of groove highlighted by unbelievably expressive soloing by Trey within a locked down band dynamic. A stunning overall version led into the seeming set closer of “Golgi,” but Phish wasn’t done just yet. Tearing into the burliest “Faulty Plan” to date, the band stretched the song into a growling dose of arena rock to close the set.
The Wachovia center buzzed with excitement at setbreak – everyone knew that they sat in the eye of the storm. Whatever came next, if one thing was for sure, it would be fire. Turning things on end, the band came out with their usual set-closer of “Possum” to kick off the second set. Building off its Cincinnati incarnation, this version followed a more boisterous path, forming a surprisingly spunky opener. Setting the table for something big, the band entered a section of ambient noise out of which emerged the tour’s second “Disease.” The only current Phish song that guarantees a completely open, type-II adventure, last night’s knocked the socks off the Philly audience. Akin in texture to Detroit’s version, the exploration piece built collaboratively into another piece of next-level jamming. Following an organic path into a blissful plane, Phish brought “Disease” way out into a finely woven psychedelic silk carpet ride through the universe. Getting into some completely original and textured group playing, this jam developed into a no-brainer highlight of the tour – and of the year. Certainly the the song of the moment, the band soared built a creative opus last night featuring both groovy and melodic abstractions that provided the one of the most indelible musical moments of 2009. Take a listen for yourself – as soon as possible! As Phish played the introspective excursion to its natural conclusion, they morphed from the sonic fallout into “Twenty Years Later.”
Played for only the third time ever, this song provided a mystical landing point for the majesty of “Disease.” Lyrically poignant and musically different than most Phish songs, it was good to hear the band feature their new song in a central position once again, and it worked great. Keeping the surprises coming, the band rolled, without hesitation, into a mid-second set “Harry Hood.” Sculpting a heart-tugging, cathartic epic, this version embodied pure hoodness to the hood degree. With sublime full-band interplay, and the continued masterful playing of Trey, this centerpiece “Hood” reached triumphant levels and exploded in one of those peaks that could inspire the world. This first incarnation of the tour provided a mega-jolt of energy to the middle of the show, which carried right over into the second “Mango” of the year, and into the unheard of combo, “Hood,” Mango,” “Mike’s!”
Firing up their aggressive musical suite, the opening licks of “Mike’s” likened aural crack, knowing that we would soon be immersed in the wrath of Phish. Being indoors seems to be allowing the band to reconnect with the ethos of “Mike’s,” as they crafted a version whose bombast and full-on improv built on Detriot’s version in a snarling tale of horror. A nuanced and well-connected “Simple” provided a gorgeous interlude into “Slave?!” For the second time in three “Mike’s Grooves,” the band has inserted their divine build, one-upping Cincy’s centerpiece into arguably the most awing version of the year. Playing the initial section through with hardly a beat, the band came together like a four-headed monster in a version that fit right into the flow of the evening. And a “Slave,” “Weekapaug” show-closing combo doesn’t get much better – unless Trey to decides to instruct the band to drop into half-time to create an incredibly danceable set of grooves instead of the usual speed-rock of “Weekapaug.” Out of left field, Phish sprinkled one last dose of creativity to this show, creating an original take on a classic. As Trey sang, “Still trying to make a woman match your mooove…” all things seemed right in the world of now matured world of Phish. With a start-to-finish blowout, Phish returned to Philadelphia in fine style approaching the mid-week holiday with a show that immediately upped the ante for tonight and the rest of the tour. Ready or not, here they come!
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Bathtub Gin, Cities, Camel Walk, The Curtain With, The Wedge, The Moma Dance, Reba, Golgi Apparatus, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
II: Possum > Down with Disease > Twenty Years Later, Harry Hood, The Mango Song, Mike’s Song > Simple > Slave to the Traffic Light > Weekapaug Groove
E: A Day in the LifeTags: 2009, Fall '09