Following their first night throw-down in Philadelphia, Phish came back with a solid show that featured a slew of well-played rock and roll, but only a couple of jams that brought legitimate excitement. On the night before Thanksgiving, the band didn’t match the musical theatrics of the previous night, but played a rather generic show to bring us into the holiday break. The glowing setlist combo of “Tweezer,” “YEM” contained limited musical creativity, leaving the spotlight on the ferocious and exploratory “Birds of a Feather” that opened the second set as the shining moment of the night.
Coming off a very standard first set that peaked with a nasty “Antelope,” Phish came out after the break and dropped their first “Birds” of tour – and third since their return. The band focused their collective energies in a shredding-turned-open jam that reached places seldom seen by the song before crashing back into it’s theme seamlessly. Though Fishman played straight ahead beats all night, constraining the band’s exploration, in this piece he let loose for a bit, and the band followed into the only type II jamming of the evening. Starting within their raging rock grooves the band entered some thematic jamming led by Trey’s melodic leads. Gradually turning darker within the uptempo milieu, the band drifted into an experimental canvas. Trey and Page’s offerings became more abstract and Mike and Fish explored rhythmic complexities for one of few times during the evening. As the band turned to the swamp, Trey began slicing the musical space with sharp rhythmic stabs that allowed the rest of the band to loosen into psychedelic textures. And then – boom – right back into the song as if you never knew they left. This jam was the goods on a night that wasn’t exactly a cornucopia of interesting Phish.
Without needing a cool down song – the set had just kicked off – the band dropped into a randomly placed “Farmhouse” that diffused the energy a bit from the highlight opener. But that all changed when the band dropped into the second “Tweezer” of fall tour. While Cincinnati’s version provided a dance clinic, this version merely dipped in rhythmic playing before turning into a guitar showcase over an unchanging groove. No one but Trey seemed to bring anything original to the table in this relatively average rendition. Toying strictly with the “Tweezer” theme, this version simply didn’t hold up to most ’09 versions. At the very end it seemed they might be going somewhere as they descended from their guitar-rock peak, but their funkier playing lasted but a minute before they faded to silence.
Immediately starting “You Enjoy Myself” in the middle of the set, one figured the piece would counterbalance their arena rock with some extended funk, but this but this took a different, and interesting direction. Stepping into a laid back opening of the jam, Trey played staccato melodies from the start in this lampin’ segment of music. The band built out of this quieter section, into a more standard, yet raging second-half of searing “YEM” rock. Trey annihilated this section, and together, both halves amounted to a legitimate outing for the song, though after the spectacular Cincy “YEM,” this one sounded more straight forward.
The oddly constructed set continued with the always-pleasurable “Esther.” Playing the song as well as they have since their return, it provided an ideal interlude before the set’s final blowout. Time for one more big time song to lead us into Thanksgiving, Phish chose the least-exciting song in their repertoire, “Time Turns Elastic.” A real bonehead maneuver, Phish finished the show with their long-winded composition that should really find its way back to the orchestra. Sure, the band played it well, but really?!? Trying to defibrillator a dead horse, the band moved from their slowest piece into “Tweezer Reprise” in a harsh juxtaposition of styles. And like that, the set ended.
A welcome bust-out of “Oh! Sweet Nuthin” appeared for an encore, but it sure seemed like they should have played another song out of the ballad; a strange conclusion to an underwhelming evening. A night after blowing the roof of the Wachovia Center, Phish reeled it in a bit with a sharply-played show with an odds setlist that never really got off the ground. The highlights of lie in “Antelope,” “Birds,” and “YEM,” with “Birds” being the only must-hear piece of the night. Hey, ya’ can’t win em all, but it sure is fun as hell trying.
Set I Notes: Comprised of a lot of blues-rock, the only pieces of note the shreddier-than-thou, set-ending “Antelope,” a particularly well-played “Divided Sky,” and a stretched out “Ocelot” that developed into nothing more than an intense version of the standard jam…It’s hard to get exited about “Halley’s Comet” these days, as it seems to be settling in as a four-minute launch pad for the 3.0 era as opposed a jam vehicle as in the late ’90s…Phish brought Trey’s “Sleep Again” from Indio’s acoustic set into their electric show for the first time ever. A song I’ve always liked since Trey debuted it back in ’08, I’m sure this one will get mixed reviews from the peanut gallery…Though not nearly the caliber of Detroit’s slow, methodical death march, last night’s version of “46 Days” definitely packed a punch without breaking structure.
I: Kill Devil Falls, 46 Days, Sugar Shack, Halley’s Comet, The Divided Sky, Sleep Again, Ocelot, Train Song, Wilson, Run Like an Antelope
II: Birds of a Feather, Farmhouse, Tweezer, You Enjoy Myself, Esther, Time Turns Elastic, Tweezer Reprise
E: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’Tags: 2009, Fall '09