One night after Phish rewrote the improvisational record book for this era, they played a show far more defined by its setlist than open-ended jamming. Greeting the intimate Sunday crowd in Maine with an array of bust-outs and precise playing, the band issued their strongest first set of tour, but then opened up their improv only one time during the second set in an odd turn of events. Albany’s other-worldly playing, almost inexplicably, didn’t provide the impetus to step onstage and go for it again. Instead, the band played a non-stop, two set show that brought a consistently high energy in a classic building of Phish lore.
Greeting the renovated arena with their own new, ultra-polished rock show, Phish came out firing in the first half, opening with the promising combination of “Possum,” “Disease.” Staying within the confines of their anthem for the first time this fall, “Disease” sparked the night with a standout shredfest, but the most interesting segment of the set came in the second half. After the band played the first “Weigh” of this era and the first “Nellie Kane” since 2000, the band sat into their third smoking piece of improv of the set, this time of the dark variety, in “Stash.” Building a standout sinister peak, this song set the ominous tone for the rest of the frame, as the band dropped into their third 3.0 debut with “Meat.” Taking the simple funk groove and creating a mini-jam, the band did more with Gordon’s Ghost-era composition than ever before. The rhythmic-focused “Undermind” provided another first set highlight as Trey experimented with a twangier tone and an explosive solo over his bandmmates’ building shuffle-groove. Meanwhile, Gordon kept busy hurling bass grenades into the fray in what turned out to be a step forward for the song. But the peak of the nasty first half came in the the set ending “Mike’s Groove.” Without breaking form, Phish built a massive guitar-rock jaunt that saw Trey crush an intense excursion of evil licks and bombastic patterns. A dirty dance through a dark alley, Trey led the troops to the safety of “Hydrogen” through some excessively hairy territory. Capped by a full-speed run through “Weekapaug,” Phish’s stellar opening frame set the table for a second set that held the imaginations of all captive for the forty minute setbreak.
Kicking off the second half with “Moma Dance,” the band oozed into the frame with some thickness, and then dropping into to the virtually- guaranteed type-II vehicle “Rock and Roll.” Showing love for Velvet Underground’s Loaded for the third time in four shows, this time, instead of launching into an interesting Phish jam, the band remained anchored to the break-neck, guitar rock for all but the last minute or so of the piece. When they finally eased up the intensity, the music began to blossom, and, with some patience, could have made a stunning journey. But it wasn’t to be – just as the music was turning transcendent, the band segued rather quickly into “Light.”
Providing the improvisational centerpiece of the night, “Light” transformed from a cathartic guitar confessional into a group exploration in the spiritual plane, Trey sporadically dropped his geyser-like melodies for more abstract offerings and the band built outward with him. Remaining in high gear, Phish soared through the multi-faceted centerpiece of the show, briefly reaching an incredibly addictive groove that they abandoned all too quickly. Remaining creative throughout and building delicately to an beautiful conclusion, the band took “Light,” and went for it, resulting in the most engaging piece of the show. Sometimes all ya’ gotta do is try!
As only real exploratory section of the night came to an end, the band slithered into a murky hard rock or heavy metal cover, with full on snarling guitar licks and a crashing drum beat. But as the lyrics unfolded and the band sang the chorus, it became clear that Phish was unveiling a reworked version of the Dude of Life’s “Crimes of the Mind.” Appearing for only the seventh time in their history, and the first without The Dude, himself, on vocals, the updated version featured a menacing guitar hook and a seething solo that left everyone smiling at the reinvented pseudo-classic. Yet another addition to Phish’s ever-broadening catalog, this one seems like it could have some real improvisational potential if the band chooses to go that route.
The rest of the set, while well-played didn’t feature anything outside the box. Though precise “Pebbles and Marbles” seemed to break up the set’s continuity a bit, and its customary, one-dimensional rock jam didn’t add any intrigue to the song-based evening. Juxtaposing the upbeat textures with their patented space-funk, Phish kicked into a short but sweet, bass-led “2001″ in a late set dance session that spun the mini-arena like a gyroscope . Phish emerged from the song’s peak with a run of potential set closers – “Golgi,” “Cavern,” and a classic “Antelope,” which the band drilled to punctuate the set. Enhancing the show’s kick-down value, the band featured a triple-encore of the rare a capella “Freebird” for the first time since 2000, “Carini,” and “Waste.”
Moving into the fall-tour’s peak run at Madison Square Garden, one can only assume Phish has a couple of monster sets in them to rival Albany’s masterpiece. Always bringing their A-game to the Big Apple, the next three shows could very well wind up being some of the most memorable of the year. It will be interesting to see what approach Phish takes in a building where they have traditionally jammed relentlessly. Only a of couple days to travel, recoop, and listen to Albany, and we shall see!
I: Possum, Down with Disease, Nellie Kane, Weigh, When the Circus Comes, Kill Devil Falls, Water in the Sky, Stash, Meat, Undermind, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
II: The Moma Dance, Rock and Roll > Light > Crimes of the Mind, Pebbles and Marbles, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Golgi Apparatus, Cavern, Run Like an Antelope
E: Free Bird, Carini, WasteTags: 2009, Fall '09