On some nights, creativity, energy and musical acumen converge in a frame of Phish that leaves us all glowing. Every Phish set has something to offer, but sometimes one can feel like Christmastime, as the sparkling musical gifts flow like creamy egg nog. Once in a while, the band eliminates all filler music and creates a cohesive experience that is greater than the sum of its individual parts. The first night of Cincinnati was one of these nights. Following three sets of legitimate, but less than full-on, Phish to start fall tour, The Crown’s second set immediately burst to the forefront with a confluence of improv and creative transitions, all bookended by deliciously addictive sessions of dance grooves. This set stoked an arena-sized fire, with a ripple effect that would be felt throughout the weekend, not to mention the rest of the tour.
After a composition-heavy opening frame, Trey sparked the kindling of the second set with the opening guitar-scratches of “Punch You In the Eye.” Able to tear through “The Landlady” section almost routinely again, the band has brought “Punch” into greater prominence as of late. Nary a more spirited set opener, its adrenalized rhythms quickly dialed up the intensity in the historic arena. And out of the trill apex of the song growled the opening licks of “Tweezer.” Immediately igniting the crowd with a much larger flame, Phish opened the freezer door for the first time of the fall, kicking off the season in earnest. At the onset of the jam, Trey set up shop with a sinister and repetitive lick. The band quickly morphed into a thick musical canvas, as Trey narrated an addictive guitar fantasy over the sparse and driving pattern. Taking his time and phrasing each idea with utmost care, he let his new-found swagger shine throughout this piece. Eventually making a change into his dirty, uncompressed tone, Red influenced Fish to alter his beat into a dirtier, snare-heavy scene, while his story took a left turn down a dark alley with smoke rising from potholes all around. Navigating the ominous environs, the band engaged in a sequence of grittier grooves that complemented the first half of the jam’s smoother planes.
Forcefully, Phish climaxed the piece with a creative build that saw Trey unleash a furious solo. Settling into a post-peak section of spacier funk, the band slid through a drone soundscscape into “Light.” Another in the growing series of transitions from dark “Tweezers” into “Lights,” Phish brought this modern combination indoors for the first time. Breaking out their newest vehicle for its initial voyage of fall, all of a sudden Trey transformed into an intense geyser of colorful melody, shooting guitar lines through the sky like he was born to do. A beautiful foreshadowing of the many transcendent versions that would follow in the coming weeks, “Light”stoked the evolving fire of this phenomenal frame.
Breaking down the high-speed jam into a more percussive realm, Phish seemed headed for a completely new milieu. But instead of moving outward, the passage playfully blended into “Get Back On the Train.” A song usually reserved for first sets came out of a completely spontaneous place, a sure-fire sign that Phish’s creativity had been piqued on this evening. In their third consecutive segue, the band moved naturally from the back-country funk into the musically similar “Possum.” Taking one of summer’s most commonly played songs on its first arena adventure, the band attacked the song with an aggression unseen in the amphitheatres of ’09. Enclosed within cement walls, the copious energy bounced around the room, creating a celebratory conclusion to the set’s initial suite. And soon after “Possum’s” final note came to a crashing close, Trey delicately strummed the opening to “Slave.”
In a slot where the band would usually insert a ballad, Phish keep right on chugging with a centerpiece version of one of their most well-loved songs. Showcasing ethereal textures, the band showed utmost patience in allowing this version to unfold organically. Trey, Mike, and Page were locked in a delicate conversation as Fish slowly increased his rhythmic backdrop. Each member phrased their playing masterfully, coming together in an soaring rendition. Infusing powerful emotion into his guitar work, Trey took this outing to the top with determination, upping the ante for the song over the next few weeks. And then the cherry on top – “You Enjoy Myself.”
Phish put an exclamation point on this set with a sequence of crunchy rhythms and thematic improv that left the many generic, guitar-based, summer versions of “YEM” in the dust. Fishman proved integral throughout this jam, contributing intricate and evolving rhythms, begging bodies to move subconsciously to the beat. Trey hooked up with an old signature lick, leading the jam into sparser territory, as Mike and Page swam melodies around him. Mike gained an enhanced presence as Trey switched over to some swank rhythm chords, playing all his cards in this one. Following this rhythmic seduction, Trey infused a completely original melodic theme into the mix, and the band jumped on board. Taking the jam away from its typical bubble-funk destination for the first time in ages, the band was finally doing something creative with “YEM.” At the end of their three-week tour, this version of stood head and shoulders above the rest, with MSG’s rendition more than a couple lengths behind. Having fallen into a somewhat generic formula during this era, “YEM” broke that model in Cincinnati, providing closure to a wildly creative set.
This jam-packed frame of music set the community abuzz, as everyone spilled out of The Crown into downtown Cincy. The first exceptional set of the indoor season had just gone down, and everybody understood. Tour was now fully underway. We sat, carefree, amidst the first two-night stand, with nothing to do but kick it until the next evening, and ten more shows staring us down. And after a set like this one, spirits floated through the night on cloud nine, awaiting nothing, and enjoying every moment of the ride.
Jams of the Day:
“11.20.09 Set II” (listen only)
Enjoy fall tour’s fourth set in its entirety. Punch, Tweezer > Light > Train > Possum, Slave, YEM.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.20.09 The Crown, Cincinatti, OH < Megaupload
I: Chalk Dust Torture, The Moma Dance, The Divided Sky, Alaska, Water in the Sky, Fast Enough for You, Time Turns Elastic, Gotta Jibboo, Fluffhead
II: Punch You In the Eye, Tweezer > Light > Back on the Train > Possum, Slave to the Traffic Light, You Enjoy Myself
E: Joy, Golgi Apparatus, Tweezer Reprise
Source: (FOB) Schoeps mk22 > KCY > Schoeps VMS02IB > Apogee Mini-Me > SD 722 (@24bit/96kHz)Tags: 2009, Fall '09