Everyone has their favorite shows and particular nights that they enjoyed more than others. But what often strikes me as bizarre, is how some people in the Phish community habitually pick out all the “bad,” or unexciting, aspects of a show and obsessively discuss them ad, criticizing, to no end, the experience they love so dearly. Life is too short to focus on the negatives, so when one reads my reviews, I may not mention the lesser points of the show. Why waste anyone’s time harping on them? It makes no sense go me; very rarely are there not enough improvisational highlights to carry a show. But on one night along the course of Summer 2000, Phish played, what I still consider, the “worst show I’ve ever seen.”
Now, “worst” is quite a subjective word, and this is most definitely a subjective article, but for me, when Phish stopped in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 25, 2000, the show flat-out sucked. Don’t go getting hot and bothered if this was your first show and it meant the world to you – I’m glad. Not for me. And it had nothing to do with my personal experience. In fact, the Sunday night show seemed less than crowded, and my friends and I had prime real estate in the flat handicap section on Page side. Security seemed completely chill, and after two smoking shows in Atlanta, (the previous featuring one of the year’s best jams in “Tweezer), the conditions were set for takeoff. But Phish tossed an air biscuit.
The first set faded in with a string of singles that read “NICU,” “Sample,” “Old Home Place.” Ho-hum. But many great Phish shows feature song-based first sets, so who cared. The first glimpse of energy, “Punch You In the Eye,” was followed by another string of event-less songs, this time five. The only glimmer of hope in this run came via “Funky Bitch,” but Phish gave the song particularly sloppy treatment in a version that dragged rather than popped. As the band prepared for a set closer, nothing had, happened throughout the entire set.
But even the bunkest Phish shows have a musical peak, and Walnut Creek’s high-point came together in a vicious, set-closing “Split Open and Melt.” As if Phish turned on a dime, they focused their improvisational prowess in this multi-faceted exclamation. While the version did contain some early communicative speed bumps, it proved to be a scintillating version, especially in the context of this show. Moving through an early section of spacey grooves, Page took the melodic lead, as Mike and Trey followed along. Soon, the band connected in a menacing theme that remained firmly rooted to “Split.” Trey’s hard-edged offerings began to lead his cohorts further into into the unknown, slowly building out of the song’s natural groove, and bursting onto a more ethereal and melodic plane. Fully immersed in improv, Trey and Page came together, playing uplifting harmonies, while Mike and Fish chugged forth in a heavy groove. The entire band gradually drifted into darker waters, reconnecting to “Split’s” ending jam and taking it to the top. A high quality Phish jam, no doubt, but little did we know that it would end the excitement of the show.
Phish came out for the second set with a painfully generic “Jibboo,” a song that opened almost every other show that summer. I’m never one to care about repeats, but the band is gonna’ push a jam into most of their shows – be creative! Thus began the post-Japan era of 2000, when the band’s sense of adventure began a steep decline. Needless to say, this “Jibboo” went nowhere, possessing little, if any, musical dynamic. The band seemed to be going through the motions, each playing their own lines with little concern for creating a greater whole. They weren’t flubbing anything, but they weren’t doing anything interesting either; an incredibly sterile performance to say the least. And to follow up the less-than raging opener, a cool down with “Fast Enough For You.” Undoubtedly a gorgeous song which I hold dearly, it had no place batting second in set two, usurping a power hitter’s spot in the lineup.
Then, the set-killing, thrash-grass of “Scent of A Mule” emanated from the stage. Laughing at this point, my friends and I wondered if the band was pulling some sort of joke on this evening. But, apparently, they weren’t. “Scent” can easily dominate a set with less-than-engaging music centered around the slow, extended “Muel Duel” between Page and Trey. Occasionally a cool segment emerges from said “duel,” but not on this night in 2000. Page and Trey traded intentionally slow and, ultimately, uneventful solos, sucking any energy from the pavilion. A tortuous segment of second-set nonsense, Trey continued the non-jam with a series of sparse effects that created a monotonous chunk in the middle of the second set. The band joined in the effect-laden texture before moving back into the slow, eastern-sounding build of “Mule.”
After an oddly placed interlude of “Meat,” the band revved up a mid-second set “Maze.” Hmmm. Apparently, the band had no intention of jamming on this evening. Once again, we’d have to settle for generic Page and Trey solos for the “improv” of the song. “Mazes” have their times and places, but this one, dropped randomly into the middle of a set that was going nowhere, did nothing but further that cause.
And it wasn’t just the song choices. The band’s playing screamed of carelessness and laziness all night long, characteristics that seeped into their repertoire during this summer. On this night in Raleigh, the band’s primary objective seemed to be reaching the 11pm curfew, rather than creating any interesting music. Their music didn’t jump of the stage, it dragged along like a tired bulldog on a blazing hot day. Increasingly hit or miss, Phish shows of 2000 entered a new type of unpredictability. In retrospect, none of the shows seemed as sluggish live as they sound now, but the irony of Raleigh was the immediate consensus on the instant stinker.
Phish picked up the vibe at the end of the set, tacking on “What’s the Use? > Slave,” but the triumphant combination seemed wholly out of place with no musical fireworks to celebrate. The same lackluster playing that defined the night carried through the end of the set, and once the band stepped off stage, we were all ready to move on to the next show. Dropping the bizarre encore of “Uncle Pen,” “Bold As Love,” Phish faded into the evening.
We all go to shows for different reasons, and one man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but this night in Raleigh couldn’t have done much for anyone. If you’ve read this site for any amount of time, you’ve probably picked up on my positive perspective on Phish, but I would call this show the only true disappointment in my time seeing the band. There just wasn’t enough meat to carry the show, and never before or since have I seen one so thin. I figured I’d write this piece at some point, but there you have it, my least favorite Phish show I’ve ever seen.
I: NICU, Sample in a Jar, Old Home Place, Punch You in the Eye, Water in the Sky, Funky Bitch, Horn, Heavy Things, Dirt, Split Open and Melt
II: Gotta Jibboo, Fast Enough For You, Scent of a Mule, Meat, Maze, What’s the Use, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Uncle Pen, Bold as Love
AUDIO ARCHIVE UPDATE: Due to the diligent work of Phish Thoughts’ community member, Halcyon, the audio archive has been completely updated with every show that exists on this site! Included are the majority of both Trey and Mike’s winter tours under the newly-added “2010″ tab. So scroll and scour the site no more! Head right over to Phish Thoughts’ Audio Archive for all your downloading needs, and have at it!
Jam of the Day:
“Ghost” 6.15.00 I
An under-exposed first set gem from Phish’s first show in Osaka.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.9.93 State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN < Torrent
4.9.93 State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN < Megaupload
This one goes out via reader request to the Phish Thoughts NCAA Tournament Challenge winner, Kaveh! Enjoy the trip down memory lane, my friend.
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Sparkle, Guelah Papyrus, Stash, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Maze, I Didn’t Know, It’s Ice, The Divided Sky, Cavern
II: Buried Alive, Suzy Greenberg, All Things Reconsidered, Llama, Mound, My Friend, My Friend, You Enjoy Myself, My Sweet One, Big Ball Jam > Hold Your Head Up > Love You > Hold Your Head Up, Possum
E: Sweet Adeline, Golgi Apparatus