Reeling in their wide-open exploration of the past few shows, Phish sculpted two sets with distinctly different vibes, delivering a powerhouse performance in the serene surroundings of Canandaigua, New York on Tuesday night. With a laid back first set that matched the feeling of the cool, upstate evening, and a fiery second half, Phish unveiled many crowd favorites en route to a start-to-finish show that will be remembered, above all else, for its stellar “Mike’s Groove” and intimate environs. Upon walking into CMAC Performing Arts Center, the uniquely designed and miniature pavilion immediately gave the show a much cozier feel than the east coast blowouts of last weekend. Many thought this Tuesday night, out-of-the-way affair would explode in a jealousy-inducing show for those not in attendance, but in a very Phishy move, the band played a straight forward setlist loaded with Phish anthems, delivering two flowing sets of music without ever moving to into the stratosphere.
An uncharacteristic “Possum”opener led off the second set in rocking fashion, prepping the crowd ready for a highlight-reel “Mike’s Groove.” Blasting into the inferno of “Mike’s,” the band entered the lair of the beast with intent to slay. Trey led the band through a series of explosive peaks with snarling leads and filthy volition, scripting a menacing musical tale. As Mike’s bass pulsated at the heart of the jam, the band carved a darker version that shied fr0m dance rhythms in favor of demonic vigor. Coming out of the composed ending of “Mike’s,” for the first time this summer, Phish chose “Simple” to bridge the “Groove,” pumping consistent energy into the set. Deconstructing the feel-good groove, the band entered sparse and melodic segment that gradually morphed into gorgeous ambient space. Briefly sounding like their course was set for “2001,” Page began a piano solo over the space-aged texture, artistically slipping into the night’s big surprise – “I Am the Walrus.”
The transition from “Simple’s” ethereal excursion, and Phish’s take on The Beatles’ classic, worked perfectly, infusing the show with a massive surge of retro-enthusiasm. Feeding off the energy in the small pavilion, the band continued to build out of the song’s ending, getting into a ferocious piece of heavy psychedelia. With menacing walls of sonic dissonance, Phish got straight-up medieval on the piece, as “I Am The Walrus” grew into far more than a straight ahead cover. Bringing the song further out than John or Paul had ever imagined the band carried a harrowing intensity, bringing the entire venue on a sweltering mental roller coaster. Bringing the jam to a head, Phish created another summer highlight while sliding smoothly into “Weekapaug.” All tour long, “Weekapaugs” have outshone their “Mike’s” counterparts, and once again, this version overflowed with creativity, weighting the back end of the “Groove.” Connecting several segments of galloping, rhythmic exercise with scintillating guitar leads, Trey threw down fast-paced licks of all variety amidst this dynamic piece. Moving through a minimalist, percussive section, Trey never relented with his thematic leads, providing a cohesive plot to the entire jam.
The band pushed “Weekapaug” out of the box and into an abstract, bass-led swamp before the jam disintegrated, unfinished, into “Limb By Limb.” This late second-set version evoked memories of Chicago’s placement; though the band didn’t seem to connect on this outing like they had throughout the set, and the piece ended before reaching an earnest peak. “Joy” filled the late-set ballad slot before Phish dropped into “Harry Hood” to punctuate the set’s improvisation. Picking up a notable pace right away, this version carried the direction and intent of old, moving gracefully and without hesitation, through a fluid, whole-band conversation. The band moved directly to the heart of the matter, side-stepping any meandering in this potent, well-phrased dosage of bliss. Bringing the show to a purifying peak, “Hood” hit the bulls-eye last night, leaving time for an anthemic afterthought of “Golgi.”
That was the second set, but the first set felt a whole lot different. Combining choice songs and plenty of structured improv, Phish played a notably laid back set to match the first pleasant evening of summer tour. The pastoral setting of the Finger Lakes region breathed life into the jams of the first set, all adopting a similar musical inspiration. Illustrated most clearly in “Ocelot,” “Reba,” and “Bowie,” this frame was underlined by its improvisational placidity. Each of these central jams sprouted creative roots within this milieu, tying the set together thematically. Trey’s minimalist playing and tasteful whaling contributed to the contour of the opening frame, which took place all under blue-to-purple sky. “The Connection” set the tone for the mellow set whose feel was enhanced by the second “Curtis Loew” of tour – when’s the last time one could say that? “Undermind” was also infused with the laid-back style on display in this non-stop summer stanza.
As we prepare for the final four night run of June, look how far we’ve come. On the third and final Tuesday of tour, Canandaigua provided a lively evening of Phish that set table for the band’s long-anticipated southern run. Ending in Atlanta on the Fourth of July, the first leg of summer is quickly coming to a close, but with four more nights on tap, the adventure is hardly over.
Look out South, here comes the end of Phish tour.
I: The Connection, Down with Disease, Sample in a Jar, Ocelot, Reba, Horn, Funky Bitch, Undermind, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, David Bowie
II: Possum, Mike’s Song > Simple > I Am The Walrus* > Weekapaug Groove, Limb By Limb, Joy, Harry Hood, Golgi Apparatus
E: First Tube