Long known for playing anthemic Saturday night shows that cater to their more mainstream weekend audiences, Phish approached the first Saturday night of 2010 with a playful, self-referential twist. Connecting a sequence of “Saturday-Night” songs that were often characterized by formulaic jamming throughout 2009, Phish infused Blossom’s second set with their re-found intention, crafting an refreshing frame of forward looking improvisation.
For the second consecutive night, the band formed a flowing second set of music, this time, with a celebratory thread running throughout. Opening up with a quintessential Saturday night trio of “Rock and Roll > Hood, and Backwards Down the Number Line” Phish pushed the boundaries of these well-loved anthems, creating some of the most compelling moments of this young tour. After a familiar-sounding “Rock and Roll” that moved from a fierce peak into a layered, ambient passage, the band dropped into a surprise early-set “Harry Hood.” Dripping with passion unlike any other of this era, Trey led the band in, easily, the most awe-inspiring version of their early opus since their return. An instant-classic that left more than a few jaws on the ground, this monumental “Hood” set the tables, however, for the jam that would steal the show like the Hamburgler pocketed quarter-pounders.
Re-emerging after a fall tour of relative inactivity, Phish took “Backwards Down the Number Line” further than ever before, launching into, perhaps, the defining jam of the opening two shows. After the band noodled out of the song’s structure, Phish shifted gears into a menacing milieu of secret-agent, spy-mission Phish drama. Without having a chance to hear the show before writing this, I can safely say that this excursion provided the unquestionable centerpiece of the show. Drifting into the same new sound that emerged from “Light” and “Ghost” in Chicago, Phish furthered their leap into the future with this clandestine journey. Check this out with all due speed, as I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this one in writing before too long. Spilling into “Twenty Years Later” in a reprise of the sequence that highlighted SPAC’s ’09 summer closer, Phish merged the two songs of Joy into a concentrated dose of musical psychedelia.
After a hearty exhale following this non-stop opening hour of the set, the band took a moment, preparing for what was next. After some clear communication between Trey and Page, in which Page looked ready and willing, if not a bit overwhelmed, Phish launched into John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!” Coming out of the furthest corner of left field, and sounding incredibly authentic to the original, the band opened the door to a brand new cover that will surely work its way into rotation this summer. Fishman’s replication of the strapping, hard-edged drumbeat gave the song its genuine sound, steering away from his usual intricate drum patterns. But the clear hero of the moment was Page McConnell, who absolutely slayed John Lennon’s vocal part, replicating both his tone and intonation, spot on. While the debut remained as the straight song, I wouldn’t doubt if Phish began to jam out of the “Instant Karma’s” unique textures before too long. A uniting song that fits the spirit of Phish 3.0, this comes as a welcome addition to the band’s ever-expanding repertoire.
And putting a stylistic ass-slap to their Saturday night set, Phish broke out the old-school funk in “Oh Kee Pah >Suzie.” And with time for one last scorcher, the band instead chose to split time between a gorgeous rendition of “Waste” and a gargantuan, snarling take on “Character Zero.” Taking their mainstream theme right on through the set-closer, Phish continued to slay their anthems like Super Mario taking out dragons. Crushing each and every piece in their path, Phish left a torrid wake in the Cleveland region as they made the circus made its way through a driving rain towards Hershey. And that was just the second set!
Phish opened the show in the intimate pavilion with another debut cover – The Band’s “Look Out, Cleveland.” A thematic table-setter, this cover of the one-and-done variety, follows a handful of songs that Phish has used to honor specific geographical locales. Phish followed the The Band’s Americana feel, with a slice of their own in the slowly stretching “Ocelot.” Moving into more delicate, bluesy textures, this jam evoked the sounds of The Grateful Dead, a direction the piece seems to be moving. Again using the first set as a showcase for creative, succint jams, alongside “Ocelot,” Phish also shredded a “Stash” before dropping Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” for the second time in the 3.0 era, and, also, the second time since 1993. But the unquestionable high point of the first set came after time turned elastic in the long-overdue ressurection of “Mike’s Groove.”
Crushing “Mike’s Song” with a militant musical escapade, Trey looked as if he had reacquainted himself with the ethos of the song, wearing his dramatic motions on his sleeve while demonically setting up shop. The band joined in the heavy hitting improv, which ironically didn’t surpass in time many of 2009’s versions, but the density of ideas was unparalled and anything but formulaic. And even more spectacular than “Mike’s,” for the first time in eons, Phish took “Weekapaug” by the jugular and created a truly original jam. Feeling his mojo, Trey stepped to the front of stage with a swagger with spitting leads of fury in what was nothing short of a modern revelation for the song.
After only two nights of summer, Phish creativity has been staggering, not only in their cosmic communication, but also in their show-sculpting. Bringing a completely fresh feel to the table, Phish has begun the process of reinvention once again. And things have never looked so promising…
I: Look Out Cleveland*, Ocelot, Water in the Sky, Stash, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Sample in a Jar, Time Turns Elastic, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
II: Rock and Roll > Harry Hood > Backwards Down the Number Line > Twenty Years Later, Instant Karma*, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg > Waste, Character Zero
E: The Squirming Coil
*debutTags: 2010, Summer '10