Phish added a large piece to their legacy in Hershey, Pennsylvania last night, throwing down a bass-led massacre in Chocolate City. Throughout two sets of pure Phish fire, Mike took center stage, leading the band through an array of creative jams in which Trey played noticeably more subtle, laid back offerings all night long. Boasting an enhanced creativity through more diverse playing, Trey helped sculpt a show that certainly upped the ante for the rest of the summer. With a bombastic second set and a stellar first, Phish capped the weekend with their strongest overall performance of this summer, which – although hard to believe – has only just begun!
As the sun shone though the clouds of the early evening, Phish came on stage flying high with a groovy greeting of “Jibboo.” Entering the song’s candy grooves, Mike’s presence was immediately felt as his thumping lines bounced though the the wide open field like a kangaroo in the outback. Setting the tone for the show, both Trey wove his lines around his cohort’s leads, eventually bringing the jam to a searing peak of his own. But following the late-’90s TAB transplant, the rest of the first set took on a pronounced old-school persona. While barreling through a roaring, yet intricate, “Chalkdust,” it became very apparent only three shows into tour, regardless of what songs Phish is playing these days, they are simply destroying them all. With a tightness that sounds foreign after the late-’90’s groove era and post-hiatus’ more abstract improv, seeing Phish 2010 is like seeing a renewed band– a bandone that wants to be exactly where it is once again and is having a blast doing IT.
The retro-vibe continued with a massive first set “Fluffhead,” showcasing the the pin-point accuracy of Phish’s chops and the intense tension and release that comes along with such precision. Infused with a undeniable urgency, “Fluff” illustrated that the band can once again toy with energy like children in a sandbox, manipulating music as if it were a tangible object. After a seriously cathartic peak, the band dropped into the now-rare “Funky Bitch,” annihilating a version that brought the crowd energy to ferocious first-set heights. From this early point in the show, it became wholly evident that Phish was feeling the flow, likening Loony Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil, taking out anything and everything that stood in their path.
Phish continued their scorching opening sequence with the most engaging “Runaway Jim” since their comeback. While remaining within the song’s structure, the entire band oozed creativity as they chugged through the jam. Trey offered delicate licks as opposed to face-melting leads, a pattern that held true for much of the night’s music. This “Jim” proved that the little doggie can still inspire greatness, something it hadn’t yet done this go-round. The show’s only relative lull came in the five-song sequence of “NICU,” “Horn,” “It’s Ice,” “Bouncin” and “Sparkle,” but Phish came right back, punctuating their spirited frame with a demonically abstract “Split Open and Melt.” A version that grew outwards as quickly as it pushed forward, the band, collectively, built a hypnotizing, discordant gem that saw Trey favor tonal bends and washes of psychedelia rather than forceful linear leads. A version that needed a re-listen to truly digest, Phish tapped into a demented realm of darkness as night fell upon setbreak.
Building on the well-crafted second sets of the past two nights, Phish came out in Hershey’s with a musical stanza that flowed impeccably. Lacing together several of their “greatest hits” with creative bass-led improv that just never stopped, Phish crushed a classic frame from the opening note to the last. First the setlist – “Drowned > Tweezer > Twist, Piper > Free, Velvet Sea, YEM” – booyakasha! Or as MC Hammer once sang, “Can’t touch this!” And the playing within matched the absurdity of the visual setlist, one imaginative piece after another.
The most expansive jam of the evening came right out of the gates in a multi-faceted jaunt through “Drowned.” Out of the jam’s shredding rock textures, Phish slowed it down into a heart-tugging segment of transcendent psychedelia. And, even in this mellow realm, the band molded their experimentation with Mike at the center of the music. Moving through this ethereal palette as if a daydream, the band soon pushed into a series of lively percussive grooves. Moving in the direction of a dance party, the band wound the jam directly into the first “Tweezer” of 2010. Entering a series of dense liquid patterns, Phish molded a heavy space-aged sequence that seemed that it might launch into the stratosphere. But, ironically, when the dust settled, “Tweezer” stood out as the least exploratory jam of the second set, remaining a showcase for Gordon’s thunder, while Trey spat nasty licks, bringing a snarling element to mix.
Following an extended build, the band settled into an ambient section that soon segued into “Twist.” With some of the best interplay between Trey and Mike all night, it was a relief to see Phish take”Twist” for a significant ride once again. With shorter, staccato-esque licks, Trey darted in and around Mike’s heavily effected basslines, creating a musical game of cat and mouse. Boasting sizzling chops, the entire band moved with intent, collectively manifesting a slamming piece of interlocked dance music. It seems that each time Phish busts out a song right now, they are topping any previous 3.0 version, and this pattern certainly held true with “Twist.” And then, after a momentary pause, Phish breathed life into the year’s first “Piper” – an immediately exciting proposition, after the song’s stellar 2009. On this night, the band chugged right out of the searing composed jam into one of the night’s most compelling adventures. With a take-no-prisoners attitude, the band careened into a rollicking case of musical density, following on the heels of Miami’s standout excursion. This “Piper” continued pushing the ceiling for the piece’s modern potential, and became another vivid illustration of everything right in current Phish universe.
Splashing down in “Free,” the time seemed ripe for Phish to take the song to town once again. But in the end, “Free” seems like a song whose purpose has changed permanently from jam vehicle to landing pad in this era, and some things we just must accept. Following the relentless opening hour of the set, Phish used “Velvet Sea” to set up a closing “YEM” that brought the house to its knees with its laid back funk fantasy. Again taking a minimalist approach, Trey sat way back, issuing swanky tickets for Gordon’s multiple bass violations. An example of what “YEM” can be when given the tender loving care it deserves, this version just built on the strong Fall ’09 renditions, providing an indelible exclamation point on a evening of modern legend.
With three shows down and fifteen to go, the sky is once again the limit for Phish shows, a place where the extraordinary music once again happens with alarming regularity. Even though the temperatures can’t get much hotter on Summer Tour 2010, the mercury of the music is rising faster than ever. Look Out, Portsmouth, there’s a storm coming through.
I: Gotta Jibboo, Chalk Dust Torture, Fluffhead, Funky Bitch, Runaway Jim, NICU, Horn, It’s Ice, Bouncing Around the Room, Sparkle, Split Open and Melt
II: Drowned > Tweezer > Twist, Piper > Free, Wading in the Velvet Sea, You Enjoy Myself
E: Bold As Love
Tags: 2010, Summer '10