In a summer marked with consistency, Phish dropped their first spotty effort of 2010 last night at Hartford’s Comcast Theatre. Though the Northeast’s opening night featured a half-hour of the summer’s best Phish music, the show also saw the band stumble more than a few times in a choppy affair that boasted little to no flow at all. On the brighter side, the band did pull it together in spurts, in both sets, creating some highlights that will definitely be spun all summer long.
Beginning with the meat and potatoes, Phish absolutely destroyed “Disease > Sand,” a sequence that stands out among the tightest adventures of tour. Pulling their collective chops together to start the second set, the band followed a “Party Time” opener with a sizzling, multi-faceted highlight reel that could be excerpted as the essential chunk of the evening. Moving out of a passionate foundation of “Disease,” the band entered a series of super-charged percussive grooves that took on a life of their own. The band that bumbled through more than a couple compositions in the first set, all of a sudden, was on fire in a sub-conscious rhythmic crusade. Heavily flirting with “Crosseyed” textures, the band took the express train in forming one of the most powerful pieces of music of 2010. This several-tiered trek provided some of the most impressive work from Trey we’ve seen this tour, not to mention the sublime interplay undertaken by the entire band. Their improv seemed to gain energy with each and every change, as the crowd inhaled the seething vitality. A blistering work of art, “Disease” provided the outright jam of the night, and reaching a point where the band easily could have steered back to the ending, Phish tastefully melted the jam into a haunting segue into “Sand.”
Trey attacked like a piranha throughout “Sand,” pulling out just about every weapon in his arsenal. Moving between dirty, uncompressed notes; subtle, rhythm licks; silky, swanky grooves, and walls of sonic dissonance, the song became a showcase of guitar acrobatics one might expect to see at a Trey show. But Big Ern decided to straight-up let loose, leading an addictive piece of improv that, combined with the band’s foundation of fury, made for a stellar second half of the second-set gem.
Then, in a flagrant moment of TreyDHD, The Bad Lieutenant decided “Sand” should immediately cease, proceeding to castrate the addictive groove by relentlessly playing “The Horse” amidst the dinosaur rhythm. In one of the more awkward on-stage moments in memory, this “segue” will forever be remembered as “Forced > Silent.” And, interestingly, once this moment went down, so did the set’s entire momentum. Choosing songs seemingly at random, the band played “Guyute,” and “Farmhouse” before closing the set with a “Weekapaug”-heavy “Mike’s Groove” that paled in comparison to Blossom’s first-set smoker that set the bar for this summer.
The most intriguing segment of the final half of the set, interestingly enough, came in the extended “Farmhouse.” While not moving far from the song, Phish wove a serene soundscape that transcended any normal version, providing the most out-of-the-ordinary take on any song after “Sand.” (Though “Weekapaug” did bring some heat of its own.)
The opening set’s high point came in a unique “Stash,” where Page led much of the way before Trey crept from behind the scenes to peak the piece in menacing style. Taking this far beyond an average first-set jam for this tour, Phish let things hang out early last night as they went deep on the show’s fourth song. Additionally, as the band came to the end of a standard “Walk Away,” Page upped the musical ante on his organ, coaxing the band to add an extension into the normally short piece. And when Trey got the opportunity, boy did he ever take liberty, massacring a guitar solo as if he were a comic book hero. This segment is truly one for the books; a must-hear-now type situation. But other than a flowing “Ocelot” and a decent “Alaska” (if you like that sort of thing), the set didn’t offer much in terms of precision or excitement. This was the first set of tour that just didn’t really work for me, but throughout a tour, some sets are bound to fall flat.
Though unsteady overall, the few earnest high points of last night were as high as any we’ve seen thus far. But as we move onto Friday night, one would imagine this show will be far in the rear view mirror by Sunday, as an erratic kick-start to the weekend.
I: Punch You In the Eye, Ocelot, Dinner and a Movie, Stash, Esther, Walk Away, The Divided Sky, When the Circus Comes, Sugar Shack, Alaska,Golgi Apparatus
II: Party Time, Down with Disease > Sand > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Guyute, Farmhouse, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
E: Shine a LightTags: 2010, Summer '10