I left Great Woods scratching my head last night with a question that has grown significant in the flow of recent Phish sets – “Why does Trey keep cutting off jams?” In a very good show at Great Woods that could have been great, Phish got into two sections of improvisation, out of “Sneakin’ Sally” and “Light” that reached points of greatness when Trey singularly decided to lop them off before they came to an organic endings. The flow of a potentially awesome second set became compromised, and we were left with some stellar, relatively disconnected, moments of Phish.
Within each individual jam, Phish is clearly listening to each other very proficiently, jamming as a unit quite well. But any time a piece seems to be progressing into something bigger, the band continues to push ahead in the musical concept, while Trey simply starts a new song. For examples, look no further than the two most significant pieces of last night’s show – “Sneaking Sally” and, more particularly, “Light.” Each jam brought original ideas to the table, connected in cohesive improvisation. But in both cases, (much more flagrantly in “Light”) Trey ended the piece awkwardly, suddenly starting the next song while the rest of the band was clearly still engaged. Food for thought.
Nonetheless, the highest points in the evening came in “Sally > Light,” and a phenomenal “Slave” that deserved a more complete set to punctuate. “Sally” brought a bulbous funk excursion that had the amphitheatre bumpin’ like a pinball machine. Trey, with short, high-pitched licks and searing leads, and Mike, with thumping bass lines, engaged in creative interplay, leading the band through dance realms without ever falling prey to cliche grooves. Trey briefly previewed the upcoming “Light” by changing tones within the “Sally” jam, but then prematurely chopped in with the song’s initial chords. The band adjusted quickly, resulting in only a slightly rocky transition, but why isn’t Trey allowing jams to reach their natural conclusions?
“Light” entered sublime territory, leaving the song’s build for a darker exploratory realm. Page and Mike stepped up to co-lead this forward-looking experiment while Trey accented the jam from the behind the scenes. This section was amazing, but this section lasted only two and half minutes. As the band jammed on, Trey decided it was time for “Forcety-Six Days,” inexplicably starting the blues-rock number amidst a serious groove. Once the band had left the build of “Light,” they arrived at a plane that seemed destined for greatness along the lines of Blossom’s “Number Line,” but it wasn’t given the chance to grow.
Though “46 Days” didn’t go too far, it did include an clever improvised vocal ending before the band played standard versions of “Limb” and “Golgi.” When this dip in the road ended, Phish came back with a gorgeous version of “Slave.” Incredibly patient throughout, the jam featured a quiet initial section without a beat, as the band combined gentle offerings. Listening and responding to each other meticulously, the band built a summer highlight with the apparent set closer. Then throwing the audience a bone, the band tacked on “Loving Cup” to end the summer night.
There were encouraging sections in last night’s second set, but when the dust settled, the whole wasn’t necessarily greater than the sum of its parts. The opening “Mike’s Groove” contained high energy, but straight-forward playing in both halves, as the band has yet to match the creativity of Blossom’s “Groove.” An encore of “First Tube” closed the night on a high note just before the rains came.
At this point, Camden is set up to be a complete blowout with all sorts of big guns due up in the rotation. And Phish destroys Camden as a matter of fact throughout their career. Every.Single.Year. There’s no place like Southern Jersey to get the second-half of tour underway! See you there.
First Set Notes: The jam of the first set came via “Kill Devil Falls.” A stretched out rock improvisation smoked anything in the frame with one of its best outings yet (though not in the same league as Bonnaroos’s versions from last June.) Shredding versions of “Divided Sky” and “Antelope” also dotted an opening frame that saw the debut of another original, “Dr. Gable.” This piece carries a distinctly non-Phishy sound, presenting the potential for something original to grow. Now that Phish has debuted so many new songs, the question remains – why aren’t they playing them? In the past, the band frequently repeated new material to improve it, but this summer we’ve heard a bunch of new pieces only once. Hopefully, along the second half of tour will see the development of the new side of Phish alongside their classic jams. The band opened with a song called “Lit O Bit,” but as of right now, I do not know if its a Phish song or cover.
I: Lit O Bit*, Camel Walk, Possum, The Divided Sky, Dirt, Sample in a Jar, Kill Devil Falls, Dr. Gabel*, Run Like an Antelope
II: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley > Light > 46 Days, Limb By Limb, Golgi Apparatus, Slave to the Traffic Light, Loving Cup
E: First Tube
*DebutTags: 2010, Summer '10