For the past two nights, Telluride’s Town Park hosted one of the most memorable stands in Phish history. Between the fantasy-like town with a laid back mountain attitude and its tiny concert field within the Rockies, the stage was set for a weekend of wonder. Although the overall experience was second to none – a 48-hour lucid dream – the music, itself, didn’t hold up to the Berkeley’s opening run. Each night presented a totally different vibe, but neither show provided the type of magical soundtrack one might expect from a band known to adapt to their surroundings like a chameleon. The first night boasted more improvisational creativity than the second night’s setlist-driven dance party, but neither show matched the majesty of Telluride’s idyllic site. The shows certainly provided an unmatchable experience, but when the dust settles at the end of tour, not much music from the mountains will make it onto summer highlight reels.
One one level, however, Telluride was more about the experience that the music. The spacious concert grounds carried a mini-festival feel where one could navigate the site unencumbered by lines or crowds. A blissful feeling permeated the audience as they floated down the small town blocks to Town Park for the first night of fun. Stepping onto the undersized field and gazing up at the monumental peaks, it was hard to believe Phish was actually playing the tiny mountain town. The rumors had come to fruition, and there we stood in the midst of paradise. Any forecasts of harsh Rocky weather dissipated quickly in a gorgeous summer afternoon. Playing from Telluride’s wooden stage of lore without their massive lighting rig, the band stepped into a historic setting on Monday night, and the fans were more than ready.
Phish delivered both of the weekend’s first sets in fairly standard style, allowing space for some surprises – “Camel Walk” and “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” on night one and “Timber” and “Roses” on night two, some rock and roll – “Disease” and “Julius” on night one and “Faulty Plan” and “Walk Away” on night two, and structured jamming – “Ocelot” and “Stash” on night one and “Yamar” and “Antelope” on night two. Though each of these opening frames were played well, the main plot line of each night unfolded during the subsequent halves.
The second set of Telluride’s opening night brought flashes improvisational brilliance, while also languishing from a choppy flow and an aborted “Tweezer” that ended before it ever got started. Despite the inexplicably botched “Tweezer,” Phish painted the other pieces in this set with their patient creativity of this tour – something that would be completely absent during night two. A snarling “Sand” blasted the night wide open, as Mike and Trey took center stage, co-leading an adventure of dirty dance grooves. Kicking off the set with fire, the band immediately cooled their momentum with the second standard set-two “Number Line” in five shows. Like the song or not, radio single versions don’t belong as the second song in the second set. It seemed the band continued down this mellower path when they began “Prince Caspian,” but when they soared into a regal, unfinished jam, the ballad turned into one of the evening’s high points. Phish peaked the jam and oozed via piano into a haunting “Mind Left Body Jam” on the anniversary of Jerry’s death. While many expected a straight-out Dead cover to honor Garcia, Phish sculpted a subtle and psychedelic nod to their legendary predecessor. One of few open jamming segments of the weekend, Phish used this ambient passage to introduce into the long-awaited “Telluride Tweezer.”
Amidst the monstrous mountains of western Colorado, Phish had crafted the opening half of the set quite well, setting the table for their exploratory vehicle of groove. But when the jam dropped into a crawling funk pattern, seemingly prepped for a cosmic journey, things got screwy. When Trey began playing short rhythm chops, ostensibly as part of the jam, Mike, for some reason thought Trey signaled a song change and began playing a slowed down version of his “Boogie On” bass line in a very clear and visible miscommunication. Mike’s momentum pushed the band into a segue and out of a six-minute “Tweezer” to the ultimate dismay of many fans. On the verge of realizing a colossal mountain odyssey, Phish, instead, gave us the largest case of musical blue balls in quite a while. Though it took some time to mentally get over the travesty that had just ensued, Phish proceeded to take the Stevie Wonder’s song on a bumping ride, substituting for some of the dance rhythms that “Tweezer” painfully lacked. Following their funk session, the band unveiled the unquestionable highlight of the weekend in one of the defining “Pipers” of this era.
Far more directed than Merriweather’s sprawling Leg I highlight, Telluride’s version carried a similar fury with enhanced cohesion. Instead of spraying the audience with a sawed-off shotgun of musical mania, the band carried a single thread through the entire jam. Chugging along as one unit, Fishman’s relentless rhythms coaxed unique bass offerings, while Trey and Page tore apart the top half of the music. Trey switched from lead lines to staccato rhythm chops on the fly, leading the band into a break-neck percussive poem. Adhered together with super glue, Phish careened through the intense piece of improv like a meteor. Locked and loaded, Phish darted and dashed through the evening’s most impressive sequence. Evolving organically through several stages of jamming, the band built an multi-faceted summer highlight as they finalized the piece with a grungy, ambient denouement. This adrenalizing quest bled into the location-appropriate “Mountains In the Mist” forming the defining musical sequence of the two days.
Concluding the set with a smoking “Bowie,” on this night Phish showcased their skills within individual jams rather than sculpting a flowing set of music. Sealing the deal with the first “Quinn the Eskimo” since ’99, Phish sent everyone off into the the pitch-black town with a smile. Though the set featured moments of brilliance, it certainly felt like the band left a lot of room for a night two blowout. If you had told they would have come back with a set-list driven rock show containing little creativity, I wouldn’t have believed you – this was Telluride after all! But that is exactly what happened.
Telluride’s final set, though a bombastic dance party, featured little original improv to write home about. Playing a highly-accessible frame that contained the opposite feeling of the mystical surroundings, the band blasted through a high-energy set that featured almost no risk-taking. While fun to dance to, the set’s only moment of true musical engagement came in the uber-psychedelic blown out ending of “Carini.” Turing to the melodic amidst heavy sonic sorcery, Trey spat juxtaposing lines against the ferocious textures. Descending into a ambient underworld of experimental sound, Phish crafted a gnarling musical palette that served as the evening’s unquestionable highlight.
Every other song in the set came and went with precise playing and undeniable energy, but lacked any gripping improv, staying wholly inside the box. “YEM” contained more spunk than usual, but all in all, though the set carried a superior flow to the previous nights’, it didn’t present many original ideas. To illustrate this point, Phish never even broke form during “Crosseyed and Painless,” spending all nine minutes toying with the song’s original theme and never branching into a “Telluride Jam.” Each time Phish entered a new song, the potential for creativity existed, but Phish opted out time and time again, favoring structured rock and roll. Throwing a bit of a curveball after the patient, extended jamming on display in Berkeley, the band played a set that, while fun, just didn’t feel congruent with the band’s emerging style of improv.
Usually masters of playing to their surroundings, these shows suffered from a slight disconnect, as Phish pumped out music that didn’t feel like it belonged in the to-die-for setting. Listening back to music Phish has produced in vast settings such as The Gorge or The Fuji Rock Festival, one can hear the nature’s energy infused in the music. But put in a similar isolation and surroundings in Telluride, instead, Phish powered through a finale of fun, but straight-forward, music.With limitless space and a pristine setting, one couldn’t help but have a blast, but without any engaging jamming other than “Carini,” this set won’t get much future play.
And thus went the much anticipated Telluride weekend. It would be a near-impossible task to find a fan who didn’t have an amazing time over their days in Colorado, but the magic of Phish didn’t quite materialize over the two shows. As Phish leaves the west coast hype behind them in a trail of unforgettable memories, Deer Creek and Alpine have the potential to turn into the four-night run of the summer. Back in familiar surroundings again with tickets accessible to all, the specialty shows are over and tomorrow Phish will step into one of the classic summer venues of their career ready to roll. Back in the cornfields, at the half way point of their abbreviated second leg, and coming off a slight musical dip, all signs point to a Deer Creek blowout. Let’s get ready to rumble…
I: Down with Disease, Camel Walk, Ocelot, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Summer of ’89, Stash, Cavern, The Wedge, Possum, Julius
II: Sand > Backwards Down the Number Line, Prince Caspian > Tweezer > Boogie On Reggae Woman, Piper > Mountains in the Mist, David Bowie, A Day in the Life
E: Quinn the Eskimo, Tweezer Reprise
I: The Squirming Coil, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Yamar, Timber, Let Me Lie, The Divided Sky, Walk Away, Roses Are Free > Limb By Limb, Bouncing Around the Room, Run Like an Antelope
II: Party Time, Mike’s Song, Crosseyed and Painless > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Destiny Unbound, Carini > Free, Heavy Things, You Enjoy Myself
E: Shine a Light
Tags: 2010, Summer '10