Phish came down from the mountains and into the cornfields of America’s heartland, returning to one of the most well loved venues on summer tour since 1995 – Deer Creek. Departing from their west coast adventure, Phish returned to the Midwestern mecca, stepping onto a conventional stage for the first time this run, but the night was anything but routine. With comfort in toe, the band felt the freedom to take improvisational risks throughout the second set, forming a flowing frame of adventure. In a tale of two sets, the band rectified a sloppy opening frame with exploratory and unique jamming throughout the second half of Deer Creek’s opening night.
Breaking more than a few setlist patterns, Phish centralized several jam vehicles we’ve become used to hearing in the opening halves of shows. Using “Jibboo,” “Bathtub Gin,” and “Split Open and Melt” as significant links in last night’s second-set puzzle, and employing two bust-outs as a mid-set interlude without losing any steam, Phish brought a refreshing feel to their song choices as well as their jamming. Opening the second set with the second leg’s first “Drowned,” Phish guaranteed an exploratory jam right off the bat. Building coherently out of the song’s rock foundation, the band passed through a very brief percussive section on the way to another experiment in the uptempo ambient jamming that Phish has unveiled this tour. The band morphed into a gorgeous four-part conversation that saw Trey move between melodic and dissonant leads while Fishman kept a quick and intricate beat behind the drone landscape. Forging another step into the future, this jam turned into the newest piece of the band’s emerging sonic direction. A totally unique and experimental piece retained a beauty through Trey’s intricate and varying lines and Mike’s co-leadership. This jam likened Phish turning on their headlamps and heading out into the woods to explore the new musical forests of 2010, and coming out with another gem to put alongside the growing pile of stellar Leg II pieces.
As “Drowned” came to a close, Phish resolved the darker psychedelia with a the summer grooves of “Jibboo.” Placing the spinning groove machine in the second set, Trey sat back and painted the rhythms with varying lines, playing few of of his signature licks in a song where they have become second-nature. The divergent angle on “Jibboo” added to the fun of its placement and a cathartic passage of dance music emerged. Following the song’s peak, the band dropped into a mellow groove instead of moving into the song’s ending, taking their time to build a near-seamless, surprise segue into “Bathtub Gin.” Moving as one entity, the band continued the feel-good vibe of “Jibboo” with an upbeat, melodic jam. Mike’s brought unique bass offerings throughout the climbing jam which Trey brought to the top as a rolling melodic geyser. This “Gin” fell in line with the entire opening sequence, lending an unconventional feel to the set, as Phish combined two current first-set anthems in the set’s opening triumvirate.
Continuing the positive setilst anomalies, Phish centered “My Friend” and “Buffalo Bill” as a mid-set interlude to cool down from the frame’s opening 35-minute sequence. Far more entertaining than a played-out ballad, Phish shot some fun into the middle of the set. The final downbeat of “Buffalo Bill” turned into the opening hit of “Twist’s'” first Leg Two appearance, and yet another intriguing jam. Again shying from hackneyed patterns, Trey and Fishman led the band through a delicate rendition that managed to stay relatively close to the “Twist’s” theme. Bringing only more adventure to the set, “Twist” came as a let set surprise, but there was more to come.
Phish ignited the set’s final act got in the grand fashion with the first second-set “Split” since their return. Another truly exploratory piece, clearly Phish came to Deer Creek to get business done. Starting in a distinctly menacing groove, Mike and Fish drove the ship forward as Page crushed his piano, and Trey brought the jam into the abstract with diverse playing, ranging from dissonant wailing to shreddier licks. In the middle of the jam, however, the band lost focus for some moments, almost getting lost. But instead of bailing on the jam, they pushed through the rough patch and arrived in an interesting musical plane. The band used the resulting ambient passage to deconstruct the “Split” jam into nothing, landing in “Dog-Faced Boy.” Another second set bust-out bridged the set into its final punctuation – a second consecutive stunning rendition of “Harry Hood.”
The band’s patience really shone on this nuanced exploration, allowing time to depart from its every day course. Taking the celestial jam into realms uncharted, Mike offered a darker bass line amidst the astral jam that urged the band to follow. Stepping outside the box, this section blossomed into a tangent from the free-flowing piece that put a stamp on an bold and daring frame of music. At the top of the jam, the band splashed into “Golgi” to close the set with one more blast of energy.
While encores are usually an afterthought at Phish shows, last night’s quadruple-encore brought far more fun than usual. Trey stepped on stage with a megaphone, and began to step to the mic for the first megaphoned “Fee” in ages. Teasing the crowd, he then backed away and pretended to put it down a couple times before commencing the song. Extending the Fee’s ending melody, Trey began whipping the megaphone around in circles a la Pete Townshend, creating a feedback loop as Mike stomped his foot bell and began his dental narration of “NO2.” Breaking out connecting elusive pieces, Trey picked up right where Mike left off, beginning the lyrics to “Kung” over the same aural textures. Taking the encore into the absurd, the band recited their nonsensical verse as they built a wall of sound around the poem. Then, busting into Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” the band concluded the night by ripping through their final selection.
Phish continued their forward-looking playing last night, crafting a very engaging second set filled with improvisational risks and strewn with rarities. Taking Deer Creek by storm, the band clearly loves the storied venue as much as their fan base, and last night both forces converged in a bold and distinctive experience. As tour moved past its midway point last night, Phish made it quite clear that more experiments lie ahead. And that all starts with one more night in the cornfields.
See you in a few hours…
Set I Notes: Phish opened up their Midwestern run with solid song choices, though struggled through several of them in a fairly flubby first set. Appearing for the first time of this tour were “Runaway Jim,” “Roggae,” “Cars, Trucks and Buses,” and “Sugar Shack.” The sets high points came with the “Jim” opener the mid-set “Cars, Trucks, and Buses,” and and the late-set “Wolfman’s Brother.”
I: Runaway Jim, Punch You In the Eye, Roggae, Cars Trucks Buses, Sample in a Jar, NICU, Horn, Sugar Shack, Wolfman’s Brother, Time Turns Elastic
II: Drowned > Gotta Jibboo > Bathtub Gin, My Friend, My Friend, Buffalo Bill, Twist, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Split Open and Melt* > Dog Faced Boy, Harry Hood, Golgi Apparatus
E: Fee > NO2 > Kung, Fire
* UnfinishedTags: 2010, Summer '10