After listening to Alpine’s two-night stand, there is no doubt that Phish left their mark in Wisconsin this past weekend. With four complete sets of music – a rarity in two-night stands these days – and some of the summer’s most impressive playing, the band heads into the final two shows of summer with a full head of steam creativity. Producing some interstellar jams and flowing, fantasy setlists, the Alpine shows delivered potent Phish within a classic Midwestern setting. After giving my thoughts through the headphones regarding the opening night in the Valley, I figured I’d chime in on the second night a little bit as well.
Instead of dropping a highly-anticipated monster “Tweezer” at Alpine (especially after Telluride’s aborted fiasco) Phish decided to surprise everyone and open with the song for the first time since Hampton ’03. This early placement became as much of a shot of adrenaline as it was a slight disappointment; though “Tweezer” got the party started immediately, Phish was clearly not going to explore the ether with their show opener. An exciting ignition to the show nonetheless, the band built a slower-paced rhythmic sculpture that, I’m sure, engaged everyone from the get go.
Other than “On Your Way Down” and “Farmhouse,” well-played rotation songs comprised most of the first set. But the highlights of the first frame came in its bookends. To complement the “Tweezer” opener, Phish closed the set with an explosive “David Bowie,” upping the intensity of the entire show right before setbreak. The whole-band jamming showcased in “Bowie” is indicative of the increased level of subconscious communication we’ve seen throughout Leg Two. Responding to, echoing, and finishing each others’ musical ideas, one can hear this notably enhanced connection in “Bowie” and beyond. Throughout this summer and peaking in Alpine, Trey has continued to feel out jams, learning how to play around Mike’s lead parts without overtaking him. And as a result, Phish’s improvisation – as a whole – has progressed to a far more organic place than we have seen in this era. Putting an exclamation point on the first set in black indelible ink, this “Bowie” furthered the rejuvenated path of the song that started on the summer’s opening night in Chicago. But after setbreak is when Alpine’s finale blew up.
For the second straight night, Phish crafted a beautifully cohesive set comprised of many significant jam vehicles. While nothing approached the sheer brilliance of “Disease > What’s the Use?”, the band used a heated setlist and ferocious playing to conclude their Midwestern run. The opening combo of “Ghost > Theme” traveled an emotive journey from darkness to light. Though each jam remained anchored to its structure, they also featured incredibly locked in playing, providing a snapping and creative dynamic to their jamming. This “Ghost” is another example of Trey finding his spots perfectly while allowing Mike to lead the charge, and this new type of musical interaction is bringing a tighter feel to the band’s playing each subsequent night. A contributing factor to this interplay is the tone of Trey’s new guitar, more full-bodied and less treble, allowing him to shred while not dominating every eardrum in the venue. Reaching points of boisterous groove, Trey and Mike played symbiotically throughout the set opener.
The band let loose on “Theme,” infusing the piece with a palpable level of emotion, stemming from Phish feeling their music rather than over-thinking. A soul-wrenching piece bled into “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars,” completing the set’s opening sequence with the hardcore rarity. Following the dark-comedy, the band inserted “You Enjoy Myself” in an uncharacteristic slot in the middle of the second set. The old-school opus served as a rocking middle course before the band launched into their second multi-song sequence of the set; a string of songs that continued the glue-tight playing, and provided the improvisational highlight of the set.
Phish started up one of their most consistent jam vehicles of this era, “Piper,” as Trey overlapped the opening chords with the tail end of “YEM’s” vocal jam. This version proved that the band’s relentless flow isn’t limited to one type of playing, as all four members came together to form a breakneck summer highlight without anyone stealing the thunder. Fishman absolutely shined as he has been doing all August, and someone lit a fire under Trey for this scorching excursion. An example of Phish channeling the music of the universe, “Piper” provided the soundtrack of a meteor careening through space with an unknown landing point. The band gradually deconstructed the dizzying textures into a ethereal realm on their way to a shimmering section of improv that delivered band and audience into the opening hits of “2001.”
The space-funk excursion concluded the virtuosic part of the evening, as the band followed their addictive grooves with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Character Zero.” Putting a rocking conclusion on a top-notch set of music, Phish rode off into the Midwestern sunset – triumphant once again. But not before dropping their second quadruple-encore of the weekend, with “Oh! Sweet Nuthin,” “Cavern,” “Joy,” and “Tweezer Reprise” serving as the cherry on the sundae.
As Phish prepares to conclude Summer 2010 – The Tour We Made Contact, only two more shows at Jones Beach remain. It will be interesting to see if Phish will push themselves and crush two more nights of music or if this stand will be a musical afterthought to the theatrics at Alpine Valley. At the end of tours, the band has always liked to showcase the most successful facets of their run, and with these being the only August shows on the east coast, odds are certainly on the former. In a long summer that seems to have passed in a flash, only two more nights of magic remain, and they start this evening on the southern shore of Long Island. See you in a few.
I: Tweezer, AC/DC Bag, On Your Way Down, The Divided Sky, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Water in the Sky, The Moma Dance, Farmhouse, David Bowie
II: Ghost > Theme from the Bottom > Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, You Enjoy Myself > Piper > Also Sprach Zarathustra, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Character Zero
E: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, Cavern, Joy, Tweezer Reprise
Tags: 2010, Summer '10