When Phish is truly clicking, the setlist fades away and the moments emerge. It no longer matters what songs the band is playing, because it becomes about the music in its purest form. Whether a jam or a simple verse, when Phish is raging, every measure is played with authority and meticulous care. A subconscious state emerges between the band and the audience, and the music takes over the room as if every note had been waiting their whole life for its exact moment to shine. Trey often references musicians being mere portals for music that already exists in the universe. All the musician has to do is allow the music to channel through him, and all the audience has to do is be open to receive IT. This metaphysical dynamic took form in those unforgettable jams, sets and shows that are burnt into our memory from ages ago; and this dynamic took place at Utica.
Following Phish’s first set, anything was possible when they surfaced for the second, but the details hardly mattered. This was a night that Phish could do no wrong – a show filled with the magic of yesteryear – inc which Phish flowed with that same subconscious interaction. But the spectacular nature of Utica lied in its implications for the immediately limitless future. People were so abuzz about the first set that the second half began in what seemed like no time at all. And to begin the frame, Phish knocked an opening sequence of “Drowned > Sand” out of the park. This entire sequence had an energy behind the music that almost forced one to be present in the moment. Hard to explain with mere words, this night possessed a single-minded feel – a unison between everyone in the intimate venue – that we were apart of something special. Phish’s fully opened their treasure chest for the first time during this era, allowing the light of present day to reflect off the gold of old. Thus when the band blew through “Sand’s” ending refrain on the way to “Theme,” it hardly seemed like a surprise; it was supposed to happen. It was one of those nights.
When Phish played through a stretch of songs that read “Theme,” “Axilla,” “Birds,” “Tela” in the middle of the second set, the show never lost momentum for a second. Yet on an average night, that same four-song stretch could derail more than a few second sets. But on evenings like this one, the standalone nature of these singles didn’t slow the show at all, not to mention a ripping “Birds” jam along the way. But when people spilled into the chilly Utica night after this paradigm-shifting concert, the talk of the town would be the “Split” sequence that stood on deck.
Much like the musical jigsaw puzzle of the first set, this final segment of the show brought another twisting tale with the contours of old. Starting with “Split” the band took an ethereal path outwards into a plane of beauty, much in the vein of their previous version in Broomfield. But as the jam got quite abstract, Trey whispered the lyrics to “Have Mercy” over the sonic landscape. Singing almost two entire verses before the band settled into a gentle reggae groove, the song passed as an apprarition in the night. Once the lyrics ended, the band dripped out of the reggae groove and sculpted, perhaps, the most aurally stunning passage of tour. Coming together as if composed, Phish broke into sheet of sonic bliss, quickly transforming the gentle textures into defining spiritual moments on life’s eternal quest. When the band takes such a powerful and non-stop musical trip as they did in Utica, they are bound to break through to the other side at some point during the night. And this moment of transcendence blossomed out of “Have Mercy” in a shimmering pool tranquility. Elevating the soul of the room, this dreamscape awakened the sense of the eternal, connecting the past to the present, with an arrow to the future.
Coming out of this timeless experience, Phish rolled into “Piper,” a move that provided another wide-open canvas for to paint with their fluid psychedelia of the moment. Getting both nasty and intricate, the music took hold of the band’s instruments, infusing a cosmic knowledge into each and syncing them in a scorching palette of improvisation. Seamlessly arriving at a “Birds” reprise jam in the top-shelf “Piper,” Phish played like a band possessed. And when they dissolved “Birds” and descended, back into “Split’s” final build, the crowd erupted as Phish put a final slice of bread on the retro-style “Split Sandwich.” And to cap off a perfect night, a gorgeous “Slave to the Traffic Light.”
Sometimes Phish steps on stage and just fucking nails IT. Utica provided the first start-to-finish example of this phenomenon in the modern era, causing shock waves in the scene from coast to coast. “Have you heard Utica?” “Phish can still do this in 2010?” Of course they can. Phish has always been about pushing musical possibilities, and as the wave of Charleston and Augusta crested in Utica, the band redefined what those possibilities are for the here and now. The game-changers had changed the game once again, and as the circus left upstate New York for a weekend in New England, being part of Phish’s grand experiment felt as magical as ever.
Jam of the Day:
The “Split” sequence from Utica.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
I couldn’t find an audio source of Austin City Limits for today, and am going to take a day or two off before digging back into the past. If you are in search of a particular show that is not already in Phish Thoughts’ Audio Archive, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line of “Show Request.” Cheers.Tags: 2010, Fall '10, The Moment