Wasting absolutely no time warming up, Phish greeted a salivating fan base in Bethel on Friday night with a show that—above all else—showed a willingness to take risks and put themselves out on an improvisational ledge to see what happens. Meeting their summer audience on the astral plane, Phish put forth a psychedelic adventure of the likes we haven’t seen in quite some time. Within the meat of the second set, the band set the controls for the heart of the sun, and came out with musical gold. The prefab nature of the New Years’ Run was nowhere to be seen as the band dug into one of their more experimental sets in ages—the type of sets of which I dream. And they came up with gold all night long in a show opener that couldn’t be more encouraging—and inspiring—to open summer tour.
After an extended, six-month layoff, the band took a collective inhale and ended their time off with none other than “Tweezer.” Like a breath of the swankiest air you’ve felt in years, Phish growled into summer with a welcome home out of one of their classic pieces. Flowing through connected and laid-back grooves to kick off the show, the band showcased an early propensity for prolific playing. Segueing seamlessly into “My Friend, My Friend,” the guys opened the season with an legitimate improvisational combo that got everyone’s motor revved early. Following up with a non-stop string of greatest hits and hard hitting grooves, the band sparked a first-set fire that culminated in the two most improvisational pieces of the half in “Stash” and “Kill Devil Falls.” Within these two late-set jams, Phish set set the tone for the rest of the show with a absolutely face-melting “Stash,” and the most exciting and out-of-the-box “KDF” since Bonnaroo ’09. In between, the band also worked in a sleek “Wolfman’s -> Walk Away” combo, that saw “Wolfman’s” briefly get into a more abstract and intriguing segment.
But the second-set’s opening sequence seemed to follow the first—more song-based jams. And when the band dropped into “Boogie On,” it seemed totally out of place as the third song of the second set. And I think Phish sensed that too, because half-way through the song’s generic funk grooves, Trey began playing more slowly and with abstract effect, leading the band into a mind-numbing deconstruction of “Boogie On” that was hard to fathom in the live setting. Not until I heard this sequence again on tape did I realize the precision and mastery with which the band executed this demented migration from Stevie Wonder’s song into “Waves.” And when the band landed in “Waves,” the defining, soul-searching sequence of show commenced and wouldn’t end until the final notes of “Velvet Sea.”
Dipping into the first version “Waves” since Red Rocks ’09, the band came up with one of the most sublime segments of this era. Embarking on free-form psychedelia in the vein of a “Dark Star,” the band entered completely egoless jamming with no goal in mind but to play the next note, and it resulted in one of the most enchanting and exploratory passages of Phish in this era. Delicate and connected, exploratory yet coherent, the band intertwined ideas like weaving a fine musical silk. After moving through a melodic collaboration, the band moved onto a far more abstract plane with some serious psychedelic sound-sculpting. Navigating their way through a stunning soundscape of the likes we haven’t heard in recent years, the band organically emerged into “Prince Caspian.” A massive sense of arrival graced this mid-second set version, as it blossomed into a more than just a landing pad for the band’s stratospheric journey. Infusing a sense of glory into the power-ballad, Phish engaged in enhanced interplay that brought this version to a colossal peak. But unfinished—in the surprise of the night—the band rolled out of “Caspian” into “Crosseyed.” And out of “Crosseyed” came the the show’s defining segment, and one of the most sinister and to-die-for segments of 3.0 Phish.
After the band had careened through a torrid “Crosseyed” jam, reprised the lyrics, and continued annihilating a ferocious whole-band conversation, they—collectively—slowed into one of the evilest, most crack-like sequences of Phish in this era. Engulfing the pavilion in larger-than-life swamp music made for monsters, Phish, led by Trey’s uncompressed snarl, unveiled one of the defining modern sequences of dungeon sorcery (evoking echoes of the “Mike’s” jam from 7.22.97). As the crunching and menacing music enveloped our lives again, Phish unrolled a soundtrack of dreams.
Oozing from this sonic underworld into “Velvet Sea,” the slower song provided the perfect cap on the other-worldly excursions into the depths of Phish psychedelia. From the point the band decided to break down “Boogie On” and embark on “Waves,” the show shifted from a concert into a cosmic exploration of the type we travel coast to coast to capture. Organically forging a wide-open adventure on the first night of summer, Phish has our minds drooling at the possibilities the next 31 shows hold. We can only make the assumption that on the first night of tour, the band sent us a message of intent—a psychedelic telegram—to tell us that Summer 2011 blow our minds and expand our hearts. Jump on…its gonna be a hell of a ride.
I: Tweezer > My Friend, My Friend, Poor Heart, Roses Are Free, Funky Bitch, Wolfman’s Brother -> Walk Away, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, Kill Devil Falls, Bold As Love
II: Carini, Back on the Train, Boogie On Reggae Woman > Waves > Prince Caspian > Crosseyed and Painless > Wading in the Velvet Sea, Possum, The Squirming Coil
E: JuliusTags: Summer 2011