With a webcasted audience tuned in from all over the country and beyond, Phish opened their Alpharetta stand with a solid two-set performance that carried the contour of a bell curve. The peak of the Tuesday night’s show came at the end of set one and the beginning of set two, and contained a legitimate portion of engaging improvisation. Seldom stepping onto the musical precipice, however, the band has yet to consistently demonstrate the inspiration and risk-taking that graced the early stages of tour. But carrying a definite momentum through most last night’s show, Phish lined a double into the gap on Tuesday with that elusive home run still waiting in the wings.
In response to an uber-enthusiastic fan’s call for “Dinner and a Movie” from the front of the 100 section, Trey decided to kick off the show with the rare and ominous instrumental. Continuing the climb up the bell curve with succinct versions of “Moma,” “Possum,” and “Cities” the band followed up with a rare first-set “Fluffhead.” At this point in the show, we had two second-set-killers out of the way in “Possum” and “Fluffhead”—two songs that worked just fine in the opening half. “Ocelot,” “Ginseng” and “Kill Devil Falls” all brought a Southern vibe to the Peach State’s stand. But when Phish dropped into “Kill Devil’s” jam, someone seemingly stoked a fire under their assess, as the passion behind their playing picked up considerably.
As the band tore into the high-speed conversation, the show dropped its webcast / hit-single feel for some earnest jamming. And after getting their toes wet with the smoking blues-rock of “Kill Devil Falls,” Phish emerged with the opening frame’s highlight combo of in “Bathtub Gin” and “Light Up Or Me Alone.” “Gin” almost immediately built into danceable rhythms as Trey tickled the jam’s musical textures with subtle and melodic riffs. Building into a whole-band jam around the song’s theme, Mike threw out some prominent bass lines throughout—a pattern that would continue throughout the evening. But when the time came to bring it to the top Trey’s bravado took over as the crushed the cathartic peak . The overwhelming energy contained in “Gin” spilled right into the bustout of “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.”
When Phish plays the Traffic cover, one of the best parts is the memory of Big Cypress’s opening set that floods one’s mind. But on this night, the band’s powerful jam out of the song brought everyone right into the here and now. Diving into a collaborative groove, Page hammered out organ patterns as the band chugged along with him at a driving pace. Mike and Page led the majority of this jaunt as Trey oozed his way in with refined leads that blended into the fabric without obtrusion. Building momentum alongside the band, Trey’s playing gradually became more prominent until his lead lines took center stage and jumped down the throat of the audience. Fully locked and loaded within this funk-rock context, the band brought the house down with relentless interplay that led to a dizzying climax. Punctuating the opening frame with “Cavern,” Phish had caught fire in the set’s final segment—a fire that would burn strongly into set two.
Firing off another short-stacked “Carini” to launch the second half, last fall’s 180-degree transformation of the song into a jam vehicle seems to have been only a tour-long phenomenon. Instead of using the piece to reach into the stratosphere—a possibility that exists every time it drops—the band used “Carini” to script a dark opening tone. But as the band began to forge a path of exploration, Trey came in with “Sand’s” opening licks for no apparent reason. With Mike and Page pushing forward, the band would come a virtual stop before igniting the first, second-set “Sand” of 2011. Giving the dark groove the full treatment under the main event’s spotlight, Phish cooperated to build a driving excursion in jazz-rooted, psychedelic fusion. Remaining a four-part conversation, “Sand” is one transformation from last fall that has stuck with the band this summer. As Trey layered staccato licks over Mike’s heavy bass leads, the band jumped right into the fray in this segment. The interplay of the two guitarists stood out as the defining facet of this venomous version—one of the show’s certain highlights. And as the sonic residue of the song settled, the band morphed the sound into the intro of “Down With Disease.”
A song that can always be relied upon for an open-ended journey these days, “Disease” provided exactly that last night in Alpharetta. Trey fired inspired leads over the band’s rock and roll, as everyone was firmly entrenched on the same page careening through the song’s high-speed chase. Breaking down the ferocious music on a dime, Phish, quickly, got far away from the jam’s musical genesis. Building into an eerie segment of music that became increasingly spacier by the moment, Phish pushed into experimental realms while Fish kept things anchored with an abstract and intricate drumbeat. Moving through some far-reaching and cohesive exploration, the band—at times—sounded like they were flirting with “Ghost,” but as they reached an effects-drenched crossroads, Fishman introduced the opening beats of “Maze.” The Rift classic works so well as a landing point for exploratory jamming, because there is never a lapse in energy or musical force in the show. And on this night, the band showcased their airtight playing in a version whose intensity and interplay transcended that of most recent versions. And it was after a fun and terrorizing joyride in “Maze,” that the second set hit a wall and began to slide down the back of the night’s bell curve.
“Meatstick” is symbolic of one era of Phish’s career—1999 and 2000. And though its fun to revisit the millennial anthem now and again, the middle of the second set is a brutal place to do it. Derailing any show with its quasi-comedic dance and loafing groove that is always going nowhere, the song did exactly that last night, sucking the tenacious energy out of the set and leaving a disjointed final portion of the show. Another short but sweet “2001” ignited the home stretch, which was oddly followed by “Bug” and “A Day In a Life” before the band closed with “Antelope.”
Though throwing down a solid show last night, the band carried just enough passionate playing and risk-taking to satiate all parts of their audience. But when we come back later tonight, perhaps Phish can show-off to their online—and in-person—audience with a whole set based in cohesive jamming. C’mon guys…I dare you…
I: Dinner and a Movie, The Moma Dance, Possum, Cities, Fluffhead, Ocelot, Ginseng Sullivan, Kill Devil Falls, Bathtub Gin, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Cavern
II: Carini > Sand > Down with Disease > Maze, Meatstick, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Bug > A Day in the Life, Run Like an Antelope
E: Quinn the EskimoTags: 2011, Summer 2011