And then on Friday, Phish became Phish again. Combining all the elements that make them the greatest band on the planet, the guys threw down a tour-defining performance that left their week of quasi-mediocrity as a perplexing stumble in the summer of 2011. Somehow, last night Trey was able to let go and join in the collective glory that emerges when a four-minded patience allows greatness to develop. No jams were cut off, they were, instead, played with utmost creativity through their natural endings. And in Charlotte, instead of tearing through a setlist, Trey’s patience allowed the music—and show—to breathe and his band to explore, and lo and behold, one of the most cohesive, complete and brilliant shows of this era resulted.
Sculpting a stratospheric journey by combining “Rock and and Roll” and “Ghost,” the band threw down enrapturing, top-shelf jamming of the likes that we haven’t seen since Detroit. To describe this profound excursion with metaphors and imagery would be to cheapen its absolutely impeccable nature. This is one of those nights I’m gonna let the music do the talking; grab a set of headphones and kick back. Embarking on “Rock and Roll’s” jam with an exploratory intent, the band departed from structure early and would up in a stunning four-piece conversation in which Trey was clearly listening and responding to Mike and Page, as the three engaged in a subconscious exchange—with Fishman—that blossomed into pure and unadulterated Phish. Moving through several stages of jamming, the band continued to delve deeper into the source, taking the audience to that magical place that we quest for with so much of our hearts and souls. And when the enchanting ride finally settled into an ambient plane, as if scripted, the band moved into the second “Ghost” of tour.
Monumental. Bliss. Perfection. Any of these words could be used to describe the music contained within last night’s “Ghost.” Just listen. Honestly. Just listen. This is the type of cathartic mastery that drove us down this crazy road to begin with. Making the hallowed MSG version look rather tame, last night brought the song to a whole ‘nother level in a defining performance of this era. The refined communication on display throughout was staggering, and the band sculpted a jam, that when combined with “Rock and Roll,” formed an mind-bending odyssey to be reckoned with. Just listen.
But that wasn’t all the band hand to offer after setbreak. Gone were the speedbumps that have plagued second sets of late—this frame flowed like liquid. Resolving the next-level improvisation with, “Free.” Perhaps, the move of the night came next when the band followed up “Free” with “Reba!” I’ve been talking about getting “Reba” into the second set all tour, and last night it happened in the biggest way. As tapped in as they were last night, placing “Reba” squarely in the second set was a shrewd and dreamlike decision. Focusing their passion and precision on the soulful groove, the band crafted a pristine version that felt like everyone was surfing the same wave through the universe; pure magic. Within the context of the-whole band conversation, Trey unleashed a series of leads that pulled at one’s heart while meticulously directing a phenomenal exchange. Things felt real again. Very real.
And then, as the band brought the stellar piece to a crescendo, they didn’t move into the song’s whistling ending, they moved into “Icculus.” It felt as though the band’s virtuosic playing had awakened the god of Gamehendge, as a spiritual quality laced the band’s improv all night long. While Trey—in a comically intense rant—reminded his audience to “Read the fucking book!” it felt as though he was reminding himself of what this is all about while still reeling from the extraordinary ride. In a powerful moment that was, simultaneously, fused with comedy, the band had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand, and the spirit of Phishiness was alive again.
Continuing this Phishy trend, out came Fishman for his first spotlight schtick of this tour— and it all flowed perfectly. Performing Syd Barret’s “Bike,” everyone was in the moment and having a blast—both onstage and in the crowd. It was just one of those special nights. Following Fish’s interlude with an engaging and intricate “Chalk Dust,” anything the band touched turned to gold at this point. And there was only one way finalize this evening: “You Enjoy Myself.” Taken off the shelf for only the third time this summer, the band punctuated the show with the seminal classic. It was just one of those nights.
And the show had something going from the get go. Instead of plucking a sign for a bustout to start the first set, Trey pulled up a piece of cardboard that read “Mike’s House.” And just like that, Phish launched into a show-opening “Mike’s Groove,” starting the night on the right foot. After a string of old-school singles, the band dusted off the Gamehendge pairing “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” for the first time in almost a year, navigating the old-school composition with precision. A swanky “Wolfman’s” that carried a serious collaborative groove provided another first set sign pointing towards a heavy-handed second half.
Combining to-die-for jamming, Gamehendge lore, tight compositions, and a stellar song selection, Phish came out and destroyed Charlotte last night, a refreshing breakout that needed to happen. With a peak-experience through and through, the band kick-started their final three shows of June in the biggest way possible, thank the Lord. And thank you, Phish, from the bottom of my heart.
I: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Bouncing Around the Room, NICU, Sample in a Jar, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Axilla, Wolfman’s Brother, Scent of a Mule, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
II: Backwards Down the Number Line, Rock and Roll > Ghost > Free, Reba > Icculus, Hold Your Head Up > Bike > Hold Your Head Up, Chalk Dust Torture, You Enjoy Myself
E: Wilson > Loving Cup