Phish finished up their second leg of summer at UIC Pavilion with one of their outstanding multi-night runs of the year. Returning to the historic and intimate venue that hosted five spectacular shows in their career, when Phish stepped inside for the first and only time of summer, things were bound to explode. Over the course of three nights the band showcased a diversity of jamming styles and song selections that pleased just about everyone in attendance while summing up their exploits of the season quite well.
Ever since the first night of UIC ended, the fan base has been buzzing about the “all killer, no filler” improvisational extravaganza that took place after setbreak. Not only did Phish jam their way through a near-perfect set, they put lens on cutting edge, experimental jamming. Infusing the second set of 8.15 with all sorts of “storage shed” psychedelia, the sequences of “Sand > Light” and “Waves -> Undermind” represent the purely new-school Phish with a focus on bass-led exploration. And within these four jams, the band illustrated the breadth of their current styles. Taking “Sand” on a ferocious groove odyssey, the band merged this year’s central dance vehicle with its renewed cosmic juggernaut—“Light”—via a dissonant spacescape. “Light’s” jam illustrated their newest style of abstract playing, one where the rhythmic section leads the way and Trey and Page focus on weaving psychedelic offerings into the whole rather than playing leads atop. Deepening into an interstellar brew, this segment put a lens on the avant-garde.
The jam out of “Waves” saw the band begin to head towards “Undermind” right off the bat, but then Trey held back to explore the groove at hand, dripping into an uncompressed growl amidst a sinister rhythmic palate. Taking this segment on a spontaneous ride, the band continued their unparalleled interplay amidst a sizzling passage that set up a surprise and seamless segue into “Undermind.” And with “Undermind,” the set’s bass-led and exploratory themes peaked with a chunky -turned-soul-tugging sequence that left more than a few jaws hanging low. Pouring a night of improvisational gold, the band also included, in my opinion, the most impressive “Wolfman’s” of the year and a smooth version of “Reba” in the opening frame.
While the first night was focused on newest frontiers of Phish music, the second brought a more classic and upbeat two-setter with tight playing throughout. But the centerpiece of this night—a twenty-minute “Down With Disease”—provided ample jamming to carry the second set on its own. Likening a post-hiatus jam without the opiates, this “Disease” didn’t carry a unified theme, but rather one idea from the jam continued to spawn the next in a constantly growing, but rarely settling, piece of music. Passing through so many intriguing segments with tight communication, the band crafted a standout excursion that carried an alternate feel. This “Disease” illustrates a different beast altogether, a sprawling anomaly in this age of ultra-focused Phish jamming, but it is filled with aural candy nonetheless. Sandwiching a couple monstrous guitar peaks in “Number Line” and “Theme” in the middle of the set, Phish punctuated the feel-good frame with a funktatstic “You Enjoy Myself.” With a first set highlighted by uncharacteristically creative versions of “Chalk Dust” and “Limb by Limb,” this night was comprised of more anthemic jam vehicles.
And on night three, Phish had some fun. Without delving into much serious improv, the band put on a lighthearted tour-finale that carried a “Crosseyed” theme throughout a segmented second set. Though many jams had already been dropped by night three, with “Tweezer,” “Ghost,” “Piper” and “2001” waiting in the wings, one couldn’t help but ponder a fantasy set. But in summation, the show’s 17-minute “Divided Sky” was as long as “Tweezer,” “Ghost,” and “Timber” combined. And while time is no longer a determining factor in Phish jams, this equation is quite the farce and underlines the lack of music depth within this second set. The band, however, was playing great all night long, deciding to take a different route in their tour closer. The most creative piece of the night stemmed from “Piper” whose dense musical textures continued to push the band in new directions. But other than “Piper,” the band never truly settled in any jam (less a rocking-turned-ambient “Crosseyed” opener), and the show came off a bit gimmicky with “Still Waiting” vocal reprises around every corner. But lots of people love this type of show, and the guys certainly pleased a large part of their audience with a night of Phishertainment.
Presenting a smorgasbord of eclectic jamming styles and powerhouse playing over three nights, Phish threw down the gauntlet over an unforgettable stand in Chicago. The intensity of UIC’s undersized environs brought leg two to a sweltering conclusion, literally and figuratively. Shows are always more powerful when two sets happen in the dark, and there are only a few outdoor venues that can hold a candle to a setting like UIC. Boasting an incredibly responsive crowd filled with people who really wanted to be there, the community, as a whole, ended August with a peak experience. And this summer, starting in Bethel, it seems that peak experiences are coming at us in droves again—a hallmark of Phish’s greatest eras.
Jam of the Day:
A serious chunk of music from UIC’s first night.
In other news…
On the newest edition of The Philler, Robert Champion leads a rundown on Phish’s opening leg of summer tour. My segment comes in the last half hour of the show, so be sure to check it out. Once again, the guys at The Sloping Companion are at the top of their game, cranking out an engaging cloudcast with multiple guests, comedic sketches of the bizarre, and plenty of great music. Also, click “Follow” here (or on their Mixcloud page) so that you will know each time a new broadcast is posted and to be entered into future contests! Listen to the current cloudcast below…2011, Summer 2011