Far surpassing anyone’s wildest fantasies, Phish came out on the first night of Summer Tour with a show laced with divine interplay throughout. With two sets of incredibly fresh sounding music—and a second steeped in non-stop improvisation on the deepest planes, Phish blew the minds of many on their first night in Worcester. The patience and fluidity that characterized the band’s single-minded playing last night—specifically in the second set—is the stuff I long for at every single show, and IT is what fuels this entire scene. People can debate Phish music until the cows come home, but when the band drops a show like they did last night, everyone just looks at each other, smiles and understands. This is why we come.
As the crunching chords of “Carini” set off the second frame, few could possibly have predicted the path of what has to be considered one of the greatest start-to-finish sets of this era. Clearly practiced and ready to make a statement, there was no ambivalence when the “Carini’s” jam started; the band got right to work attacking and deconstructing the song with a laser-focused intent. Moving distinctly away from the major-keyed “Carini” jams of the past two years, Phish flowed into dark and ominous waters that immediately started to speak to the soul. Continuing down this mystery-laden path, soon the band was effortlessly crafting some of the most beautifully deranged music we’ve heard in ages. And as the jam seeped into more layered and and murkier territory, Fishman moved to a cymbal-focused beat and seamlessly blossomed into a “My Left Toe” jam for the first time since 1999! With a refined skill set and locked into higher powers last night, Phish bled right into the powerful and improvisation-based instrumental. Taking the ambient piece into a cathartic, ultra-melodic and densely-layered ode to all that is, one must simply take this piece in to believe it. Upon my only re-listen to this point, I was equally—if not more floored—with what I heard than at the show. This is the real deal. As the band artistically dripped into “Taste” I turned to my closest friend and gave her a big hug, because “Carini -> My Left Toe” is why I love Phish. These were the deepest and most spiritual moments of music that I have heard since the Gorge last year, and far more so than any music since. And the band was far from done…
Giving “Taste” a rare second set spotlight, the band absolutely tore the piece to shreds. As they set sail into the jam, Trey eased into a completely natural tease of “Norwegian Wood,” a subtle nod to the similarity of the two melodies. “Taste” only really blows up when the band applies their undivided attention to the song, and coming out of this primordial music, that is exactly what they did, and the song shone in stylistic juxtaposition to all that had come before. And just when one thought the first action-packed segment of the show was ending, the band took about a minute to ease into the most outlandishly smooth “Ghost” intro in memory. While the few quality “Ghosts” of this era have all been very groove-directed, last night’s version was a totally different take on the song. Trey laid way back as the band passed into their crowd favorite, and before long, the crowd could barely recognize what was happening.
It has been ages since the Phish used “Ghost” as a jumping off point to real improv—not the guitar-led scorcher of 12.31.10, not the complex grooves of 6.17.11—real, out-of-the-box improvisation. Throughout this mind-bending monster, the band smoothly moved between ideas, as Trey and Mike played off each other like Siamese twins. I cannot stress how unique this version was, really taking many elements and sounds of “Ghost” and putting them together in a totally inventive way. Trey laid way back throughout most of the jam, allowing both Mike and Page to step up at different times and take the music in fundamentally different directions. Never at any point in the jam did the guys fall back on cliché “Ghost” material, but continually pushed forward with astounding communication and interplay. Phish allowed the jam to live and breathe naturally, never forcing it in any one direction—a quality that underlined the entire show.
And just when you thought the band was gonna’ finally calm down with as Mike initiated an envelope-filtered move into “Boogie On,” the guys turned the party out with—easily— the most energetic jam of the night. Taking the usually innocuous filler song, the band exploded with spontaneity, bubbling with Gordeaux bombs, MVP guitar licks, and perfect Page accompaniment. The place absolutely exploded as the band wouldn’t relent with power grooves, crushing the most indelible communal-energy highlight of the night. This final portion of this jam saw Trey tease of Denver’s “Guy Forget” jam before flowing into a denouement that placidly landed the band in “If I Could.”
If emotions were worth their weight in gold, this song would certainly have been one of the heaviest parts of the night. Fit perfectly in a set filled with musical madness of all shapes and sizes, “If I Could” provided a still oasis of beauty. Played with such patience and feeling by each and every member, this passage remains one of the most heartfelt of the night—easily.
As the band dropped into “Quinn The Eskimo” coupled with the fresh feeling of the show, it seemed like they might close the set with a rousing rendition of the Dylan classic. But instead of ending there, the band took one last dive into “Harry Hood” to the delight of all. At the end of an awe-inspiring evening, Phish let things flow into a cerebral, mellower-than-usual “Hood” that seemed to fit just right. Taking the song’s final note and crashing into “Cavern,” Phish looked to cap the frame with the short set-closer, but when they reached the song’ final sustain, Trey brought the show full circle by bursting into a “Buried Alive,” the song with which the whole night got rolling!
Though the transcendence of the summer’s tour opener was focused in the second set, the first set was also quite good. Right out of the gates, the band sounded on point, peppering the first set with fresh song choices, crisp playing, and a couple pieces that could foreshadow things to come. Opening the show with an old-school one-two punch of “Buried Alive” and “Runaway Jim,” the show immediately harnessed the vibe of New England shows of lore. But the old-school feel wouldn’t last, much to the delight of fans looking for a spiced up rotation with new material. “Nothing”—played for the first time since Camden 2010—was reworked with an outro that seems primed for summertime exploration. Additionally, the band brought back Page’s “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” a song that will hopefully break into regular rotation this tour. The always welcome “Torn and Frayed” stood out as well, as did above average versions of “Ocelot”—in which the band began to earnestly jam within the song’s tempo—and the quite possibly the most interesting version of “Possum” I’ve heard this era! Yup, when even “Possum” is a highlight, it was a good night. And last night was simply phenomenal.
I: Buried Alive > Runaway Jim, Torn and Frayed, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance, Rift, Nothing, Ocelot, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Possum, Rocky Top
II: Carini* -> Taste, Ghost > Boogie On Reggae Woman > If I Could, Quinn the Eskimo > Harry Hood > Cavern > Buried Alive
E: Loving Cup (*w/ “My Left Toe” jam)
Tags: 2012, Summer 2012, The Moment