If Phish had played a show with the contour of Merriweather’s Saturday night’s song-based performance at any time over the past several years, it would fallen completely flat. But with the band’s revitalized interplay in their contained jamming—something glaringly missing from their modern arsenal until this tour—a show like last night’s was fantastic. Sticking to the program and breaking song structure only twice in “Disease” and “Simple,” the guys, nonetheless, threw down another high quality performance from top to bottom. The energy in the pavilion last night was both palpable and electric, and the band rode that wave all night long, dropping their second stellar “Split Open and Melt” in a row, a scorching “Birds of a Feather,” magnificent “Harry Hood” and a heavy-handed, 28-minute “Mike’s > Simple > Groove” to close things out. Filled with active jamming all night long Merriweather night one popped off in a different way than a Phish show has in quite a while.
The first set featured an array of tour debuts, including a bustout of “Destiny Unbound” for the first time since Super Ball, “Taste,” Page’s “Halfway of the Moon” and “Twenty Years Later.” The improvisational crest of the set, however, came in its final three-song segment featuring an absurdly intense and well-executed “Maze” and a version of “Split” that illustrated—to the delight of all—that song has truly returned as a juggernaut in the Phish catalog. A opening frame that contained no open improv still held everyone’s attention for the duration, and that is the mark of a band firing on all cylinders.
The highlights of the second set were all absolutely classic-sounding pieces of Phish in “Disease,” “Hood” and “Mike’s Groove.” All three pieces evoked the essence of the songs as they were employed in the hey day. Here’s how. Appearing in its hallmark slot as a second set opener, “Disease” kicked things off after setbreak for the second time this summer, and for the second consecutive time it became a creative peak of its of the show. Moving deep into a groovy space, the band swam into open waters for the first and only real time of the night and succeeded with flying colors. Resolving the exploration with a melodic coda, the band proceeded to sew the song together with its final verse in a move seldom seen in with a second set “Disease.”
Following a few-song interlude, including a “Birds of a Feather” that carried an urgency and full-band attack unseen since ’99, Phish dropped into the second mid-set “Hood” in three shows—and once again they absolutely slayed it. This time, however, the tone Trey used along with the way he built the jam to a larger peak than we’ve heard in modern “Hoods” all reeked of classic Phish. Soloing with passion and a purpose, Trey orchestrated a grandiose version that needs to be heard by any die-hard fan of the song. You might even question what year to which you’re listening. And the same might be true for the final highlight of the show—“Mike’s Groove.”
Having laid off their suite since Bangor’s opening set, this time Phish placed it as the closer of the night—and for the first time in this era, the band gave true love to each and every part of the triumvirate. “Mike’s” built to an outlandish peak with all sorts of dissonant guitar fury, but when the band transitioned to “Simple” the second open jam of the set unfolded. Moving out of song without slowing down into any sort of ethereal or noodly space, the band trucked into yet another classicly-shaped jam, hearkening back to the days when “Simple” was but an extension of the “Mike’s’ jam. And then came the glory, as Trey peaked the piece with subtle, slow and methodical reprise of the “Disease melody. While Trey never outright played the lick note-for-note, he danced around it for long enough to make a clear nod to the set’s opening jam—a bit of Phishiness slipped into the fold. The guys blew out “Weekapaug” with creative, rhythmic calisthenics, caressing the jam like they haven’t in so damn long. This is the first 3.0 “Mike’s Groove” that deserves a place on any tour highlight reel, and it came at Merriweather Post, the same venue at which the band dropped a monumental “Mike’s > Twist > Weekapaug” in ’99 that Kevin Shapiro just dropped on Live Bait 9. Coincidence? Probably.
When Phish dropped a pinner-sized “Free” and “Bouncin” as the second and third songs in the second set, it was hard to imagine everyone in the venue would walk out ecstatic, but that is exactly what happened last night. In show that got in touch with the Phish’s musical roots of the mid-Nineties, the band delivered a memorable feel-good performance with all sorts of replay value. 2013—the summer it all came back together again.
I: Kill Devil Falls, Destiny Unbound, Taste, Halfway to the Moon, Twenty Years Later, Maze, Yarmouth Road, Split Open and Melt
II: Down with Disease > Free, Bouncing Around the Room, Birds of a Feather, Harry Hood*, Architect, Mike’s Song* > Simple > Weekapaug Groove
E: Waste, Good Times Bad Times
Tags: 2013, Summer '13