On the penultimate night of a revolutionary summer tour, Phish threw down an absolute classic. A colossal Sunday night performance at Bill Graham is quickly becoming a modern tradition, much like Friday night at Dick’s in Colorado. And on their second such evening in the Bay, the band torched the intimate arena with a stellar second set that will forever be remembered for the improvisational odyssey of “Energy > Runaway Jim.” While bands, traditionally, use anniversary tours to celebrate their past, Phish’s 30th celebration has very much been centered on celebrating their future. Once again crafting groundbreaking music on a nightly basis and introducing new songs into rotation, Phish has evoked the spirit of their heyday while forging a new path—and that is exactly how to honor the legacy of the greatest band the planet has ever seen.
Breaking down the walls of their newest jam vehicle, Phish cracked open a universe of possibilities last night with a wide-open jam out of “Energy.” Beginning to realize the potential we heard when the song debuted at SPAC almost a month ago, the sky is the limit for his one. Sprouting a jam in Alpharetta, and expanding on structure in Chicago, “Energy” is now, officially—after San Francisco—the new-school jump off. Breaking from structure almost immediately—differently than previous versions—the band wasted no time launching the audience into a vast dancescape. My memory, without listening, is somewhat compromised, but I recall seriously demented music within the context of heavy, textured groove; super infectious and incredibly danceable while remaining as wide open as “Piper.” This jam will absolutely light up the general admission dance floors throughout the northeast come fall tour. Welcome to the future…
Though “Energy” was incredible, “Runaway Jim” was a straight up masterpiece that will be drooled upon for eternity. Fading into the jam with a series of loops, Trey set up an ominous excursion that was very clearly moving in a direction other than the norm. And before we knew what had hit us, we were amidst the most sinister prophecy of tour. This is not your everyday Phish. Not much is these days, but this was a whole ‘nother beast—completely original music plucked out of a personal fantasy. Without having respun the show, I am wholeheartedly still in awe of this master work, a feeling with which I often like to sit and enjoy without running to the tapes. But even in real time— captivated by the onstage sorcery—most everyone knew we were witnessing greatness of the highest degree. I can’t wait to relisten to this one after tour is over, but if you weren’t there, go listen now. Do it now!
At this juncture in the set, the music had been so dense and adventurous for so long, one had to wager that a cool down song would be next. And then the band started “Carini!” Imploding Bill Graham with the opening chords of their rock anthem, the band had control of the room’s energy as if it were a tangible substance like silly putty—manipulating the form and pulse of the collective consciousness with every musical dart and dash. Quoting “Fluffhead” through the onset of the jam made for a bizarre aberration—presumably referencing the song’s legend in which Pete Carini got LSD squirted in his face. The piece, uncharacteristically, moved into an almost jazzy, minimalist passage before smoothly melting into “The Wedge” in a out-of-the-ordinary song combo.
When the band started up “Light,” it almost didn’t even make sense. After a virtually all-improv set, the band was now starting up their most prolific jam vehicle deep into the set? Well, sort of. While “Light” was the unanimous MVP of this summer’s east coast run, out west the band has reigned in their new age epic, playing two quasi-type I jams at the Gorge and Bill Graham. This one however, far outdid the Gorge version, moving into incredibly creative interplay anchored by some inhuman work by one of my tour co-MVPs, Jon Fishman. It felt as though the jam would pop from structure at any moment, but interestingly enough, the guys remained close to the song’s feel for almost its entirety. The mind-expanding portion of “Light,” however, came as a surprise tacked onto the end of the song. Dropping into Page’s house of clav, the band brought us into a crunchy come down that grew more ambient and abstract by the second, smoothly constructing a psychedelic bridge into “David Bowie.
After a tour filled with outstanding “Bowies” of all shapes and sizes, Phish punctuated this seemingly set-long run with a classicly contoured rendition. Intricate, intense and totally on point could define the band’s interplay in what certainly felt like the set closer to me. But, apparently, the band still had a chunk of time left. A few feel good songs led us to “You Enjoy Myself”—one final dance session of an unforgettable weekend.
Capping the run with a double encore of “Sanity” and “Bold As Love,” Phish continued to keep things fresh out west, dropping two more tunes we had yet to hear this summer. Every single one of my friends I spoke to after the show in three different locales were absolutely beaming about the state of Phish right now. Here we are, all grown up, and things are better than ever. What a community. What a band. Phish for life—for real.
First Set Notes: A composition-heavy first set contained virtually zero jamming, though the band did play some specialties quite well in “Foam,” “Taste” and “Pebbles and Marbles.” Usually we get a portion of meat in the first set to satiate our appetites, but last night Phish had us gnawing at the bones of “Taste” and “Pebbles and Marbles” for the improvisational nourishment to tide us over to set two. Always heaping it on after setbreak, the one thing the band needs to consider for fall tour in the lost art of the first set.
I: Crowd Control, Divided Sky > Wilson, Foam, Halley’s Comet > My Soul, Ya Mar, Army of One, Taste, Gumbo > Train Song, Pebbles and Marbles
II: Energy > Runaway Jim > Carini > The Wedge, Light -> David Bowie, Silent in the Morning, Meatstick, Quinn the Eskimo, You Enjoy Myself
E: Sanity, Bold As LoveTags: 2013, Summer '13, The Moment