Not slowing down for an instant after a stunning Friday night performance—in fact, placing their foot on the accelerator—Phish blew the roof off the Worcester Centrum on Saturday in a signature performance that evoked the spirit of the glory days. Wasting not an iota of time, the band was in full destruction mode from the moment they stepped on stage, playing a first set that was beefier and more artistic than many seconds we’ve seen in recent years. After the break, however, Phish played one of those sets we’ll remember forever; one of those sets without a single lull, not even for a second; one of those sets that leave one dripping with sweat and begging for more; one of those sets. And when Phish plays like it’s their last chance to do so for both sets, well, that’s when shows truly realize their potential. Saturday night in Worcester was one of these shows.
In recent tours, when Phish throws down a top shelf show, they usually take the first set the following night to exhale, taking things relatively slow. That is the opposite of what happened last night. To kick off the evening, Phish came out and crushed the most improvised version of “Party Time” they’ve ever played, stretching the piece out into the funk jam that everyone has imagined since it’s debut at Merriweather in ’09. This dance session harnessed Friday night’s lingering energy and channeled it directly into Saturday night’s show. We we cleared for take off.
Seizing the instant momentum they had created, the guys dropped into “Punch You in the Eye,” a move that kept the energy sky high and served as a second opener. And when Phish shows start with “Punch,” the band means business. Spirited renditions of “Back on the Train” and “My Soul” led into my favorite highlight of the opening set (and there were many), “Bathtub Gin.” Receiving far more creative treatment that so many of the stock versions of recent years, this jam set fire to the show in earnest and brought the room to, arguably, it’s highest single peak of the night with a dizzying, mid-set dance fiesta. Trey seamlessly wove the “Gin” lick back into the jam at it’s apex, toying with the melody as he led us to the promised land. This was a full throttle, first set “Gin” that saw the entire band lock into airtight interplay and set the bar for the rest of the night.
A bust out of “Ride Captain Ride” bridged the opening set to it’s most potent triumvirate—and out of character grouping of “Stash,” “Simple > Bowie.” The “Stash” blossomed into a menacing tension and release piece, infusing all sorts of grit and darkness into an otherwise upbeat set. Yet, it also included tangents and nuances that brought it far above the norm. “Simple’s” first appearance of tour came with slick setlist placement and kept the heavily improvisational vibe of the opening frame. A succinct, ethereal jam artistically bled into “David Bowie’s” intro, and, presumably, we had reached the last song of the set. But following a blistering rendition of their classic and complex jam vehicle, Phish closed with a bang, punctuating a prime-time opening half of music with “Character Zero.” And much like the night before, we knew we were in for a treat after setbreak.
Keeping things as fresh as ever, the band opened the second set with their seventh consecutive different song, this time choosing The Who’s “Drowned.” And out of it they would sculpt an exploratory odyssey that passed through several sonic stages. Once the band opened up the jam, it didn’t take long for them to move in an abstract direction, and it momentarily seemed like this would be direction they would explore. But over the mellow feel, Trey cut in with some rhythm chops and it didn’t take long for Fish to follow along. Together, they urged the band into fast-paced section of breakbeat-laced, percussive grooves. As this segment grew, it took on undertones of “Guy Forget,” but the band never fully committed to their rarity. This section illustrated how precise Phish’s communication is right now as they sliced and diced the music as a one-minded beast. And then came the arrival. The band moved moved into a bliss and bass laden pasture and before anyone knew what was developing, Trey offered the chords to Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo.” His bandmates immediately picked up on his cue, seamlessly moved into a full-fledged jam on the song. It seemed as though at any moment Trey would step to the mic for the song’s first verse, but it was far classier move to keep things instrumental. And thus developed one of the most sublime moments in recent Phish history. Just as the band had expressed all their ideas, Trey strummed the opening to “Light.”
The guys completely annihilated the opening contained section of the jam, twisting and gyrating as a unit through hyperspace as Trey unleashed an incredibly expressive solo. But when they settled into the open section of the jam, the band entered an utterly virtuosic exchange. Moving into the rhythmic paradigm, the guys explored the complexities of groove, as each member offered a mind-bending contribution to “Light’s” musical whole. This “Light” jam is not like Phish grooves you’ve heard before, rather something far more esoteric. This was innovative jamming at its finest, as Phish pushed the envelope further with this jam than any other of the night. When “Light” trickled to a stop, Trey decided to keep the groove thing going and led the band into a third-song “Sand.”
When Phish gets moving with such a head of steam, they just wanna keep lining ’em up and knocking ’em down, and so they did with their third consecutive heavy-hitter. A dramatic version of “Sand” built to a major league peak, and served as the final chunk of the set’s opening 45 minutes. Phish used “Theme” as a break from jamming and to set up a show-closing “Mike’s Groove” that would bring the audience to its knees. Trey employed a wah-plus-delay pattern to bounce the arena like a basketball during a very different “Mike’s” jam in which he never took a solo. When the guys slid into the atmospheric intro to “No Quarter”—Zeppelin’s master stroke on Houses of Holy—the audience responded with a roar. Slaying the classic cover, they moved into a spunky and dynamic “Weekapaug” to close the set. No lulls, no ballads, no filler—just high octane Phish from start to finish—and that is how we like ‘em!
I can’t quite express my gratitude to the band for these Worcester shows. I can’t recall four more powerful sets packaged over two nights strewn with so much creative improvisation. Quite literally, every jam they touched became a show highlight. These Worcester shows touched the very essence of why most of us fell in love with this band to begin with—unparalleled musical wizardry. When Phish is at the top of their game, there’s not a band in the history of music that can keep up. And right now, in the midst of their 30th Anniversary celebration, everyone is in the rear view mirror.
I: Party Time, Punch You In the Eye, Back on the Train, My Soul, Bathtub Gin, Ride Captain Ride, Stash, Simple > David Bowie, Character Zero
II: Drowned > Light, Sand, Theme From the Bottom, Mike’s Song > No Quarter >Weekapaug Groove
E: Boogie On Reggae Woman*, Possum*
* w/ guest drummer Kenwood Dennard on drums instead of Fishman
Tags: 2013, Fall '13, The Moment