The First Six of Summer

Posted in Show Reviews with the tags on July 31st, 2015 by Mr.Miner
Shoreline 7.24.15 (John Florek)

Shoreline 7.24.15 (John Florek)

Phish commenced their Summer Tour with two incredibly strong performances in their first three shows in the second night of Bend and Shoreline, both of which contained beautifully flowing, jam-filled second sets. But since then, the band has pumped the brakes a bit with a trifecta of spotty performances across the southern part of the country. Los Angeles had plenty of energy but carried little musical substance, while Austin and Dallas contained some high points but also long stretches of cruise control in their second sets that simply didn’t cut the mustard. As we take a look at the first segment of Summer Tour 2015, let’s first explore the positives.

Bend (Joe Iudice)

Bend (Joe Iudice)

Following a solid warm up gig on the first night of tour, the band came out blazing on the second night of Bend, unveiling several more new songs (jn addition to the three debuted on opening night), along with a seamless second set anchored by an awesome, groovy-turned-evil jam out of “Simple.” Trey played impeccable guitar all night long, perhaps most impressive during the standout “Bathtub Gin” encore. But more to the point, he slayed every single solo he took, including the slower ones on “Wingsuit” and “Farmhouse.” Some of his most inspired playing of the night came in the opening sequence of the second set in “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Waves,” a nautical pairing that absolutely smoked the entire way through. But beyond his personal musical marksmanship, the band played with incredible cohesion as a unit, crafting a non-stop set with undeniable flow. This show was quite the statement on only the second night of tour, only to be significantly topped on night three.

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Phish absolutely exploded at Shoreline Amphitheatre, one of the former haunts of the Grateful Dead, with a set that stands up to any of this era and many beyond. Chock full of open-ended improvisation, the band locked into a flow and rode the wave through the entire second frame of the show. Beyond the music—and the music was incredible—there seemed to be a peace and contentment emanating from the guys that built on a similar feel during the previous night in Bend. It felt like they now know, especially after Trey’s starring role in Fare Thee Well, that they no longer have anything to prove—they were just out there doing what they do. The level of relaxation and togetherness was palpable as they navigated an awesome set-long sequence of jamming. Using one of their newest songs, “Blaze On,” to kick off the main event, the band expounded on its percussive, blues-rock theme, taking the jam for a ride before returning to its refrain—and then promptly exiting the through the back door into an abstract foray that wound its way into “Twist.” In the undeniable highlight of the night, Phish wove together a two part epic that touched on the both the dark side and the utter bliss of their craft. The first half showcased a grungy, snarling tone from Trey as the guys slipped into a slow methodical mind meld, transforming the passage into some murky, swamp-like psychedelia. When Trey began to lead the guys back towards the theme of the song, his mates coaxed him onward and the band soon coalesced into some of the most orchestral beauty we’ve heard in ages. Hitting a sacred stride, the band moved as one through a passage of utter musical triumph that continued for an extended period. Time stood still and the audience watched in wonder as Phish sculpted one of their most indelible moments in recent memory. This was fully realized musical improv of the highest degree; a time when one could hardly believe that four mere mortals were creating such a symphony. Emotionally wrenching and staggeringly beautiful, this segment elevated to the highest planes of reverie. Once they picked their jaws up off the floor, the crowd roared their approval as the band finally descended from the heavens and passed into “Light.”

Shoreline 7.24.15 (J.Florek)

Shoreline 7.24.15 (J.Florek)

Supporting two extended jams with one their most significant modern launchpads amounted to quite the statement of intent in the middle of this set, and the guys kept on rolling full steam ahead into a multi-thematic exploration of “Light.” Hitting on “Manteca,” “Roadrunner,” and “I Know Your Rider” in a clear homage to the Dead, this “Light” saw the band weave together diverse movements with seamless acumen. Just as great athletes enter a “zone” and everything slows down for them as their excellence emerges, so did Phish on this night as illustrated in the protean nature of this “Light” jam. Their playing felt effortless but simultaneously virtuosic, and that is what greatness is all about. As the band dripped into “Joy,” everything felt right in the world following over 45 minutes of stunning improvisation. The set’s magical energy carried through a particularly cathartic rendition of the 2009 ballad and upon its conclusion, right into “Harry Hood.”

Selecting one more jumping off point to conclude this set’s theatrics, Phish played yet another extended and amazing jam which saw them divert from “Hood’s” traditional major chord build into some earnest and darker exploration that followed the trend of 2014 versions. Though their reentry to the theme wasn’t immaculate and the song’s final peak saw more of a strumming rather than ballistic effort by Trey, the exclamation point on the set had certainly been made. With a fourth jam surpassing 15 minutes, the band had just dropped an utterly poignant frame of music and one of the defining stanzas since their return. Slamming the door with a raucous version of “Cavern” and a blistering “Character Zero” encore, Phish had bequeathed us with one of those timeless nights of music that we will remember forever.

Shoreline (John Florek)

Shoreline (John Florek)

Coming off two consecutive second sets laced with artistry and deep improvisation, one could only imagine what would transpire when Phish stepped indoors at the LA Forum with “Disease,” “Carini” and “Tweezer” hanging in the balance. But when the dust settled on their southern California stop, it was an “energy” show that favored sudden segues and antics rather than any fully realized jamming. While it seems that many fans liked this performance, after the previous two nights it felt to me like a serious letdown. The band kept “No Man in No Man’s Land” (a song that sounds more suited for TAB than Phish) in a linear groove, passed through a truncated “Carini” highlighted by one very brief peak, and aborted “Tweezer” before it really got going, all amounting to a serious case of musical blue balls. Once this “meat” of the set transpired, the guys commenced jukebox mode favoring an innocuous string of songs that couldn’t hold up the set after they had bailed out of their potential heavy hitters. “Roggae” and “Slave” were nice enough but hardly seemed to fit after nothing significant had went down during the first half of the frame. Then Trey all but killed a potentially special “YEM” encore by dry humping Mike while they played each other’s instruments, replacing any chance of musical interplay with its physical counterpart. I can see this set being “fun” on some level, but after two profound musical statements in Bend and Mountain View, this show fell pretty flat for me despite a quality first set. The under-the-radar highlight of the show came in the opening half’s “Limb by Limb” which saw stellar soloing by Trey and a strong collective effort from the entire band.

Austin Official C.Nolan)

Austin Official C.Nolan)

The last couple shows in Texas took place in very divergent atmospheres—Austin’s in a brutally hot outdoor amphitheatre and Dallas’ in a tiny, air-conditioned theatre. (I will give the disclaimer that I only attended Dallas, but will discuss both shows.) The first sets of these shows differed greatly, as Austin’s was a run of mill, pedestrian affair while Dallas’ featured a very fresh song list and all sorts of energy. The high point of the latter was a version of “Steam” that Trey inexplicably stopped once the band had reached a thick, improvisational groove. It felt as though they were on the brink of a legitimate first set jam for the first time in ages, but it wasn’t to be. Nonetheless, the band seemed excited and engaged despite several noticeable flubs by Trey during composed sections, and felt primed to explode in set two. As the band went into set break in Austin, many fans were hoping that someone had a defibrillator to get things going for the second half.

Dallas Official (K.Taylor)

Dallas Official (K.Taylor)

Each of the Texas second sets had jam-anchored moments, but in neither did the band weave together a coherent frame of music. Austin kicked off with “46 Days -> Dogs -> 46 Days,” with the latter segment of “46” exploring some menacing, bass led textures that felt like it could have kept going having reached a very interesting space. Dallas’ second set kicked off with one of the jams of tour thus far in a fiery and exploratory “Chalk Dust” that saw Phish migrate from an atmospheric start into more full on, energetic jamming before dropping into “Simple.” Austin’s opening segment was supported by an in-the-box “Piper” and an above average “Ghost” whose melodic peak stood out as perhaps the show’s highest moment. Dallas’ set took a veritable nosedive after the opening blowout, as Trey made a string of questionable calls with “Silent in the Morning,” “Birds of a Feather,” “Fuego” and “Julius.” “Birds” did pop with more intense playing than usual, but nothing of serious note took place between the “Chalk Dust” and the set-closing version of “Harry Hood.” The band pulled things together for “Hood’s” jam after Trey botched most of the composed section of the song, salvaging an energetic if not intricately awesome rendition. Austin’s second half of the set also also featured a string of cruise control songs only highlighted by a “Jibboo” that saw Trey rip off several clean runs of notes amidst its groovy canvas.

The Texas shows, in total, were two average nights of Phish that featured a couple highlights each—pretty much to be expected in their modern mid-week, one-off performances in random markets. But after dangling the carrot in Bend and Shoreline, it felt like something bigger might have been on the horizon. But that horizon now falls to Atlanta, where Phish pulls in tonight for a two-night stand at their old stomping grounds of Lakewood Amphitheatre with all their big jam vehicles on the table. I suspect that this weekend we will see more complete efforts from the band with more developed jams and more cohesive sets than we received in LA, Austin and Dallas. The first stretch of tour has concluded and Lakewood now starts the middle segment through the South and Midwest before Alpine commences the home stretch next Saturday. With six shows under their belt on this summer tour, I think it’s fair to say that things are just getting started.

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A Rocky Mountain High

Posted in Show Reviews with the tags , on September 5th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
DIck's 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

Dick’s 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

Phish capped the summer of 2014 with a triumphant three-night stand at Dick’s that far surpassed their accomplishments of late July and early August. In Denver, the band combined the deep jamming that shone at the start of summer with the whole-set flow and thoughtful setlist contours that they diligently sharpened during the second half of tour. The result was three flowing second sets that were coherent in make up and laced with top shelf jamming. By integrating their two foci of summer tour, Phish was able to craft shows that truly illustrated their growth of 2014. The Colorado shows provided a hopeful blueprint for what is coming on fall tour, while providing a three-night exclamation point to another summer of Phish.

Dick's Official (DKNG)

Dick’s Official (DKNG)

In Denver, second sets didn’t fizzle halfway through, segues were not abrupt, jams were not rip-corded nor oversaturated with rhythm work by Trey. Rather, sets were thought out and fluid, flowed from start to finish, were highlighted by multiple deep improvisations each night, and laced with a different Trey who broke out of his late-summer shell. In retrospect, Phish dedicated the second half of summer to improving their fluidity and tightening up their live show at the cost of massive jams, but if the ending point of this growth likens the flowing sets stacked with powerful jams at Dick’s, then the growing pains were very much worth it.

The Denver shows provided a fantastic bridge to fall, blowing away most of the band’s summer performances and providing a preview of big things in the channel for October. The band has finally reached the level of whole-show literacy for which we have been yearning. Last weekend’s sets had distinct contours with very few gratuitous songs. The band is finally finishing shows with a purpose—one of the biggest growths of summer—featuring significant jams and dramatic closers in the fourth quarter of shows. Each night in Denver could be used as an illustration of this trend, as the guys capped each show with something special—”Hood” “Fuego > Slave” and “Mike’s Song.” And this time they brought the jams too!

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Beginning with “Simple,” the most developed and realized jam of the weekend, Trey broke out of his rhythm-only shell that had restricted the development of so many late summer jams. And when he broke out, he did it in huge fashion, peaking a longform “Simple” with calculated licks of splendor before leading the jam into a post-peak dance party that resembled a TAB show with its focus so squarely on Big Red. This jam felt like a breath of fresh air as Trey finally led the band to victory again. It clearly felt right to him, because he annihilated the peak of the subsequent “Ghost,” seemingly righting the ship for the weekend. The last standout of this set came in the final “Harry Hood” of summer—a dark-themed jam whose moment of transcendence occurred as Trey absolutely nailed the re-entry into “Hood’s” peak in very unconventional fashion. Friday’s show provided some incredible moments, however, the set of the weekend would take place the following night.

It is rare for Phish to jam their faces off while sequencing an entire second set in flawless fashion, but that’s what went down on Saturday night at Dick’s. As if shot out of a cannon at setbreak, the band responded to a rather standard opening frame with one of their most prolific sets of the year. Lacing together three highlight jams in “Disease,” “Carini” and “Light” with a “What’s the Use?” interlude and a “Slave” cap, Phish dropped a set plucked from a fantasy, and their playing stacked up to the eye-popping song list. Each of the three jams navigated unique musical planes, and each flowed quite well, musically speaking, from into one another. “Disease” provided a nice example of a standout 2014 group jam. And while Trey didn’t leap out in front of this one, his tone and directional play provided plenty of leadership in this jam as the band collectively worked their way into “What’s the Use?”

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

“Carini” provided the platform for Trey’s most triumphant playing and most vintage peak of the year. This was the type of guitar god throwdown that so many of us have been craving in a notably guitar-lite season. This eruption of Trey’s soul transformed into the moment of the weekend in a certifiable case of time-warp Phish. Trey tore a portal in the universe through which the show—and all of its participants ascended—elevating the performance into something far more than a rock concert. This was one of those spiritual peaks that leave one thunderstruck at what just happened. The band carried this energy into “Light,” departing from convention almost immediately and embarking on a multi-terrain, psychedelic trek. Trey’s powerful leads continued through this jam, as if he was inspired by “Carini,” and his creative flow continued. This extended excursion finally melted into a poignant “Slave” that punctuated an hour of non-stop jamming with a fast-paced, group-based rendition. The pairing of “Meatstick” and “Bold as Love” provided the most bizarrely perfect come down from such a cosmic voyage, and Trey graced Jimi’s cover with a stunning solo to conclude an incredible personal performance. Saturday was another in the growing list of timeless nights that seem to happen with a notable frequency in Commerce City, this time highlighted as much by the duration and consistency of top-shelf play as it was by any one jam.

The band closed the weekend with their most complete two-set show of the weekend, lending some gusto to the opening frame in the form of a rarity and copious contained jamming. “Curtain With” opened the show for the first time since 1988, “Wombat” and “Wolfmans Brother” both contained extended jam segments, “Winterqueen” and “Funky Bitch” came with some extra mustard, all helping create an enhanced first set vibe. But as usual, the plot truly unfolded after setbreak.

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Phish opened their final set of summer with “Chalk Dust,” the song that could be considered the anthem of Summer ’14 as it has featured massive improvisations all season long. This was another fully competent version, though it didn’t separate itself from the pack of non-Randall’s renditions from this summer. “A lot of territory in a little time” might as well be the slogan for recent “Chalk Dust” jams, as more often than not the band doesn’t settle on a single space or theme, but rather hops from feel to feel in an ever-moving improvisation. This jam followed this trend to a tee, though the band moved even quicker than usual from one idea to another, compromising any real vertical build and pulling in short of several other versions from this summer. Two songs later came the final “Tweezer” of summer, a straight forward though totally well-played version. Trey started out with some slick rhythm work that allowed the band to create an engaging groove, but before too long he turned to a quasi-generic solo that brought the band into a more directional build. The more creative highlights of this set would come in its back half in the form of “Sand,” “Piper,” and “Mike’s Song.”

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Perhaps because the initial two jams of the set didn’t reach full glory, the band took a mid-set turn for the abstract, favoring storage jam-like soundscapes in both “Sand” and “Piper.” “Sand” descended through a plinko-infused sequence after Trey briefly returned to “Tweezer’s” lick, and the process of deconstructing the jam brought about the highlight of the show. Note was how Fishman never left his the groove as his bandmates’ playing became increasingly abstract. “Piper” contained a bi-polar jam, favoring a beatless and amorphous vibe after a torrid opening section, as the band fully committed to a far out soundcsape before dripping into “Joy.” But the cherry on top of this visit to Dick’s came in the first jammed “Mike’s Song” of 3.0. Trey ditched his wanking solo and dove into some wah-infused rhythmic interplay and the band jumped right on board! Integrating the cowbell into his rhythms, Fish formed a tasty backbeat on which the band layered their dancy exchange. Trey then used his tape delay to add some more effects to the mix as the band stuck with this whole-band groove for the duration of the jam. Phish—at long last—played an original “Mike’s” jam in this era, and this certainly points to larger things from the song come fall.

Phish came to Denver and integrated what stood out on both halves of their summer tour—jamming and fluidity—to sculpt quite a memorable Labor Day weekend. The pieces all came together at Dick’s and the hindrances of summer seemed to dissolve in the mountain air. And as the community departed from Colorado for the short off-season, they did so with large smiles inspired by the music heard in the mountains. If Phish sticks with the blueprint of flowing sets chock filled with improv that was set in Commerce City, come fall we should be in for quite a two-week treat!

Dick's 20143 (Andrea Nusinov)

Dick’s 20143 (Andrea Nusinov)

 

 

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