Capping a weekend nobody will soon forget, Phish played two more outstanding sets of music on Sunday night in Hartford, Connecticut, leaving vapor trails across New England as they head for the home stretch of this short, but oh so sweet, fall tour. The band returned to one of their old stomping grounds for the first time since 1999, and greeted it with a proper throw down, composing another chock full, two-set affair. Filling the second set with infectious dance grooves within the context of to-die-for jamming, the band held nothing back on Sunday night, leaving any fan who has caught the last three shows with a belly full of top shelf Phish.
To honor the late Lou Reed—the mind behind Velvet Underground—the guys opened up the show with “Rock and Roll,” jumpstarting the night with some open jamming. Not only did this move immediately ignite the crowd, but it showed that Hartford’s show would pick up exactly where Worcester’s had left off. Everything that band has touched over this weekend has been played with notable creativity; band members are taking unique solos and every piece is popping off the stage. Such was true for “Ocelot,” “Tube,” and “Halfway to the Moon,” the subsequent three songs, which set up the highlight of the first set, “Fee > Maze.”
Phish dusted off “Fee” for the first time this tour, and with it came a mellow bliss jamette. As they seeped out of the song’s ending and into a rolling, melodic exchange, it was clear that the guys were feeling it early tonight. Speckling the first half with free-form jamming while anchoring it with shredding structured interplay, the guys didn’t shy from opening-set improv. “Maze” provided a seething landing point for “Fee’s” atmospheric interlude, and two other pieces of heavy hitting rock-based Phish came as the final couplet of the set in “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” and “Walls of the Cave.” This high octane ending punctuated another super satisfying opening frame of music, and the entire feeling of a Phish show changes when the beaming about what just happened at setbreak. There was no getting through the first half just to see what will happen after in the second, rather pure unbridled enjoyment from the very first note. And as usual on Fall Tour ‘13, the second set delivered in a big way.
When “Chalk Dust” kicked off the main event, my mind immediately shot back to the Rockies and the instant classic we heard at Dick’s. But on this night, the band was utilizing the rock anthem as a quick shot of adrenaline before dropping into tour’s second Sunday night “Tweezer (and Hartford Civic Center’s third in four shows). And hot damn was it ever a keeper! Blasting into an ocean of candy grooves, Phish brought salvation to the dance floor with the entirety of this rhythmically-focused version. This “Tweezer” carried the exact opposite vibe of Hampton’s sinister standout, moving in a uplifting direction while maintaining a criminal danceability. And while Hampton’s version was loose like a band on their first weekend of tour, this time out, “Tweezer’s” jam was laced up tight with no hesitation from any musician—totally and completely dialed in. Deep into the jam, the band found the chord progression of “Weekapaug” and jammed around the song’s theme within the “Tweezer’s” slower textures; a very cool self-referential arrival for a piece that will be spinning all day on headphones in offices around the country. Enjoy IT, folks, this one’s a lifer.
With a short “Birds of a Feather,” the band alternated between rock and wide-open, groove jamming—a pattern that would hold for most of the set. And the next dance selection would be “Golden Age,” as the band played the modern era cover in close proximity of “Tweezer” just like in Hampton. But whereas that version of “Golden Age” was a highlight of the show, Hartford’s version will be a highlight of the tour. Trey and Fish hooked up early on in this jam, setting a groove template for which the band to jam around. And jam they did, in a very sophisticated and minimalist fashion, where each member only provided exactly what was necessary to fill the groove. Nobody dominated, in fact, nobody even lead the jam—a robotic groove machine for the 21st century. They guys converged on three distinct jam sections in this “Golden Age,” two exclusively drenched in groove, while the third grew increasingly layered with effects and eventually dissolved into an ambient soundscape. Trey painted a delicate, upper octave solo atop the piece before joining the sound sculpture as a democratic contributor. This reflective final sequence came to a finale with Mike’s opening lyrics to “Halley’s Comet.”
Every time the band drops a second set “Halley’s” our ears perk up in hopes that this might me the one, but alas, it wasn’t to be on Sunday night. But as abrupt segues out of “Halley’s” go, this one was particularly smooth as the band slipped into a late set “2001.” Similarly, most fans’ hopes rise with each “Also Sprach” that this one might be the one on which they go huge—and last night they actually did! Transforming the usually routine funk cover into the third heavily-improvised dance number of the set, the guys let loose on “2001” like they haven’t in quite some time. This version grew in stature from Hampton’s beefy outing of a week ago, with lock step jamming and mini-groove tangents all over. After Phish got the arena bouncing for this final time of the set, they kept the energy of the show sky high by unveiling the first “Fluffhead” of tour. And then it was time for the come down.
Phish has been keeping things fresh all tour, not only with their setlists but with their jams, refusing to play two pieces the same way. This is usually true for open jams, but right now they are even diversifying songs like “Slave.” In Hampton, they played a refined and delicate version of the set closer, so last night they took the jam to the top with a rocket strapped to their back in old-school fashion. This “Slave” picked up a pace right off the bat, spending little to no time in ultra-placid waters. And with this quicker tempo came an active, four-piece exchange that saw Trey lay into his solo like it was the last he’d ever play. This was vintage Phish. And this is 2013. Taking care of business, yes indeed.
And thus concludes a weekend that will be talked about for years to come— Phish destroys southern New England. Three shows; six sets, and you can just hit play and let ‘em ride, because every single one is worth listening to all the way through. After last night’s second set, I went over to a younger buddy who started seeing Phish in 2009, after poring over their music for years. I hugged him in joy and said, “You’ve waited your whole life for this!” He looked back with a smile and said, “I know.” And as I walked away to grab my bag, I thought to myself, “Haven’t we all?”
I: Rock and Roll, Ocelot, Tube, Halfway to the Moon, Fee > Maze, Lawn Boy, Nellie Kane, NICU, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Walls of the Cave
II: Chalk Dust Torture, Tweezer, Birds of a Feather, Golden Age > Halley’s Comet > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Fluffhead, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Loving Cup > Tweezer Reprise