As Phish pulled into Star Lake, one of their hallowed summer sheds, last night, things felt like they were back to normal. After the irregular indoor and festival shows of the south, it felt good to be back at a “regular” summer show. And when Phish stepped to bat in the second set, it seemed that they felt the same way. Creating a feel-good melange of improv that left everyone walking out with a smile, Phish played a set centered on jams rather than songs, a trend that is more than welcome among their fan base. Despite rather sloppy composed playing by Trey all night- we watched a “Bowie” fall to pieces in front of our eyes- the improvisation carried this show, and in the end, the jams are what count. And that is why we’ll be listening to this second set quite a bit in between tours.
Leading off with “Disease,” an improvisational adventure was impending as the band played tightly through the song and far out into other territory in what turned into the highlight of the show, and one of the most engaging jams of the tour. Moving beyond the composed jam for quite some time, Phish explored some darker places before twisting the jam into a similar ambient-groove that has been popping up all tour. Following a dissonant and drone path, this murky improv morphed into the intro to “Free.” While an appropriate and bombastic landing point for this course of improv, it has been avshame to see “Free” cut into a jamless song this summer after having being the staple of so much past summer funk. At this point the bass bombs move directly into Trey’s guitar solo, leaving any full-band improvisation behind. Maybe they’ll stretch one out at Alpine- though I doubt it.
After an oddly placed “Guyute,” Phish put the pedal back on the creative metal, launching into the tour’s second “Piper.” Ready and willing to take another musical risk, the band laid it out in a jam that covered diverse territory. Certainly exploratory, the band took the jam beyond it’s conventions, even building into a slower groove for a bit. “Piper’s” musical trapeze act took several twists and turns before settling into into a mid-set rest in “Circus.” But a brief rest it was as the band dropped into another fantastic “Harry Hood.” This song has been completely revitalized this summer, and each time its reggae rhythms drop, we know we are in for a soul-searching adventure. Once again taking the “song-of-tour” candidate on a delicate and triumphant journey, Phish crushed their magnificent classic with another unique path to the mountaintop.
Following “Squirming Coil,” the band didn’t take a bow, leaving time for one more monster. After a few moments of silence, the opening of “YEM” sang through the pavilion; the perfect cap on a “Disease-Piper-Hood” set. By far the most impressive rendition of the summer, the band blew up a vintage set-closing version of the song whose precise grooves and high-energy peaks were just what the doctor ordered. Providing an all-out dance-fest to close the night, everyone was on a high for the goofy encore that saw Fishman perform his first song of 3.0- Syd Barret’s “Bike.”
Kicking off their four night run with a strong effort in Burgettstown, Phish and their travelling circus now head west to Noblesville and the cornfields of Deer Creek. Looking to build on the last three weeks, the next three shows potentially represent the most exciting nights of tour. And if the past is any indication, at Deer Creek and Alpine, anything is possible!
1st set note: Arguably the best versions of “Wolfman’s” and “Tube” since the comeback.
I: Golgi Apparatus, Chalk Dust Torture, Bouncing Around The Room, Wolfman’s Brother, The Divided Sky, Heavy Things, Walk Away, Wilson, Tube, Alaska, David Bowie
II: Down With Disease > Free, Guyute, Piper > When The Circus Comes To Town, Harry Hood, The Squirming Coil, You Enjoy Myself
E: Grind, Hello My Baby, Hold Your Head Up > Bike > Hold Your Head Up, Loving Cup