Summer at Shoreline

In a mid-week stop by the Bay, Phish entered into the post-Red Rocks era of 3.0 with a fierce second set that carried their rejuvenated style of improv to the west coast.  Showcasing a wildly exploratory “Down With Disease,” Phish threw down arguably the jam of the tour amidst an aggressive and full-on second set.  With a setlist that reads like an amalgam, the band put together a diverse set of songs that flowed quite well, following up Red Rocks with a more-than-solid effort on Wednesday night.

Following a tasteful “Number Line” opener, Phish let things hang out in a multi-faceted exploration of “Disease.”  A jam that reached several distinct planes, Phish’s bravado was on display as they confidently blasted off into the nether regions of sonic manipulation.  From blistering rock, to gorgeous passages of layered psychedelia, this jam wove together many musical milieus organically with a daring spirit.  Unquestionably the centerpiece of the show, this piece brought balls-out improv, illustrating that Red Rocks was- in fact- not some magic oasis up in the mountains.  While its tough to say that a twenty minute jam ended abrubtly, this one did, as Trey decided things were done and began the opening of “Limb By Limb.”

The uplifting piece brought resolution to the murky soundscapes that had just unfolded, and while remaining anchored to its structure, provided a soaring piece of full-band interplay that left the crowd agasp after a half-hour of wizardry.  As Phish wound up the initial segment of the set, they stepped into a slower song that only took a few notes to identify as “Oh! Sweet Nuthin,” the final track of Velvet Underground’s Loaded.  Taking the emotional ballad off the shelf for the first time since Vegas ’98, the band continued to reference Halloweens past, prominently featuring covers from their former “costumes.”  This one was a real treat, as the band juiced the emotion out of the poignant song.  Remembering back to Vegas and forward to Indio, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin” was certainly a nod to their unrivaled holiday tradition.

The barrage of late-summer covers continued as the Phish revved the second half of the set with the slower funk stylings of Talking Head’s “Cities.”  A complete surprise at this point in the second set, the band sat into the first outright dance-grooves of the show, pouring them thick.  As the band settled the funk, however, they began to take the jam out into a drone feel that seamlessly transformed into the beginning of “Maze.”  Juxtaposing two of their most divergent styles of music, Phish stepped into the break-neck improv with a purpose.  Again appearing in the second set, “Maze” became a focal point that saw Trey and Page play off of each other masterfully, as Fish and Mike locked down maniacal rhythms.  This well-crafted song combo culminated with a searing “Maze” that may be the boldest outing for the song in this era.

With time left for one big closer, the slot ached for a “Mike’s Groove” to punctuate the night.  And when the hammer dropped, Trey left behind the wide-open funk of Morrison in favor of a growling, raunchy rendition that continued the time-honored tradition of Shoreline “Mike’s Songs.”  Albeit concise, the song’s jam was dense and dark, creating some crunching bombast late in the show, and when combined with “Maze,” a devastating segment of music.  Choosing “Simple” as the groove-connector, the band didn’t crash into the song out of the normal drum fill, but rather played the ending of “Mike’s” before starting the song- a little twist on an old one-two.  Though nothing out of the ordinary, “Simple” was phrased artistically, flowing with the summery evening.  Closing with a ripping ride through “Weekapaug” county,  Phish capped a high-flying evening in the Bay Area with upbeat musical theatrics before crafting a denouement in the form of a double encore.  “Let Me Lie” and “Bold As Love” brought some introspective rock and roll to the end of a Wednesday night before the community mobilized for a weekend up north at the Columbia River Gorge that has been circled on our calendar for months.  Safe travels, and enjoy the drive from Seattle- its a beauty!

Set One Notes: A relatively contained first set was highlighted by the closing “Bowie,” a jam whose abstract darkness set the tone for the second half of the show.  A truly ripping version, Phish has killed the first two “Bowies” of tour.  Every time “Stealing Time” gets going, I’m always hoping for a little bit more.  The song could easily turn into dirty jam, and most likely will at some point.  The “Divided Sky” was particularly inspirational, and you’ll rarely hear me say that- this one just popped with far more zest than most.  The band got into an engaging segment at the top of the “Chalk Dust” jam before crashing back into its composed ending- definitely worth checking out.



Shoreline 8.5.09 (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

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