In a relatively safe opening night, Phish kicked off their Fall ’09 tour with noteably few musical risks, a choppy setlist, and a couple of treats. With a half-empty floor and a laid-back, old-school vibe, Cobo Arena provided an intimate experience, but when the dust settles, this show will be remembered for its sublime second-set “Down With Disease > Free” and a fierce “Mike’s Groove” to end the evening. But in between – and there was a lot of in between – Phish filled the show with straight-forward pieces that amounted standard fare, and far less grit than suggested by Detroit’s urban landscape.
The first, and only, time Phish broke form from one of their jams, they did it in a big way during “Down With Disease.” Following a succinct “Runaway Jim” to open the second set, Phish launched from a blistering run through the composed “Disease” jam into an exploratory segment of music that reached deep into Phish sorcery. Crafting a stunning piece of patient and melodic improv, the band dove into collective communication that hypnotized the audience. Truly allowing the jam to fully develop in a way they haven’t often done lately, the music came to a natural conclusion before Trey began to tease the oncoming “Free.”
The magnitude of indoor Phish came crashing down for the first time with this bombastic “Free.” Featuring raunchier guitar work than most modern versions, Trey seemed to get an extra kick from Cobo’s indoor environs. An experiential highlight of the set, the entire venue seemed to finally catch the same groove, and the audience exploded with that collective energy you just don’t get outside. A perfect landing point for the awesome improv that preceded, the slow-motion groove evolved into a monstrous slate for Trey to rip off lick after lick.
A similar phenomenon came in the late set “Mike’s Groove,” when the entire band sat into a slower pattern than we’ve come to accustomed to this summer. The indoor sound increased the dirtiness of the band’s intent, as they truly connected with the essence of the “Mike’s” jam. The entire band offered far more aggressive textures as they built, arguably, the most patient and dirtiest 3.0 version. Just hearing the opening licks of “Mike’s” in an indoor arena injected a colossal shot of intensity to a show that desperately needed it after the slower segment of “Waste,” “Taste,” “Bug,” “Velvet Sea.” A classic late set “Groove” segued into a “Hydrogen” interlude before tearing into an shredding “Weekapaug;” and indoor treat, no doubt.
A quick “Cavern,” and a crunchy “Zero” encore put an exclamation point on a well-played show that was a building block for bigger things to come. That “Disease” jam really seemed like a foreshadowing of a new direction, a lead-less, collaborative jamming that saw the band members check their ego at the door for something far greater. Although the show was certainly a warm up for things to come over the next couple of weeks, their were a few moments that proved indelible.
1st Set Notes:
In a well-played but underwhelming frame, Phish featured a tighter than usual “Foam,” and an out of character, slowly funked out “46 Days.” Though it came a bit out of context and after a long set of standards, this version of “46 Days” got into some engaging arena molasses. Thick as all get out, this standout piece moved from deep groove into an ambient segment that brought a clear shining moment to the set. A “Bowie” carried this momentum to the sets close, setting up a seemingly huge second set that never truly came to fruition.
I: AC/DC Bag, Foam, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Bouncing Around The Room, Sample In A Jar, Kill Devil Falls, It’s Ice, Horn. Mountains In The Mist, Poor Heart, 46 Days, David Bowie
II: Runaway Jim, Down With Disease > Free, Waste, Taste, Bug, Wading In A Velvet Sea, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Cavern
E: Character Zero