In the aftermath of their return to MSG, Phish brought their fall tour home in Charlottesville, Virginia last night with one of the dirtiest throw-downs of all, anchored by thick dance grooves, uber-exploratory improv, and cash-money playing all night long. Despite a 15,000 person capacity, John Paul Jones Arena held a distinctly intimate feel after Madison Square Garden’s big city blowout. With a GA floor uniting all the kids for the fall finale, Phish responded with an unforgettable farewell set, albeit only for three weeks.
Stepping on stage for their final frame, it didn’t take long for Phish to drop the danciest and most addictive”Tweezer” since Red Rocks now-legendary version. Attacking the jam from a rhythmic perspective, Phish instantly transported the arena to a moss-ridden, Mesozoic swamp of groove. Using rhythm licks and staccato leads, Trey blended with the band in the type of sculpted, blissful ventures that drives my soul. Sliding with swagger into his solo, Big Red’s playing led the band in an instant classic. As the band raged in the post-peak section of the jam, Trey abruptly cut the jam with a recalcitrant insistence on playing “Light” at that specific moment. The rough transition hardly effected what is quickly becoming a Phish staple, “Tweezer > Light.” Having started the Summer at Fenway with the debut of the sequence, the band finished Fall with the same combo that packed a completely different punch.
Since its debut, “Light” has developed into the band’s newest and largest jam vehicle, growing in stature throughout the year, and recently featured as Madison Square Garden’s deepest jam. In the last version of a tour that has been nothing short of a revelation for the song’s potential, Phish unveiled one of their most psychedelic and abstract jam in ages. Morphing in and out of subtle grooves and with an amorphous mastery, this jam represented some peak sonic experimentation. The band passed through a passage that strongly suggested “Dave’s Energy Guide” en route to an incredibly cerebral masterpiece. Through all the “Lights” of fall tour, Phish illustrated an evolving desire to break new musical ground, specifically in the last few versions, and that couldn’t be a better sign for the future of the band.
Blending their cosmic jaunt into “Piper,” the band tore into another piece of music that has continually pushed their playing throughout the year. Last night’s full-throttle mind-game provided a dense passage of growling rock-turned-groove, in a jam that Trey, again, ended too quickly to play “Free” – an interesting trend that could be theorized upon for hours. Splashing into the ultimate ’09 landing point for exploratory improv, the band concluded the initial non-stop section of the set with a dash of bass-driven arena rock before allowing anyone to catch their breath.
Featuring their “Exile” costume for consecutive shows, Phish used the appropriate “Sweet Virginia” as their final mid-set interlude of tour. Following the Stones’ southern ballad, Phish rolled into a magnificent “Harry Hood” whose completely sublime interplay between Mike and Trey made the many versions of tour look somewhat standard. Guided by a seemingly deeper spirit, the ethereal textures and other-worldly melodies of this “Hood” brought echoes of mid-to-late ’90’s classics, evoking the song’s essential core. Taking their early-epic for a regal ride, this version drew inspiration from the stirring set of music that had preceded. As the band sustained the song’s final note, one could practically hear the oncoming crash into “Suzy,” and when it came, “Hood’s” energy spilled into the super-spirited funk number that has dotted so many top-notch sets this year.
Following “Golgi,” the band stamped the set complete with an “Antelope” that brought the tour to an upbeat ending with the altered lyric, “You’ve got to run like a naked guy, out of control!” referencing a first-set stage-jumper in the raw who wove his way around the band and their equipment, eluding two stage security like Barry Sanders breaking a busted play. A comedic ending to a top-notch affair, the band concluded in a place of extreme musical focus amidst tongue-in cheek hilarity; it sure seems that things are back on track in the world of Phish again. Finishing their tour with the first “Loving Cup” since Indio’s accompanied blowout, and the always fitting ,”Reprise,” the encore punctuated and enhanced the band’s farewell. Now at home again in both amphitheatres and arenas, the world is Phish’s oyster once again, and it’s just great to be a part of it.
Set 1 Notes: An eventful, though rather jam-less, first set featured the tour’s only appearances of “Ya Mar,” “Sneakin’ Sally,” and “Bold As Love.” “Bag,” “Chalkdust” provided an old-school kick start to the frame while “Faulty Plan” went through the entire tour fall without any of its anticipated indoor evolution. The band continues to kill “Divided Sky” with frequency because they can. A late-set combo of “Funky Bitch” and “Bowie,” by all accounts, should have ended the first half. But “The Wedge” followed before the hallowed Hendrix cover ended an extended opening frame.
I: AC/DC Bag, Chalk Dust Torture, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley, The Old Home Place, Cavern, Funky Bitch, David Bowie, The Wedge, Bold As Love
II: Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free, Sweet Virginia, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg, Golgi Apparatus, Run Like an Antelope
E: Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise