In a half-empty arena that carried the vibe of an out-of-the-way stop along fall tour, Phish kicked-off Miami ’09 with a show that felt just a bit out of sync. With a opening act whose music came in waves, much like the waters that surround, the band interspersed some exploratory jaunts throughout some straight forward rock that kept their show enticing. The improvisational highlights of the evening came in the risk-taking of “Stash,” “Light,” and “Harry Hood,” all to varying degrees of success. Whereas Phish fought through some early speed bumps and came together gloriously in “Stash,” they weren’t as successful with their latest incarnation of “Light,” searching and searching, but not coming up with all too much. But perhaps the most sublime and psychedelic portion of the night, however, came in an late-set, ambient-laced dreamscape called “Harry Hood.”
“Stash” filled in its now-patented “First Jam of the Run” slot, but did so with far more skyscraping psychedelia that usual. Representing the only first set launchpad, the band let things hang out early, forming the most demented segment of the night. Following the jam’s standard path for a while, there came a certain point when the band veered off course into uncharted waters. Navigating a stormy sea of musical whitecaps, the band reached their darkest and most abstract points of the night in a scintillating episode that couldn’t help but trigger memories of “Stash’s” sacred trek in the same room six years ago. A musical adventure that teetered at points, finally peaked in a cascade of cacophony.
Following a first set that better resembled a mortuary rather than a Phish show, the band brought out their second-set defibrillators in the form of “Mike’s Song.” Sinking their teeth into the most gnarling version we’ve heard in a while, Phish passed through some sinister funk grooves before Trey let loose into a series of menacing guitar leads, narrating a twisting tale of darkness. Taking their head of steam and morphing into “Light,” the band seemed to almost get there a couple of times via their newest vehicle, but in the end fell short of any real greatness. After many of the stellar rides from fall tour, this “Light” just didn’t shine as brightly, but the band can’t be faulted for not pushing themselves, and that’s all we can ever ask.
And push themselves they did once again in an experimental, near-twenty minute “Harry Hood.” Starting the jam in near silence, Phish built, plateaued, and emerged again, through a sprawling cycle of full-band interplay. Transcending its composed build, this “Hood” drifted into more than one engaging musical segment before reconnecting to the its triumphant theme. In the most salient musical moment of the evening, this “Hood” seemed to bring direction and coherence to the band’s improv, in earnest, for the first time, all evening. Another risk taken; but this time, the band came out smashingly successful.
Despite the musical highlights, a noticeable lack of energy lent a strange vibe to a show that, at times, seemed like Phish was going at it alone. With virtually no one behind the stage, empty sections of seats on the floor, a black curtain quardening off much of the upper deck, last night felt like a complete juxtapostition to the through-the-roof energy that underlined fall tour; and hardly like a New Years Phish show. One must wonder what effect this feeling, if any, has on the band, their playing, and the their outcome of the show. After a first night that will, no doubt, be left in behind by the exploits of the next three, let’s come back tomorrow and see what’s up.
First Set Notes:
“My Soul,” unplayed since the band’s first farewell at Shoreline 2000, and “Roggae,” unplayed in ’09, came out one after another in a combination that seemed clearly linked by their relative scarcity. “Undermind” provided the first signs of musical vitality to the show with its punchy rhythmic interplay, while “Beauty of a Broken Heart” took the momentum from “Stash” and split it over a platter of groove in an entertaining spin. Overall, the first featured a rather sluggish flow and mediocre song selection, resulting in an underwhelming set of Phish to start off New Years ’09.
I. Sample in a Jar, NICU, My Soul, Roggae, Undermind, Bouncing Around the Room, Poor Heart, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Possum
II: Mike’s Song > Light > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Alaska, Backwards Down the Number Line, Makisupa Policeman > Harry Hood > Contact, Character Zero
E: First Tubef