Phish couldn’t have opened their summer tour with four more encouraging shows. While displaying precise chops and improvisational acumen, the clearest difference between this summer and last year is the confidence, intensity, and urgency behind their playing. With no members slacking, the band resembles the Phish of old – a four-headed, fire-breathing dragon. The band has obviously reached a level of pure comfort on stage again, opening the door to new possibilities – and some of these scenarios have already begun to unfold.
The band has showcased four different types of shows to kick off the tour, all without repeating a song. While the first sets carried a similar vibe, highlighting different pieces with tension-filled, structured jamming, the themes of the second sets have gone four different ways. Chicago’s proved exploratory and transcendent, with several open jams. Blossom’s turned creatively anthemic, with a menacing centerpiece of “Backwards Down the Number Line,” a jam that easily gets my vote for the defining moment of tour so far. Hershey’s became a fantasy setlist with a balance of grooves and exploration to satisfy everyone, while transforming the GA show into a huge dance party. And finally, Portsmouth’s emerged as a song-based set with a light, summery vibe. Four shows, four diferent feels; the excitement continues to build.
One of the questions coming into this summer concerned new covers, with many fans having tired of the same ol’, same ol’. And lo and behold, Phish has come out with three brand new covers in the first four nights of tour. Whether or not these songs will stay in rotation is yet to be discovered, but out of “Look Out, Cleveland,” Instant Karma,” and “Cold Water,” I would wager my money on John Lennon’s classic. In addition, Phish unveiled two original pieces, Trey and The Dude if Life’s “Show of Life,” and Mike’s “Idea.” These two, completely different songs will soon become launch pads for extremely different jams. “Show of Life” carries spiritual and uplifting potential, while “Idea” holds the reigns of blow-out dance sessions with bass-led grooves and two distinct improvisational sections.
Along with their tightness and confidence, the band has also displayed a willingness to take risks, delving into plenty of innovative improvisation. Taking a minimalist approach to many jams, Trey has often sat back, slowly building around Mike’s leads with atypical phrases ranging from bending, sustained notes to short, delicate licks. Hints of a new type of psychedelia have peeked out of this style, something the band may build upon as the tour moves on. The communication between Trey, Mike, and Page has been utterly impressive, and Fishman has been holding things down with authority.
The band’s proficiency has not only allowed them to sculpt open explorations, but extremely creative jams that have remained anchored to their song structures. Pieces like Chicago’s “Bowie,” and “Limb,” and Hershey’s “Runaway Jim,” “Split,” “Twist,” and “YEM,” are all perfect examples of this style that has revitalized so many Phish classics over the opening run of tour.
As they moving into the high-key, Northeastern portion of their tour, Phish is riding an undeniable wave of momentum. Between Hartford, SPAC, and Great Woods – the musical dramatics are sure to escalate in what is quickly becoming a very special summer.