Phish stepped to the west coast in laid-back style, playing to their Berkeley surroundings with their second stellar tour-opener in as many months. Using the second set to showcase the real goods, Phish still came correct with a two-set flow that sparked the first west coast Phish of the year. And though The Greek was as crowded as one could imagine, everyone disappeared into thin air as the band dove into two of their defining jams of 2010 in the second set. Like mythological silhouettes against a medieval backdrop, Phish unsheathed two of their most classic vehicles to electrify the intimate audience, commencing a very special week in the Phish community. Taking both “Disease” and “Tweezer” on Odyssian-treks, Phish sculpted two instant classics of the modern era as Act I of The Greek.
Any worries of cold or inclement weather were immediately answered by a sunny afternoon atop the hill at University of California, as the crowd of 8,500 slowly trickled in following a line that snaked down several blocks. But when everyone got settled into the The Greek, it became immediately apparent that we were, indeed, about to witness the freshest of Phish amidst a live-music mecca. The band wasn’t joking about their early start time, coming on stage around 6:45, using a combination of “Possum and “Wolfman’s” to get the party started. Taking “Wolfman’s” for an impressive first-set spin, this one stood out as a strong summer version. Sometimes when Phish plays “Divided Sky” it feels contrived and sometimes it just feels right. Standing amidst the late afternoon in the Berkeley hills, yesterday was one of the latter, greeting early-evening with grandeur. The opening string of first-set action continued with a rousing “Funky Bitch,” and an impressive jam out of “Kill Devil Falls,” before taking a few-song breather. Punctuating the opening frame with the set’s most intense passage, Phish played one of their finest “Antelopes” of the summer, announcing loud and clear that warms ups were over, and set two would be starting soon.
But if set one looked and sounded a bit familiar, Phish used their improvisational prowess to make the second half highlights the stuff of dreams. Wasting no time in crafting a forward-looking epoch, Phish soared into brand new musical territory, breaking through an already scintillating “Disease” with uber-creative playing. Building boldly from a dynamic foundation, the band shut off their musical compasses, playing wherever the moment brought them. Traveling through unique percussive rhythms, Trey sat back, slicing and dicing with an ear on the band’s emerging experiment. The band traveled organically outward as Phish’s bass-centric style of 2010 adopted to faster, then ambient, territories. In the most unique moments of the show, Mike’s leadership allowed Trey and Page to enhance the final segment of “Disease” without taking over, as Fishman backed it all with a delicate, yet urgent beat. Phish tread on new ground in the last section of the jam, allowing the band to coalesce around Mike’s ideas while still offering individual phrases that only furthered the minimalist cause. Trey descended through a drone pattern as the band brought the piece to a natural end, splash landing in a nasty “Free” that brought more excitement than most any modern-era versions. Allowing time for brief, structured interplay between Mike and Trey, the band played allowed this version to momentarily marinate before coming out of the ocean.
The second set lost some of it’s cosmic steam with mid-set stops in “Alaska” and “Back on the Train,” killing any chance of a free-flowing set. These songs provided an unnecessary buffer before the band got back go business by annihilating a retro-style “Maze” that had me thinking back to their tour-closer in ’93 on the same stage. Embodying the instinct for the jugular that created the mid-nineties monster, Phish placed the second “Maze” of the year in its respective tour opener. Hopping the express train, “Maze” returned the second set to where it needed to be. And after a idyllic mid-set “Joy,” the thunderclouds rolled in overhead, and Zeus shot down his lightening bolts in the form of “Tweezer.”
If last August I spoke of mainlining the Red Rocks “Tweezer” in an attempt to constantly access the addictive cure-all, we’re gonna have to think of a bit more direct route for this west coast bomb. A version so smooth, yet so powerful, one needs to stop reading this article now and go find a version to listen to… Back? Well, suffice it to say that most all of us can agree on that one! Fusing the laid-back love of California into rhythms of the soul, Phish unveiled a mythical excursion that will be getting non-stop play for the foreseeable future. Using musical space every bit effectively as sound, Phish demolished grooves that shook Mount Olympus to its foundation. An immortal sculpture whose stature will never truly translate to tape, this version funneled directly from the heavens into the inner respites of the human spirit – ambrosia of the gods.
Phish peaked this new-school crack with a purpose, and descended into a series of calmed-down grooves. In celebration, Trey somewhat abruptly switched into Fluffhead,” but on this night, the less-than-ideal segue became a mere footnote to the unquestionable centerpiece of the show. To see the band tackle their intricate classic in such gorgeous visual and aural surroundings was a sight to behold. Nailing “Fluffhead,” virtually note-for-note, the band used their college-era piece to close the set on the highest of notes. “The Arrival” of “Fluffhead” also represented the arrival of Summer Tour – The Sequel, and we are just getting started.
Before the encore, Trey closed the night in emotional fashion by honoring guitar craftsman, and former front of house sound man, Paul Languedoc. Trey told a story that bears repetition:
…He [Paul] told me about nine months ago, that he had put aside this magic piece of wood to build one last, really special guitar. And he gave it to me about a week ago, and this is it – [presenting guitar to the crowd.] And I’ve just to to say that I’ve just been freaking out all night about how good this guitar is – it’s the magic guitar…
The story held a certain poignancy as our life adventure with Phish evolves into this next era, and as Trey moves onto his sixth and final Languedoc. We are blessed to be a part of this Golden Age where magic and time are once again partners in crime. And this time we’re playing for keeps.
The only thing I could think as I left the venue was, I’m ready for tomorrow night….you?
See you in a couple of hours…
I: Possum, Wolfman’s Brother, The Divided Sky, Funky Bitch, Kill Devil Falls, Halley’s Comet > Sample in a Jar, NICU, Bouncing Around the Room, Run Like an Antelope
II: Down with Disease > Free, Alaska, Back on the Train, Maze, Joy, Tweezer > Fluffhead
E: Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise
Update: No Spoilers and More
I forgot to mention yesterday that No Spoilers is locked and loaded for Leg II. So continue to enjoy the downloads with a similar eta as last month. Also, as we move through this memorable week, some of my posts may be taking a west coast vibe due to spending time with great friends in great places. So if any of my next few pieces are a bit shorter – and the way things are going we all know they likely won’t be – thanks for understanding!