Exploring Out West

The Greek Theatre – 8.5.06 (Wendy Rogell)

Taking The Greek by storm in a two-set smoker that far surpassed the tour opener, Phish unveiled a pair of action-packed frames filled with creativity, including one of the best jams of the modern era. From note one through the last, Phish had their mojo flowing, despite a couple of notably awkward on-stage moments during the second set. Speed-bumps aside, much of the band’s improv carried a new-found patience that allowed the exploration of completely new territory for the second straight night. Hitting from all angles, the show never relented, creating a start-to-finish marathon. Feeling comfortable pushing the envelope on a nightly basis once again, Phish has found their way back to progressive exploration, expanding their sonic horizons on a nightly basis.

Kick-starting the show with a raging “Chalk Dust,” the band grabbed the crowd instantly and never let them go. Following “Guyute,” Trey harnessed some of Jerry’s aura floating around the Berkeley Hills, engaging the band in a Deady rendition of the slowly-expanding “Ocelot.” Fitting the early-evening like a glove, this piece set the table for an explosive run of songs that turned a a burgeoning set into an extraordinary one. A song that only sounds great when its technicalities are accurately executed, Phish did just that with”It’s Ice,” properly crushing the Rift-era single before dropping into the highlight of the first set – “Cities.” And boy did it feel good to type that!

After several succinct and standard versions since the Hampton reunion, Phish finally let things fly with their funkafied cover. Entering a series of rhythmic calisthenics, the band time-traveled through groove back to a different era when dancing was all that mattered. Focusing on ferocious grooves, just when one expected the jam to wind down, Phish kicked it up a notch, immediately pumping liquid energy into the intimate amphitheatre. Riding the back of Mike’s and Fish’s pocket – as deep the abyss – Page and Trey painted the piece with their own rhythmic offerings. The band locked into some seriously collaborative funk as the sun set and the Kuroda used the columns of The Greek as a personal mural, enhancing the eye candy of this frozen moment. Anyone who was around during the late-’90s hey-day of the song had to smile ear-to-ear as Phish got straight nasty up in that piece last night! Candied molasses like we haven’t heard from in a quite some time, “Cities” was in a word – refreshing.

The Greek Theatre – 8.5.10 (Wendy Rogell)

And as the band sustained their gooey texture – boom – right into “Moma Dance,” as they refused to let the moment end. With a laid-back version of another groove-era epic, the band had The Greek bumping like a pinball machine for an extended period during dusk. Completing a stellar three-song sequence, the band launched directly into “Bathtub Gin.” This rendition showcased the precise control Phish has rebuilt, pushing and pulling the tempo of the jam as if inflating and deflating a collaborative lung. A piece that coalesced into a searing peak didn’t showcase one member over another, a characteristic that is quickly becoming a defining facet of Phish’s most successful jams this summer. Finalizing one of the most gaudy first halves of 2010, the band finalized things with their emerging set closer “Stealing Time.”

8.5.10 (W.Rogell)

The energy of the first set spilled directly into the second, as Phish strung together a series of stand-alone jams that were highlighted by the opening “Rock and Roll,” and a surreal “Simple” that became the improvisational centerpiece of tour thus far. Playing “Rock and Roll” on the first non-Saturday of the year, Phish used their ever-popular vehicle to voyage into a rolling pasture of melodic ambient-groove. Page shined on piano throughout the jam, as he has been notably turned up in, what is now, the best live mix Phish has ever had. Listening and responding masterfully to each other, the band’s nuanced, cooperative jamming turned fully blissful in one of the escapades of the night. Weaving their lines into a singular musical motion, this jam became the second example in as many nights of a new-school improvisational style in which Fishman continuously rolls out intricate, driving beats while the band moves into a more subtle, ambient territory. After establishing this style on the first two nights (also with “Disease”) one can be sure their will be more of this to come coming over the next fortnight.

Descending from this majestic piece, the band slid into “Ghost,” kicking up the adrenaline in the amphitheatre yet another notch without any thought of rest. In the same controlled style as the first-set “Gin,” Phish manipulated music like Plasticine, molding their path by toying with tempo while Trey and Mike stepped out front to play. Exchanging leads over yet another masterful series of drumbeats, Mike threw on his envelope filter, thickening the jam while Trey spat searing leads atop the musical romper room. When the jam stemmed from from structure, the band sounded as though they were heading for “Walk Away” in a melodic jam-turned-catastrophe, as Trey hacked into the jam with the opening licks of “Mike’s?!” The ensuing moment was the most painful onstage moment we’ve seen this year, as the band had no idea what Trey was doing, and simply collapsed as a unit. Later in the evening, after listening to the butchery, we joked that Phish must have been paying homage to the bust-a-gut “Shred IT” video that became a You Tube sensation last week. But once they regrouped into “Mike’s,” there was nothing to complain about at all. Seething with guitar-led fury, Trey unleashed menacing leads throughout the shredding version. But the best moments of the show were about to unfold.

The Greek Theatre – 8.5.10 (W.Rogell)

As they transitioned into “Simple” nobody could have foreseen the psychedelic fairytale that Phish would spin on this summer evening. Patiently playing wherever that moment brought them, Phish soon moved from a mellow-melodic outro into the most full-blown open-jamming we’ve seen from the band in this era. On the eternal quest for original Phish music, the band delivered in droves during this experimental masterpiece. Weaving their offerings into a quadruple-helix of transcendental improv, the band locked into an amoeba-style jam with no band member pushing or pulling the music any more forcefully than the others. An exemplary illustration of Phish combining to form far more than the sum of their parts, this jam is, perhaps, the most creative and “out-there” we’ve heard the band get in this era. Entering completely original territory having nothing to do with the song, the band locked into one of the most indelible moments in ages. A sure sign that the band is only moving in the right direction, “Simple” brought some of the most impressive playing from Phish this year.

8.5.10 (W.Rogell)

Using “Number Line” to provide a more accessible song after their intricate psychedelia, the band followed up their single-version with a rousing, if not oddly-placed, “Show of Life,” before finishing “Mike’s Groove” by chilling briefly in “Seven Below.” Staring the their post-hiatus vehicle at a seemingly random point in the show, one figured they’d tie the percussive piece into “Weekapaug,” and after only three minutes, they had completely nailed the transition, flying high into the end of their “Mike’s Sandwich.” But for some reason, Phish insisted on back-tracking, inexplicably allowing the beat to drop out for Mike’s opening solo. Amidst a night of musical feats, Phish proved they were still human, botching their second segue of the set.

But just when one thought the band would take their pre-encore bow, Trey directed the band into “You Enjoy Myself” to close a wildly creative frame of music. Keeping the energy pumping, Phish dropped into a final dance session of the night, taking their seminal opus for a short, but swanky ride to close the show in style. Following their groove fiesta, the band came out and crushed “Good Times, Bad Times” to put an exclamation point on quite a special summer night in Northern California.

One more please?

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Guyute, Ocelot, It’s Ice, Cities > The Moma Dance, Bathtub Gin, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan

II: Rock and Roll > Ghost > Mike’s Song > Simple > Backwards Down the Number Line, Show of Life, Seven Below > Weekapaug Groove, You Enjoy Myself

E: Good Times Bad Times

The Greek Theatre – 8.5.10 (Wendy Rogell)


PS: With a 6am flight towards Colorado tomorrow, an article will likely follow.

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