When Phish tour is rolling well, each successive show builds on the one before in an ever-increasing musical drama. So far, this is the path that has begun to unfold along the road of Fall 2010. Last night, in a classic case of one-upping themselves, Phish finished their Colorado crusade with the most impressive show of their young tour, placing their improvisational lens on the dark side in a second set filled with consistent mind-fucking creativity. Stringing together multiple pieces of top-notch jamming, Phish molded the defining stanza of Broomfield’s three-night stand in their finale – an incredibly encouraging omen as the scene shifts to the Southeast this weekend.
When the lights dropped for the last time in the Rocky mountains, odds makers had “Disease” as the 2 to 1 favorite to open the second set and “You Enjoy Myself” with similar odds to close. “Harry Hood” also had all sorts of wagers in its favor, but instead of going with the house favorites, Phish bucked the trends and side-stepped their feel-good anthems, weaving an ominous frame of music with an original setlist while giving each and every selection the full treatment.
As many prepared for the fuzzy bass intro of “Disease,” Trey came crashing down with the heavy-metal guitar of “Carini.” Smashing the window of the second set wide open, the band took a swan dive into the growling favorite. But what made this version so unique wasn’t the hardcore rhythms and searing effects, but the uplifting jam that stemmed from the evil canvas. Layering a dramatic solo over the band’s heavy groove, Trey led his mates in a soul-tugging segment of improv that one would never expect to hear from the aggressive song. Kicking off the frame with staggering passion, the band would never look back. Without returning to the “Carini,” Phish descended from this cathartic peak with a carefully crafted space-ambient segue that merged masterfully into the intro to “David Bowie.”
Growing from a sublime “Carini” and placed in the second slot of the second set, this “Bowie” was bound for glory. And Phish responded to this potential with – easily – the best version they have played since coming back onstage last year. Infused with the intricacy and furious communication that fueled “Bowies” of lore, this centerpiece version featured the type of full-band interplay that made the song an institution in the mid-’90s. Trey’s subconscious guitar work stood out as he filled each and every measure with unparalleled activity, and the word “dynamic” would be a massive understatement in describing the full-on narrative that resulted. Check this one out as soon as possible, and while you’re at it, let the tape spin right into the third consecutive mind-numbing jam of the set – “Light.”
In another fascinating illustration of musical density, Phish cranked out one of the more unique “Light” jams ever played with ludicrous efficiency. Instead of returning to the lyrical refrain and then moving into a section of open-ended improv, the band built the composed jam into a stunning section of innovative psychedelia. Entering a futuristic and atypical groove-based segment, the band shredded this piece to smithereens with a similar urgency that characterized the set’s opening combination. Showcasing a completely original jam that bore little resemblance to anything the band has played, “Light” provided another glimpse down the current rabbit hole of the Phish universe. Trey and Page sliced the musical textures with precision while Mike and Fish kept an abstract but driving beat that drove the song’s adventure. Tearing through the smoking piece, when Phish finished their compact journey, they moved into a welcome oasis of melody in “Theme From the Bottom.”
Phish juiced every ounce of feeling from this version, providing the perfect aftermath for the extensive psychedelic jaunts that had just occurred, and while amidst the final note, the band nailed a series of collective hits that morphed into “Free.” Blowing up the Broom’ with sleek bass leads, Gordon worked the song over while Phish brought their onslaught of improv to a momentary landing pad. “Joy” worked well as a breather, and set up what seemed like an inevitable drop into “YEM” or “Hood.” Choosing to blindside the audience, however, the band unveiled the long-awaited second incarnation of Page’s “Halfway to the Moon” (debuted at SPAC this June). Rearranged with an altered ending, the band has clearly practiced the piece, and last night felt like their reintroduction of their finished product. Hopefully in rotation to stay, the song sounded polished and ready for exploration.
When the band crushed “Bug” in a version that rivaled Alpine’s monster, it seemed as though the that set closer lurked around of the corner. But in a set that carried undeniable flow, when Trey decided to play “Summer of ‘89” late in this overtly-dark set, it made little sense at all. But none of that mattered when Phish threw a finishing uppercut with “Split Open an Melt.” Punctuating a set strewn with foreboding music with a proper closer, this “Split” was a brilliant highlight in a set chock full of them. Though Phish has dropped many several “Splits” this era, none have approached the caliber of last night’s musical exclamation point. Immediately taking the piece into a mystical, amorphous soundscape, this one had five stars written all over it from its inception. Formulating a devastating excursion, the band passed through an extensive period of beauty that served as a stylistic juxtaposition to the norm. Blossoming through multiple stages of bliss and a gradually building groove, Phish slowly infused the piece with edgier wizardry until they were fully locked in a relentless “Split jam. Peaking the show with one of its most spectacular segments, Phish left it all on stage last night – something the entire crowd recognized with a massive ovation.
“Meatstick” provided a funky come down to a hugely impressive frame of music, and concluded the band’s the three-night stand with a dose of self-effacing humor. When the time came to drop their instruments and perform, Mike and Trey made no bones about letting the audience know that they no longer knew the once-famous dance, though attempting just the same. A fun ending to an evening of serious music, Mike stomped his foot bell as the last note of the show, leaving the crowd singing”Meatstick’s” chorus long after the band left stage.
If last night proved one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt – this is going to be some fall tour! Drop out, Tune in, and Hop on.
See You in Charleston!
First Set Notes: Phish composed a very impressive first set using a series of well-loved rarities – “Meat,” “Timber,” “On Your Way Down” and “Sugar Shack,” two extended compositions – “Time Turns Elastic” and a scintillating “Divided Sky,” and a final peak – “46 Days.” The closer transcended its form as Phish blew out the ending with a feel-good segment of climactic rock stylings; an out of the blue addition that led the band into setbreak with undeniable momentum.
I: Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Time Turns Elastic, Meat, The Divided Sky, Timber, On Your Way Down, Heavy Things, Sugar Shack, 46 Days
II: Carini > David Bowie, Light > Theme From the Bottom > Free, Joy, Halfway to the Moon, Bug, Summer of ’89, Split Open and Melt