On a Saturday night in North Charleston, Phish dropped their finest two-set effort of this young tour, blowing out each frame with fresh jams colored with unparalleled musicianship and communication by all four members. Juxtaposed to their endless setlists of Friday, the band crafted a show that flowed like liquid from start to finish, and almost felt like we saw two second sets worth of music. Throwing down the gauntlet from moment one, this show had IT from the get go, never moving through a single lull on the way to churning out a venue full of beaming fans. Just before a two-day break prior to entering their home turf of New England, Phish has raised the bar for the rest of tour with a show that simply never stopped.
Opening with an appetizer of “Kill Devil Falls” and “Guelah Papyrus” – both played for the first time this fall – the set got rolling in earnest with the only “Curtain (With)” of 2010. Boasting a gorgeous “With” jam this sparked a set of serious music as the tour debuts continued with an energetic “Mango Song” and a filthy “Sand.” When the band kicked into “Sand” midway through the first set, they delivered a message loud and clear – this night would be special. Shredding apart a dynamic groove Trey set the tone for his own playing for the evening – a night he annihilated from start to finish in, arguably, his best outing of fall thus far. “Sand” provided the first outright showcase for his chops, and he took liberty in leading the band through a version to be reckoned with. Flowing with lead melodies over a outstanding and changing groove, this version possessed far more passion, direction and urgency than any of this era (with Camden ’09 being the only counterargument) as the whole band interplay transcended the norm for the song. Fishman altered his beats, Mike molded diverse bass lines and the entire band shifted through connected segments of jamming in an indelible psychedelic excursion. Musical Density x Phish crack = really enjoyable times. (Or MD x PhC = $$$)
Trey’s infectious playing spilled right into “Limb By Limb” where his solo took added life, and into slammin’ “Sneakin Sally” that went without any real exploration in a first set go-round. In his only the southern stop and while having a particularly hot night, Trey pulled out the intricate Bill Monroe cover “Uncle Pen” to the delight of the Saturday night South Carolina crowd, and proceeded to lead the band through a rousing rendition. The dark-horse jam of the set came in from another 2010 premiere – “Pebbles and Marbles.” Bursting at the seams with energy, Fishman guided the jam with a hard, driving beat, urging Trey and Mike into uncharacteristically fast playing that resulted in some absolutely sublime moments. This version sprinted its way into the first set highlight reel with daring improv and blistering whole band communication that juiced more from the song than usual. Upon dropping a perfectly placed “Cavern,” Phish was ostensibly closing a smoking first set, but when the song ended, the band didn’t leave stage, and after a brief moment, revved up a bonus “David Bowie” that punctuated the opening frame far more dramatically.
But as hot as the opening half was Phish came out for set two and promptly dropped a musical statement that is among their best of the year – no bones about it. Boasting a non-stop flow and jams aplenty, the band blazed a fiery trail of music that never relented. Blindsiding everyone with “Crosseyed and Painless,” Phish came out with a multi-tiered exploration of the Talking Head’s cover. Cranking through a fiery initial expedition, Trey once again took front and center with his warp-speed soloing as the band crushed a liner, yet scorching jaunt through Crosseyed’s melodic themes. When the band pulled back into the lyrics, however, they weren’t close to done. Oozing into a space-aged ambient experiment, Trey painted eerie singular notes over a drone landscape, pushing the piece far into avant-garde abstraction. Thinking this segment would develop into the next song, Phish instead refrained “Still Waiting” once again and proceeded to move into a third section of jamming. Growing into a mid-tempo groove with a slick melodic tone, it seemed like the band wasn’t stopping. But the jam came to an natural end as they resolved the section fairly quickly to a massive ovation.
“Dirt” provided an introspective moment before Phish leapt into a mid-set “Fluffhead.” But unlike the many modern-era versions that break up flow of the second set, this one worked perfectly as the band crushed a nearly note-perfect rendition of their collegiate composition. Building a full head of steam through the five-part piece, Phish exploded at “The Arrival,” imploding the Coliseum with a colossal peak. But when “Fluff” came to a close, the best sequence of the show was ready to unfold.
Dropping immediately into the ambient built of “2001,” Phish wasted little time getting to business in a scorching version that is rivaled only by (but, in my opinion, smokes) Camden’s Michael Jackson-laced escapade for tops of the era. Whereas the band has generally played generic versions all over 2009 and 2010, this one contained additional octane, activity and interplay that set it far apart. Torching the building with a relentless mid-set dance session, Trey teased the opening lick of the first theme multiple times during the furious funk before taking the song to into its intial peak. And after surfing a rhythmic tsunami to its subsequent one, the band slipped into the my personal highlight of the night – a ginormous second set “Tweezer.”
Taking a divergent path than versions we’ve heard of late, Phish infused this “Tweezer” with belligerent creativity, creating an original mind-melter that left no jaw unhung. If you’re like me and get off on thick, raunchy Phish grooves, get your headphones and let this one rip, because you are in for a delectable treat! After a composed section that the band filled with all sorts of accents and enhancements, Trey came out of the gates in his raw, uncompressed, post-hiatus tone, throwing a surprising twist into things right off the bat. Getting downright menacing and swampy, the band’s rhythms complimented his ideas like a cosmic brontosaurus. Trey switched into out of his dissonant voice and began weaving strands of gold before before Fishman anchored a smooth change into a sparser groove – a move coaxed Page and Mike into prominent lead roles in this dense virtuosic journey. Dripping with crunching, forward-looking grooves, the band threw down the type of stuff that I dream about – a different monster than any 2010 incarnation and perhaps one of most indelible ten minute segments of music we’ll hear all tour. Layered with new ideas and uber-dynamic interplay between all four members – just get this one on as soon as possible!
As the “Tweezer” bust through its denouement, Trey wound up “Show of Life,” combining the two songs for the first time. Using the fall debut of his new song tactfully as a late-set bridge, the emotional anthem fit like a glove between “Tweezer” and the set’s closing “You Enjoy Myself.” Many had buzzed about the “Brickhouse YEM” from ’95 in the same building, and when the band dropped into the song’s opening arpeggios, one couldn’t help wonder the band was giving a subtle nod to the epic half-hour version. But one way or another, “YEM” – unplayed since Austin – was due up to close the show in style. And with an extremely laid-back rendition, Phish did exactly that, putting an exclamation point on a night of stellar jamming. A nuanced, whole-band conversation shied from any guitar heroics and brought all four members into collective focus in a series of swanky grooves.
As Phish set down their instruments, they knew as well as we did what just went down. They all sported shit-eating grins and stayed onstage longer than usual to soak in the raucous approval. And when they returned they capped the evening with a triple encore of “I’ve Been Around,” “Quinn the Eskimo,” and “Tweezer Reprise,” finishing off the show like they started it – on fire. With the first leg of tour now behind us, Phish prepares for the Northeast and beyond with a top-notch show under their belts and ready to drop a whole lot more.
I: Kill Devil Falls, Guelah Papyrus, The Curtain (With), The Mango Song, Sand, Limb By Limb, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Uncle Pen, Pebbles and Marbles, Cavern, David Bowie
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Dirt, Fluffhead, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Tweezer > Show of Life, You Enjoy Myself
E: I Been Around, Quinn the Eskimo, Tweezer Reprise