Building off an insane night in Utica, it only took one mellow set before Phish blast things right back into the future with a second half of music dripping with free form creativity. After Utica showcased two sets filled with ingenious twists, turns and teases, Phish turned on the fire hose for the second set last night, blasting the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence with stellar open jamming in full-on affair that was underlined by a sky-scraping tour highlight in “Rock and Roll > Carini.” Meanwhile, Phish filled the rest of the set with a furious “Mike’s Groove,” a deep dive into a late-set “Light,” and a surprise closing triumvirate in “Character Zero > 2001 > Loving Cup.” Say what you will about the first set, but Providence’s second half stands up to anything played this tour – the next chapter of Phish music. For the first time in a long time, tour is a place where psychedelic fantasies are realized each and every night, and the band is locked into something magical. The comeback is over and we are firmly planted in the next era – Phish is now.
Kicking off the frame with the first “Rock and Roll” of fall, one knew things would become interesting, and with the level of the band’s playing having completely changed, the meaning of “interesting” has greatly evolved as well. Without stepping on one cliche in a song once filled with them, the band sculpted one of the indelible pieces of improvisation this fall. Even the “composed” jam was filled with originality as Trey’s playing took on a life of its own amidst a band cohesive and shredding. Exiting the upbeat textures and entering a sinister piece of avant-garde jamming, Phish displayed a collective intent to come right back after a stellar show and move right beyond it. Flowing in a full-band journey, Phish took this jam far into cutting edge territory. Trey played eerie, hypnotic leads as Mike navigated abstract bass leads for the duration of this oceanic space groove. With virtuoso beats and fills, Fishman’s offerings, per usual, were integral to this ultimate triumph of this piece. If open-ended psychedelia is your thing, crank this one is your headphones and bask in the bliss that is the razor’s edge of modern Phish jamming.
When Trey dropped the opening chords of “Carini,” he ended the stratospheric excursion and started a second, equally impressive jaunt. Building significantly upon Broomfield’s version, Providence’s “Carini” soared into a cathartic realm that showcased sublime melody over the usually dark groove. Trey wove a melodic theme into this jam which he not only became a significant part of this jam, but would later reprise in “Light.” Moving into a blissful section of legitimate free form improvisation, the band swam in IT, finding their way into a section of final of outright groove that concluded the wild ride. This brand new direction for “Carini” continued the set’s unparalleled creativity, and concluded a serious, top-shelf segment of new school Phish. Listen immediately and at all costs, as this the type of stuff that we’ve been waiting a year and a half for. And to use an overused, but incredibly appropriate quote – “It’s all happening.”
As the band drifted into “My Problem Right There,” it sounded – for a moment – like a segue into “Ghost,” but that would have been pushing the comical. Instead, the band inserted their new Americana piece as a landing pad for the opening sequence of non-stop improvisation. Building each time out, “My Problem Right There” brought a mellow mid-set interlude to a raucous set that took no time getting back there. Without skipping a beat, Trey started up a mid-set “Mike’s” that brought far more engaging play than we’ve heard from the song in quite a while. Tearing the jam to smithereens, the entire band played with a precision and passion that only comes when thinking ceases – something that has clearly happened over the past week of revolutionary music. Taking the always-linear piece into a tangential section, I almost thought we were about to here the ever-elusive second “Mike’s” jam, but instead, the band bridged the “Groove” with an enthusiastic “Sanity” that featured a dissonant, wall-of sound, outro, setting the table for a scintillating run through “Weekapaug.” Littered with nasty licks and percussive breakdowns, this was vintage “Weekapaug” – what should sound like. Tipping their cap to Rhode Island with the song named after a district in the state, Phish punctuated a mid-set “Mike’s Groove” with its most significant piece.
“Suzy Greenberg” followed “Weekapaug” with a feel-good piece whose jam actually took on a real direction rather than generic funk wankery. Then out of left field, Phish dropped into a late-set “Light.” The band is sticking with the new arrangement, giving the piece a far more open-ended vibe, as the lyrical reprise never comes until the improvisation is over. This breathes life into the intial build, as we no longer know that it is heading for a pre-designated peak, but it is now the opening section of today’s most exploratory Phish jam. Taking last night’s version on an fully-synched and intricate ride through the cosmos, Phish sounded like the band of the future. Floating through gorgeous, mind-numbing soundscapes, the entire band contributed equally to open improv. Gaining an edge during its second half, Trey let himself go in a never-ending melodic lead that underlined the latter portion of the jam. Likening a modern day “Dark Star,” “Light” continues to be Phish’s portal to the outer realms of the universe as all members engaged in a four-part psychedelic symphony. After such musical drama, Phish could have walked off the stage to an ovation after “Light,” but instead dropped into a crunching “Character Zero” that was strewn with the same creativity as the rest of the frame, and would surely act as its closer.
But as the song came to a end, Trey walked over to Page and Mike, signifying that Phish wasn’t done just yet. Sustaining the final note in a faux climax, Fish kicked the band into a shocking “2001.” Tearing through a torrid session of grooves, Phish continued to breath new life back into this piece as well. No longer five minutes of generic funk, Phish followed Charleston’s centerpiece with another impressive run through. After bringing the show to a peak, the band capped the night with a perfectly-placed “Loving Cup.”
A different landscape than only months ago, a Phish show is again a place where skulls are crushed nightly; a place where you don’t know if you will necessarily be the same after the lights come back on. With fascinating musical intrigue unfolding nightly, Phish has regained that unnameable magic to come out every night with something that leaves us floored. The last year and a half has built to this very point. Proficiency is an issue of the past, and creativity is the sole force guiding Phish music again. The future is now.
It’s all happening. Again.
First Set Notes: A particularly slow, song-based frame got off to a hot start with “Disease,” “Funky Bitch,” “Fluffhead,” then stagnated for the duration. Phish played everything perfectly fine, but chose a set of songs that didn’t go well together and the entire set kind of fell flat. “Ocelot” provided the high point of improvisation in a mellow opening half. A fine set of singles, nonetheless, the opening frame provided the necessary exhale after Utica to prepare the band to continue their mission after setbreak.
I: Down with Disease, Funky Bitch, Fluffhead, Roses Are Free, Rift, The Moma Dance, Ocelot, NICU, Sample in a Jar, Julius
II: Rock and Roll > Carini > My Problem Right There, Mike’s Song > Sanity > Weekapaug Groove, Suzy Greenberg, Light, Character Zero > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Loving Cup
E: First Tube