Powered by a second set of with rock anthems, Phish played a song-driven, Saturday night show that succeeded in droves in Amherst, Massachusetts last night. Boasting a definite flow and undeniable energy, the second set featured enough improvisation to carry the show, not to mention a monster “Tweezer” that anchored a choppy opening half. Pulling off the type of show that six months ago wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well, the band’s colossal progress was wholly apparent. Phish can pretty much do what they choose at this point and crush it, it’s just a matter of what type of set they want to put together. Last night they chose a super-charged rock-based show to the delight of Mullins Center weekend crowd. And when the dust settled, it may have not been as exploratory as the past several nights, but the first night at UMASS was undoubtedly filled with high grade Phish.
One night after opening Providence with “Down With Disease,” the band came right back and inserted the crowd favorite as the second set opener. Obviously juiced to explore the song, the band took an extensive excursion, favoring high octane and intricate jamming. Phish quickly digressed from the main theme into a more dissonant and abstract path with Trey and Mike leading the charge playing intertwining lead lines in a ever-expanding piece of psychedelia. Moving into a more earnest experiment, Phish dropped into a sparser realm with Trey continuing to seethe atop the music. Before long, Fishman picked up the beat again, launching the band back into high-speed rock and roll jamming. As Page added more bizarre sounds, the jam took on a heavier feel which the band latched onto. Slowing into a snarling groove, the band wound down the jaunt with a section that would have been best to continuing for a while.
But instead, the Saturday setlist kept moving into “My Friend, My Friend” and “Prince Caspian – not exactly prime placement by Big Red. “Caspian,” however, continued its trend of interesting versions, this time featuring stellar, whole-band interplay and an abstract outro whose course seemed charted for “What’s The Use?” But when Phish finally made their transition, they, instead, stepped into another welcome second-set version of “Halfway To The Moon.” Infusing Page’s dark groove into the rotation this fall, this version built upon Broomfield’s outing as the band proceeded to jam out of the song and into a very slick, bass-led segue with “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” The Stevie Wonder cover stayed wholly contained, completing a non-stop run of songs and segues to kick of the second set.
At a time when the show really could have used a significant jam vehicle, the band chose a retro-route, unveiling the first “Maze” of fall. Tearing into the second-set version with abandon, the song peaked furiously with standout solos from both Page and Trey, but it didn’t quite provide the shot in the arm the show needed. After finding their way our of this “Maze,” Phish cooled off in “Velvet Sea” before taking the show home with its most engaging segment – “Piper > Hood, YEM” – all outstanding versions.
Opening this final sequence, “Piper” continued the electrified rock vibe with a disgusting version that featured a passionate opening segment bordering on the musical embodiment of desperation. Phish finally broke down the full-on sonic surge into a series of scurrying percussive patterns that built into a reprising the “Maze” jam. Revisiting the high speed chase of the set’s centerpiece before dropping into “Harry Hood,” Phish dropped a clear self-reference before moving forward. Coupled with the band’s balls-out playing right now, a delicate piece like “Harry Hood” becomes far more nuanced and multi-dimensional. Not only did the band spice up the intro to the song, the jam transformed into one of the most cohesive and poignant passages of of the entire show. Trey and Mike danced their lines in rolling pasture of melody as Fishman backed the climbing piece with effervescent beats and masterful cymbal work. Patient and tranquil, yet driving and emotive – this version fit the song’s archetype perfectly. And as the band sustained the peak, Trey counted off a set closing “You Enjoy Myself” that everyone could see from a mile away.
Getting into their second full-band “YEM” of tour, Trey has shied from guitar hero in favor of formulating more interesting rhythmic collaborations. Jumping off the trampolines and into a pool of pristine groove, the band dove into a sparse pattern where each band member virtually took turns playing. Morphing into a more conventional build, the jam was chock full of nasty guitar licks and rhythmic dynamics from Mike and Fish.
Capping the night with “Shine A Light,” Phish finished their least exploratory show of the past week with no truly groundbreaking material, but still succeeded in tearing apart the Mullins Center nonetheless. When the band can pull of a song-driven affair with the energy and creativity involved last night, everyone leaves happy.
See ya’ll tomorrow.
First Set Notes: The show popped open with “Meatstick” and “Party Time” and an energetic “Kill Devil Falls,” but largely consisted of a string of songs with a massive “Tweezer” in the middle. Everyone felt a “Tweezer” coming last night, but Phish surprised the entire building as they rolled it out as the fifth song of a mellow first set. Regardless, the band played a version that could have been placed in either set, leaping into a multi-tiered journey. Opening the jam with a hefty dose of swanky grooves, the band played with a swagger early on, a vibe that permeated this entire laid-back rendition. Bumping with some earnest dance patterns, the band got super thick for the first part of this show standout. Once rhythmic experiment passed, Phish swam through a brief channel of ambient tonality on the way to a extended pimp ride with the top rolled down. Playing with incredible restraint, all band members offered minimalist phrases that combined to form something far greater. Trey surfaced the seemingly-extinct whale for parts of this section, blending his notes perfectly with the smooth soundscapes. This intricate minimalism continued for quite a while as Mike cut the path through the forest, allowing Trey to emerge from the trees with a gorgeous solo. Bringing this segment into a more traditional “Tweezer” build to cap the run through, Phish went to the retro wind-down ending before continuing a slow set of songs. The band did cap the frame, however, with the ever-elusive first-set “Reprise” bringing the first half to a fierce close. And to throw in some extra fun, Trey layered “Meatstick” lyrics in place of “Step into the freezer,” enthusiastically bridging the set full circle.
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I: Meatstick, Party Time, Golgi Apparatus, Kill Devil Falls, Tweezer, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Hold Your Head Up > Love You > Hold Your Head Up, Possum, Tweezer Reprise*
II: Down with Disease > My Friend, My Friend > Prince Caspian** > Halfway to the Moon > Boogie On Reggae Woman, Maze, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Piper > Harry Hood, You Enjoy Myself
E: Shine a Light
* w/ Meatstick lyrics, ** unfinished