Some shows have IT and some shows don’t. And last night’s show never even came close. Aside from standout, but structured, versions of “Stash” in the first set and “Bowie” in the second set, there was no improvisation to speak of in Amherst’s second show, leaving many fans scratching their head trying to figure out what happened Sunday night and why. After a song-driven effort on Saturday evening, Phish came out with zero intent last night, seemingly happy to play a benign list of singles with almost zero creativity. Every tour has a speed bump – a low-point – and without question there won’t be a less engaging show this fall than Amherst’s Sunday night finale.
After what felt like a rocking set-up show on Saturday, Phish’s homecoming to New England never truly came to fruition. After a week of cutting edge playing, starting on Charleston’s second night and ending on Friday in Providence, the band significantly reeled in their improvisation for the college town. And on Sunday, they never allowed themselves to get into any flow, playing a show that fell as flat as a pancake. The night seemed so divergent in music and tone than any this tour, the entire show seemed wholly out of place. Midway through the second set, the show had lost any semblance of momentum, stumbling to an uneventful finish. Phish continued their precise playing, but by choosing to not bring their music anywhere interesting, they sealed the fate of the evening.
Let’s start with what matters most. Amidst an old-school setlist, including the long-time bust-out of “Ride Captain Ride” since Philly ’99, Phish innocently dropped into “Stash” as the first piece of improvisation of the evening. A song that hasn’t received much love in this era finally got a moment to shine last night, albeit still stuffed in the middle of the opening set. Drifting into the jam with delicacy, Trey’s licks began out of the gate with an intricate intention as Page’s piano chased his melodies over a subtle pocket. The band remained in the song until Trey played a repetitive descending lick that launched the band into a blissful plane of harmony. Fishman anchored himself in the rhythms of “Stash,” as the band took off in a three-part convergence. Big Red’s leadership and fire guided the band through this gorgeous segment and back into build of the song. While not incredibly exploratory, this rendition carried something special, possibly signifying big things to come. But they never did.
Following up the highlight of the show, “Fee’s” tranquil ambient jam morphed into “Time Turns Elastic” which crushed any momentum of the set, leaving the closing combination of “Cavern,” “Antelope” detached from the frame altogether. Though “Antelope” featured slick interplay – specifically Trey and Fish – hopes of revisiting a jam like Utica never materialized, as we settled for a high-octane, though unadventurous, version.
Even when Phish opened the second set – a set that seemed bound to explode – they chose straight forward versions of “Seven Below” and “Wolfman’s” to get things going. And from there the songs just kept rolling – one more out of context than the next. Ironically, “Roggae > Taste” was played quite well, but its mellow vibe seemed like a soporific joke after nothing of note had happened in the set. Although the band did play a hot “David Bowie,” it represented a feeble attempt at salvaging the show after the cause had long been lost. A “Quinn,” “Chalk Dust” encore only brought two more uneventful songs to a ho-hum evening through and through.
Let’s brush this one under the rug and scurry off to New Hampshire.
I: AC/DC Bag, Camel Walk, The Divided Sky, Ride Captain Ride, Stash, Fee > Time Turns Elastic, Cavern, Run Like an Antelope
II: Seven Below, Wolfman’s Brother, Backwards Down the Number Line, Alaska, Free, The Lizards, Brother, Roggae > Taste, Waste, David Bowie
E: Quinn the Eskimo, Chalk Dust Torture