Following a year and a half of re-building and re-learning, Phish has finally taken things to the next level. Leaving a vapor trail in their path, the band careened into the future during their three-week fall tour. Standing on a solid foundation, Phish was back up to snuff, doing what they want when they want with unparalleled fluidity. After springing a leak this summer, the flood gates of creativity burst open during October, carrying the band through – easily – their best tour since returning to the stage. Phish’s so-called “comeback” that began in Hampton last year has concluded, and during this fall the band took the first bold step into the next era of their career.
Beginning in Broomfield, and building throughout tour, Phish showcased a new-found urgency and intent behind their playing that merged with far more fluid communication than we had seen from the band this era. Segues slid seamlessly, jams took no time to build and rarely ended awkwardly, and Phish built music with the single-minded purpose of old. With proficiency no longer a hindrance, the band members held meticulous musical conversations every night that pushed their music in new and spontaneous directions. Wasting no time vamping over funk chords or meandering through minutes of ambient swamps, Phish cannonballed into each and every jam, getting right to business with furious musical density. The band warped time each night, making twelve minutes feel like twenty, as ideas flew off the stage from every angle at a numbing pace. Beginning in Broomfield, Phish seemed to get build upon each and every show, a characteristic of their glory days, with any slow nights due to song choice and not sloppy playing. Once again – in Fall 2010- Phish proved they are masters of their domain.
Spring-boarding off a tight, song-based show in South Carolina, Phish caught fire on their second night in North Charleston and never looked back, setting the table for a game-changing week in the Northeast. Augusta, Utica, Providence, and Manchester – four shows that redefined modern era Phish. Strewn with scorching jams, slick segues, and self-referential musical play, the twists and turns of old re-emerged within a wholly new and futuristic context. And despite a two-night dip in excitement at UMass, the band was right back atop their game for the final four nights of tour. Highlights are too many to list in one piece, as almost every jam garnered the complete focus and full treatment from the band. For example, amidst Utica’s two-set frenzy, one of the most impressive “Vultures” ever-played dropped early in the opening frame. Do I have the time to mention that?
Needless to say, there is no shortage of listening material from this tour that stands up to any era of Phish. Augusta’s exploratory “Reba” encore immediately danced amongst the all-timers; each version of “Light” took a divergent and unknown path into new-school psychedelia; Utica’s start to finish opus compares to top-notch shows of lore; and Providence’s “Rock and Roll > Carini” may be my favorite musical segment of the tour. The highlights never stopped coming in diverse fashion, each night bringing different adventures into the unknown – and that’s what Phish tour is all about.
Reinventing “Sand” and “Carini,” while awakening a former giant in “David Bowie” and greatly varying their setlists, Phish brought a fresh energy to each piece they touched, crafting many golden jams and sets along the road of fall. “Light” broke new ground with each incarnation, evolving from its melodic, abstract, and ambient summer roots into a vehicle for uptempo, next-generation grooves. Forging unique paths nightly, every time “Light” started, a show highlight was guaranteed. Dashing and darting and turning on a dime, Phish killed every single version, cementing its place as their current cosmic trampoline. When Phish got rolling this fall, however, it mattered little what songs they played, as engaging jams blossomed in the energetic interplay of any piece. See Utica and Manchester for prime illustrations.
But since tour ended, the set I have been addicted to has been Halloween’s Waiting For Columbus. A surprise selection that ran away with Atlantic City’s extravaganza, Phish’s Halloween performance immediately jumped into any conversation about the band’s greatest musical costumes. With Phish grooves lurking around every corner, Little Feat’s live album transformed Boardwalk Hall into a retro-dance party and a collaborative triumph for the ages. Providing an over-all experience like never before, Phish’s take on the Little Feat’s classic recordings focused on rhythmic interplay and improvisation that invited the audience into a time and place, instead of simply playing an album of songs. Capping the tour with one of the their defining Halloween performances, Fall 2010 couldn’t have ended on a higher note.
With almost two months off before an unprecedented five-night New Year’s Run, we have plenty of time to dig into the depths of the most satisfying and eventful tour since Phish’s return. With their comeback now fully in the rear view mirror, things are just getting started. Welcome to the future – it’s gonna’ be a wild ride.
Jam of the Day:
“Spanish Moon” 10.31.10 II
This infectious track took center stage on during Halloween’s second set. One of many Halloween highlights, Phish’s “Spanish Moon” turned out to be twice as long as Little Feat’s version on Waiting For Columbus. Let’s keep this one in rotation please.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.31.10 Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey
A Halloween night to rival any in history featured a stunning “Stash” and a silky smooth “Ghost > Spooky” in set one, while dark-horse selections, “Jibboo” and “Wilson” stood out in a celebratory third frame. But this night was all about Waiting For Columbus, perhaps Phish’s best musical costume ever.
I: Frankenstein, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Ghost > Spooky, The Divided Sky, Roses Are Free, Funky Bitch, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stash, Character Zero
II*: Fat Man in the Bathtub, All That You Dream, Oh Atlanta, Old Folks Boogie, Time Loves a Hero > Day or Night, Mercenary Territory, Spanish Moon, Dixie Chicken > Tripe Face Boogie, Rocket in My Pocket, Willin’, Don’t Bogart That Joint, A Apolitical Blues, Sailin’ Shoes, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
III: Down with Disease > Back on the Train, Gotta Jibboo, Camel Walk, Suzy Greenberg, Wilson > Harry Hood, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself
* with horn section and Giovanni Hidalgo on percussion
Source: Schoeps mk41> KC5> M222> NT222> EAA PSP-2> SD 744t (@24bit/96kHz) (Taper – Taylorc)