Phish turned a corner in North Charleston, South Carolina on October 16 this year. After a three-night blast off in Broomfield, Colorado, Phish had yet to drop a show that left everyone in the venue in in blissful disarray. While I, personally, thought the second and third nights of Colorado were stellar nights of Phish, the haters still did their hating, and the detractors still detracted. But after the second show in South Carolina, there was none such debate. Sometimes Phish drops objective bombs that satiate everyone with their song choice, impeccable flow, and jamming style, and Saturday in North Charleston was one of these nights. Igniting the band in earnest, this show sparked the most impressive week of tour as the band took off for their old stomping grounds of the Northeast.
Following a tight, song-based affair on Saturday, Phish came out with something extra in the finale of their southern double-dip. From this night forward the band never looked back, torching the rest of their tour and changing the paradigm of modern day Phish. Visiting the North Charleston Coliseum for the first time since Fall ’96 – another transitional period in Phish’s career – the band returned to the intimate arena with a handful of shows already under their belt, and they left via rocket boosters to Augusta and beyond.
Using two songs to warm up the room, a special sense enveloped the evening with the first “Curtain (With)” of the year. Making it through two legs of summer without dropping their old-school opus, when Phish draped “With” over the indoor crowd, the music transformed into a crystalline reality. Patiently pushing the piece through soaring melodic planes, Trey oozed emotion through only the third song of the show. But the turning point of the night, and subsequently the tour, transpired in a surprise first-set “Sand.” Dusting off the song for the first time of tour, the band tore apart the usually-Trey led piece with notably more democratic jamming. The linear groove gained angles while each band member joined in the fray, and in front of our eyes “Sand” began to evolve. No longer a one-dimensional platform for guitar annihilation, a four-part conversation resulted in a scintillating piece of Phish. Apparently the band agreed as “Sand” showed up in the second set only two nights later in Utica, and again in Atlantic City, becoming a defining piece of season.
This first-set peak in Charleston seemed to awaken the band to their current abilities as they built a silky “Limb By Limb” before busting out the technical “Uncle Pen” and an impressive, hard-edged piece of improv in “Pebbles and Marbles.” Before anyone could catch their breath, the set was ending with “Cavern.” But in one of Phish’s classic double-closers, Fishman initiated the cymbal hits of “David Bowie,” another emerging monster of Fall. All of this top-notch playing in the first set foreshadowed something large to conclude the weekend, and when all was said and done, everyone would leave the same page. That’s what stellar shows will do.
Set two flowed like divine liquid from beginning to end – one of those frames that rolled off your tongue naturally without having to grasp for filler songs – there weren’t any. In terms of cohesion and top-to-bottom flow, few sets – if any – matched the seven-piece puzzle in South Carolina. Phish crafted a frame where everything fell into place – from the surprise “Crosseyed” opener the “2001 > Tweezer > Show of Life, YEM” closing sequence. With unparalleled artistry and whole lot of groove the band played a can’t-miss set that every Phish fan could enjoy. “Crosseyed” traversed three separate planes en route to an extensive, rock-turned-ambient jaunt. The explosive opener set the tone for the set whose only exhale came in a well-placed “Dirt” right after “Crosseyed.” The scintillating peak of a nearly note-perfect version of “Fluffhead” had the venue unified and on cloud nine out as the band took an ambient turn into the intro of “2001.” Blasting off into the most significant modern version up to that point, Phish had the audience popping off as the space-grooves engulfed the arena. Extending this version into a legitimate centerpiece with smashing rhythmic interplay, when the band spilled into “Tweezer” the set took on comic book status.
In a tour that was light on “Tweezer” this Charleston version turned out to be the only legitimate second-setter of Fall. Littered with accents and playful licks, even the composed section of this version carried an extra zest. Instead of splashing into a pool of lucid grooves, Trey growled out of the gates into a thick, murky jam that carried the distinct vibe of the underworld. But when he switched tones, the band moved into a sparser dance excursion featuring bass grenades and punctuated clav lines that added main ideas to the whole. Taking the jam through another change into a more mechanical texture, the band locked into heavier patterns that continued the energetic interplay that underlined the entire evening. The only “Tweezer” of tour with gnarling, second-set teeth came in the fantastic context of this all-star set. And when the band slid into “Show of Life,” the first-ever combination of these songs felt like a gift wrapped present.
And what better piece to drop at the end of a classic set than a fresh, whole-band “YEM” to provide one last improvisational joyride in a set filled with them. Jumping off the trampolines into a minimalist funk canvas, the band invoked the dancing spirit as the swanky grooves overtook the audience. One had to lack a pulse to not be moved by this music, and coming at the end of a scorching set of groove-based playing, this “YEM” felt like a dip in the pool after sitting in the hot tub for a half an hour. Cooled off and completely in sync, Phish collectively slammed down a version that shied from cliche patterns for the duration, giving way to a final guitar peak only at the very top to cap things off.
Phish had played one of those sets that leaves you standing and staring amidst blissed out awareness; this one felt different than any show thus far on tour. Never losing focus from note one – and never wavering for a millisecond in the second set – Phish left their indelible stamp in South Carolina. The band went on to play other stellar shows and more impressive jams throughout the fall, but no frames fit together quite as nicely as Charleston’s second set. After Phish finalized the evening with “Quinn The Eskimo” and “Tweezer Reprise,” everyone left smiling and without debate; it was one of those are nights.
Jam of the Day:
The centerpiece of Saturday night’s second set in North Charleston, South Carolina.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.16.10 North Charleston Coliseum, South Carolina
Here is the the show that sparked Fall Tour in proper; a two-set smoker with highlights galore and a gorgeous second frame.
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
Source: Schoeps mk41> KC5> M222> NT222> Aeta PSP-3> SD 744t (Taper – Taylorc)