A wide-eyed portly fellow burst out of a stall in the sweltering men’s bathroom at setbreak proclaiming, “Guyutica!” Smothering the already-suffocating room in laughter as he pushed through the crowd, the term struck everyone as clever, spontaneous wordplay to describe the wild set we just witnessed. Little did we know that a masked-man in the front section carried a sign boldly sporting the term that sparked, perhaps, the set of the tour thus far. And the lights hadn’t even dropped for the second set. Phish had just stepped offstage in a cloud of smoke after a snaking opening frame in a tiny room; and electricity filled the air. As if shot back to the mid-’90s, the band had just slammed the door of the first set with an “Antelope” that churned with sonic white-water of yesteryear. Fans were left removing musical shrapnel from their blown minds as the house lights brightened the humid climate of the dated AHL arena. Centered around the tour’s only “Guyute” – a tightly-wound and thrilling rendition – Phish built the first of two masterful sets that placed the past and the present on a collision course on a Wednesday night in central New York.
A two-song blues-rock warm up brought Phish to the brink of no return. Once they dove into “Vultures” with a tenacity of the bird, itself, Phish stepped into a show that fused the musical playfulness of old-school Phish with the on-point musicianship of the current band. And the results left the scene in a daze for a day and a half before Providence began. Moving from blues-rock into creative funk sculptures, the band followed up “Vultures” with a unique version of “Wolfman’s” that morphed through a spontaneous vocal jam into a series of creative rhythms anchored by Fishman’s divergent beats. Taking the piece on a varying course for the first time in ages, Phish set the musical tone of the show early. Infused with extra gusto, even towards the beginning of Utica it felt like something different had taken hold of the band. Smoothly hitting some rhythm licks and taking the band into “Cities,” Trey moved in concert with the rest of the band from the show’s onset of this show, rather than moving to the beat of his own drummer. But with the unveiling of “Guyute” that carried the tension and drama of old, the retro contour of the set began to take form.
While Fishman’s cymbals danced into the intro to “Bowie,” Trey continued to play “Guyute’s” triumphant lick with increasingly distorted phrasing, a seemingly innocent move at the time. But these teases sparked a theme for the rest of the set – self-referential integration of one song into another in with the spontaneity of lore. As “Bowie’s” jam dropped, Trey used the same “Guyute” line, phrased differently, to initiate the improvisation. Almost immediately, the band landed in the opening hits of “Wilson” and the crowd caught on just as quickly. In a call and response exercise, the crowd chanted “Wilson” to which Trey answered in Guyute-speak, “He’s bouncing like a new born elf.” Instead of dropping into “Wilson,” in earnest, the band made the far shrewder call of melting back into a delicate, full-on “Bowie” jam. Page’s piano leads wove with Trey’s melodies, pushing the piece in an ominous direction. Mike supported with harmonizing rhythm offerings that catalyzed a darker feel, and the band took off running in a powerful version of their revitalized classic. Passing through an additional “Wilson” tease on the way to a smashing final section, Phish had dropped a twisting tour highlight smack dab in the middle of the first set. And that wouldn’t even be their most impressive excursion of the half!
The band immediately jumped on their own joke, dropping a “Guyute”- laced “Wilson” as soon as “Bowie” ended. Fully fusing the songs together, Trey jammed on “Guyute’s” lead melody throughout “Wilson’s” brief hard rock vamp. The band hadn’t dropped such tightly-wound musical humor in ages, and both their ability and willingness to do so spoke volumes on their current state of mind. Having as much fun crafting a set like this as the audience had eating it up, Phish took their old-school spirit – last year expressed through bust-outs and on-stage narratives – directly into musical pranks. As a nod to the retro-nature of the set, the band played the Gamehendge-related “McGrupp.” A far cleaner rendition than its counterparts of this era, the composition sparkled with the purity of Phish’s energy, a hallmark of their recent tour. Revving up “I Saw it Again,”the band took another elusive piece off the shelf in this now all-star frame. In another segment of musical gamesmanship, the band built the heavy textures of the song’s ending into a “Guyute”- laced ambient bridge into the set’s most dramatic piece – “Run Like An Antelope.”
In nothing short of a revelation, Phish dropped a version of “Antelope” that represented a improvisational microcosm this show – the fury and creativity of old fused with the mature approach and polished chops of the present day. Taking the usually one-dimensional piece on its most dynamic venture in memory, Phish decorated the jam with several nuanced psychedelic tangents, redefining the possibilities of modern “Antelopes,” let alone what is once again possible from the Vermont quartet entirely. Finishing with multiple teases of “Guyute” in “Antelope’s” final section, Phish proudly signed their collective John Hancock on the bottom line of this set.
As fans foraged through dense fog of the magical musical forest that had sprouted since the show began, the building took on a whole new feel. With the particle board peeling off the floor in a building of another era, Phish had brought us into a separate reality for the night – far from familiar, yet feeling just like home. Though it seemed like the show had peaked, setbreak had only just begun.
To be continued…
Jam of the Day:
“Run Like An Antelope” 10.20.10 II
A defining piece of Fall 2010 from Utica, New York.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.15.2010 North Charleston Coliseum, N. Charleston, SC
Here is the final download from Fall 2010, Charleston’s song-based opening show. Highlights came in the first set versions of “Bathtub Gin” and “Stash,” while a lite second set’s shining moment came in its opening “Disease.”
I: Punch You In the Eye, Possum, Bathtub Gin, Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?*, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Destiny Unbound, Backwards Down the Number Line, Bouncing Around the Room, Stash, Joy, Buffalo Bill, Dog Faced Boy, Run Like an Antelope
II: Down with Disease > Prince Caspian > Twist, Roses Are Free, My Friend, My Friend, My Problem Right There, Tube, Mike’s Song > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Mexican Cousin, Weekapaug Groove, Suzy Greenberg, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Character Zero
* w/ Dr. Jack McConnell
Source: Schoeps mk41> KC5> M222> NT222> Aeta PSP-3> SD 744t (Taper – taylorc)