Sometimes Phish comes out and far surpasses anything in your wildest imagination. Sometimes a show—just one set—can launch thousands of dreams, taking the audience on a voyage so cosmic and coherent; so spectacular and superb that people will look back on it for years to come. Odysseys like the second set of Detroit’s Friday night exclamation reach the very core essence of Phish—four musicians pushing the boundaries of musical possibilities while taking 15,000 fans with them into the depths of the universe. With playing so together and inspirational, Phish opened yet another door last night, inviting us further into the future. And more than ever, the future is now.
Throughout the course of one “Down With Disease,” Phish crafted a soulful soundtrack that will be listened back on and revered as one of the peaks of this tour—a tour that is growing harder to believe with each passing day. Easily the most impressive improvisational jaunt the band has undertaken since their return, “Down With Disease,” was a magnificent display of what Phish is still capable of creating—mystical travels into the core of the unknown. Words like “unity,” “single-mindedness” and “subconscious” come to mind as descriptors of the magnificent music that engulfed Pine Knob on Friday night. Given a few shows to get themselves used to jamming on the level, and the band came out last night with another statement that came across loud and clear—strap on your seatbelts, because the real-deal adventure is back and better than ever in 2011. The subtly of the band’s interplay throughout this multi-textured opus was staggering as they morphed through so many stages of a sublime jam that just never ended. Whole-band transcendence on a level we have yet to see in this era; “Down With Disease” held a certain majesty, drenched with the type of cosmic exploration grabs one’s heart and heads for the hills. Pushing through multiple segments where they could have washed into another song, Phish—the rediscovered psychedelic juggernauts of 2011—forged on to discover a river of improvisational gold. Words escape me as feelings of awe fill my entire being just thinking about the next-level experience. The band, deep into the piece, even reached a surreal jam on John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme;” one mere part of this multi-dimensional puzzle.
Honestly, Phish is now beginning to reach place I believed they could reach all along. That is why I’ve been at this blog, trying to capture the process of getting to now; to a place where Phish weaves magical journeys that sweep us away into alternate realities—regardless of any substances. Utterly overwhelming in every sense of the word, the fact that Phish is playing at this level at this stage of the game is why we all believed in them and supported them through the past couple years, and why, when tasting that elusive magic in spurts throughout ’09 and ’10, we kept coming back. Because we knew that one day we’d reach now. And, god damn, it gives me goosebumps to even write that.
Oh yeah, the music. So patient and powerful, delicate and inspiring…it was simply Phish at their improvisational best. Period. End of story. And just when you thought the band might wind down their endless journey, they entered a final portion of “Disease” that seamlessly landed them in the introduction to “Fluffhead.” Like magicians, they transformed one song into the other and shot “Fluffhead” into orbit, arriving at the top with a whole-band peak that supported a guitar solo of legend. And upon winding down the climactic piece, the band drew out the final note, twisting it into a demented plane and into the intro to “David Bowie.” We were amidst one of those sets where, while it was still happening, everybody knew they were witnessing something incredibly special. And when the band took a cliff dive into a mid-set “Bowie,” we were in for business. Crafting another piece of to-die-for jamming, the band kept the the connection and flow they reached in “Disease” right through the most sublime “David Bowie” since sometime in another decade. With intricate and laid-back play by Trey mixed with heavy-handed bass leads by Mike, the band set sail on a trip that would bring us through another incredibly spiritual experience; another piece of the scintillating improv. Flowing with a new vigor— a boundary-pushing fury—the band broke through the structure of the song into an uplifting piece of music that coupled with “Disease” and “Fluffhead” in what amounted to the unquestionable highlight of summer thus far—”Disease -> Fluffhead > Bowie.”
And after a brief exhale in “Waste,” the band punctuated the show with a fierce combination of “2001 > Cavern,” not to mention a “Good Times, Bad Times” encore that just about melted Pine Knob to the ground. And though band played an amazing first set, with the coolest take on “Chalk Dust” we’ve heard in ages and a ferocious Happy Birthday “Mike’s Song,” that’s a story for another day…
On Phish tours of lore, the band redefined onstage possibilities nightly with musical excursions that pushed them—and us—into new and exciting territory, together. Well, that dynamic is all happening all over again, and the only thing more exciting than reflecting on last night is thinking about what could go down tonight! Catch them while you can, folks, because when all is said and done, Summer 2011 will no doubt be looked upon as another tour of legend, and we are still in the opening stages…
I: Wolfman’s Brother, Funky Bitch, Sample in a Jar, NICU, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Tela, Chalk Dust Torture, The Wedge
II: Down with Disease -> Fluffhead > David Bowie, Waste > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Cavern
E: Good Times Bad Times