In temperatures that topped 100 degrees and amidst sweltering humidity, Phish kicked off their classic Midwestern run of Deer Creek and Alpine with a smoking performance that touched on every aspect of the band’s game. Crafting a fresh setlist with eight summer debuts, the band dropped a monstrous opening frame in the now-developed Cornfields, and followed it up with a second half filled with innovative jamming. And when the band crushes from start to finish like they did on Thursday, everyone goes home smiling.
If anyone was in the lot for any duration yesterday afternoon, I’m not sure how he made it through the first set—the weather was that unbearable. But when Phish hit the stage, they didn’t seem to mind at all, playing a first half that matched the temperatures with their own musical heat. The show fired off with six summer songs we’ve yet to hear this year, highlighted by a “Curtain With” jam that greeted the Indiana crowd with a kiss of majesty. Locked in jamming is but a given at this state of the game, and a three-day layoff showed no ill effects as the band got to work quickly in nailing their complex composition. And when they cut through the molasses-thick air with the opening of “With” it felt like that—at least for the moment—everything cooled down. Trey delicately painted their seminal opus with flowing licks of beauty that drew everyone’s attention away from their environs and into the ride. It was clear that it would be another special night.
The improvisational highlights of the set continued with another first of 2012—“Pebbles and Marbles.” I’ve always felt that once this song breaks, it might as well be another “Disease” jam, and last night fit that bill perfectly. Stepping into a torrid segment that sounds plucked from a first-set “Disease,” the band continued countering the summer heat with their musical momentum. And the set would only balloon from there. Stepping out of their string of debuts with “Chalk Dust,” things got far gooier with the following three-song combo—“Wolfman’s,” “Cool It Down,” and the second “Tweezer” in as many sets!
This jammier sequence began with the second consecutive “swanky-not-wanky,” full-band take on “Wolfman’s Brother.” Diving, collectively, into music as thick as the air in which we swam, the band treated to us to a smorgasbord of grooves throughout this first set triumvirate. After a smoking “Wolfman’s,” the band began playing off the absurd temperatures with their song choices, first, “Cool It Down.” Marking the seventh summer debut of the set, the band snapped into a groovy sequence out of the Velvet Underground rarity, setting the table for an out of left field “Tweezer” bomb! Having just played the crowd favorite in Blossom’s second set, here we were stepping into the freezer amidst ungodly heat! And what a “Tweezer” it was. Quickly jumping to the forefront of Summer 2012 versions, this jam exploded in power-packed playing, erasing any thoughts of the inhuman environs. Though a Trey led-jam through and through, Red never dominated the four-man mix, allowing the groove to breathe as this band mates sat with him every step of the way. Altering his playing throughout the jam, when he finally went for the final build, he did so with utmost creativity, peaking the jam as if a rabid hyena. Cranking out an old school ending, the band supported the standout “Tweezer,” with “Tela,” a song that immediately brought memories of Summer ’96 in the same shed, before a surprisingly uneventful “Faulty Plan” closed the set.
And once things cooled down a bit, Phish came back with a flowing second half, in which a Fishman interlude didn’t even detract from the band’s overall musical focus. Opening the second frame with the unlikely combo of “Mike’s > McGrupp” for the first time since Nassau ’99, the guys remained anchored to “Mike’s Song,” but took “McGrupp” for the ride of its life. Morphing out from Page’s piano solo, the band infused their 2012 sound into the piece, transforming the jam into a minimalist groove that Trey dotted with tasteful creativity. Merging back into the song with nary a hitch, they concluded the Gamehendge tangent and moved directly into “Back on the Train.” The darker vibe that Portsmouth’s version hinted at was fully during the improvisational centerpiece set’s opening half. As the band moved further and further away from the song’s template, Fishman maintained its beat far into this murky tale. Trey and Page came together atop the groove, nudging the jam further and further out of the box, and soon Trey was playing a tone-split solo over his own loops and an increasingly dense texture—and Fish kept the groove driving straight ahead. Finally giving way to his bandmates ideas, he began to ooze into subtler rhythms over which Trey, Mike and Page began to abstractly expound. Before one knew it, we were neck deep in an avant-garde, ambient soundscape. Moving slowly into the stratosphere, the band’s sorcerer’s cloaks came out as they collaboratively floated through sonic realms until they twisted gradually into “Hold Your Head Up” in a perfectly executed segue.
And when Fishman’s Syd Barret spotlight ended with his routine laps around the stage and Trey started up “Weekapaug” on the drums, instead of returning to his post, Fishman “tucked” and picked up Trey’s Languedoc! Playing twangy notes into the quickening jam, the band began coalescing around his off-kilter offerings. Turning, first, into a bit of sheer comedy, and then morphing to a very impressive dual-drum solo with Trey and Fish sharing the kit, the band’s antics never took away from the on stage musical narrative—another layer of polish to Phish 2012. When Trey finally rejoined his guitar, the band locked right into a blistering “Weekapaug” jam. Though when it ended, the most impressive sequence of the night began.
Digging into “Prince Caspian” with varied leads and a different feel, Trey led this jam—unlike the equally beautiful Page-led AC rendition—and got super creative within an old classic. And when the song came to its ethereal settling point, instead of crashing into its ending chords, Trey ushered in a slithery segue into the long awaited summer debut of “Waves.” With each night there seems to be another timeless jam added to the 2012 playlist, and while the entire night was laced with fiery and creative interplay throughout, “Waves” is what the first night of Deer Creek will be associated with forever.
Unlike recent versions, the band didn’t reprise the lyrics after Trey’s guitar solo, instead launching in sequence of five-star Phish that stacks up to any of the masterful pieces we’ve heard this tour. Jumping off with a furious “type-II” groove, the band turned the creative juices on high and let them flow. Spinning a staggeringly coherent tale of original music, the guys covered a ludicrous amount of musical territory within a compact time frame. Gradually moving into more and more abstract territory within the open waters, the band landed in a outright futuristic sound-sculpture. I’ll let the music take this one away. Bringing the jam to an ambient head, Phish slowly dropped into “Bug,” a perfect landing point from the outer cosmos. The band brought the audience back to earth before dropping into a notably strong, show ending “David Bowie.”
Delivered in pre and post Fishman segments of music, each half of the second set stood out for its originality, the infusion of fresh, distinctly modern ideas, and outstanding musicianship. The first show of Deer Creek was a two-setter that holds up to any of summer, as the band came out swinging on the opening night of a ludicrous run of nine shows in 11 days to finish the tour. But if they keep playing them they have been, these next ten days are gonna’ be quite the spectacle. 2012 Phish….mmmmm…mmmmm…good! Catch em while you can!
I: The Birdwatcher, The Curtain With, Fuck Your Face, The Old Home Place, Pebbles and Marbles, Weigh, Chalk Dust Torture, Wolfman’s Brother, Cool It Down, Tweezer, Tela, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
II: Mike’s Song > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Back on the Train -> Hold Your Head Up, Bike >Hold Your Head Up > Weekapaug Groove*, Prince Caspian –> Waves > Bug > David Bowie
E: Show of Life > Tweezer Reprise
*w/ Trey & Fish drum duet