Another night, another phenomenal show from to start to finish—Phish tour hasn’t been this good in ages. The band stepped onto their home turf in central New Jersey and played the show of the summer on Wednesday night at PNC. Sculpting another masterpiece of a second set—their third in four shows—the band spent almost all of the time after the break in an improvisational space. Centered around a staggering “Crosseyed and Painless”—far and away the jam of the summer—the second half of the show was chock full of audacious jamming spread over two central sequences of “Crosseyed > Harry Hood” and “Sand > Light.” Though the second segue could have been a tad more patient, five-star improv was present throughout all four jams, lighting up the mud-thick Jersey air with musical fireworks all night long.
It is quite apparent that Phish is making a deliberate decision to bring their jams into fresh places at every opportunity. No longer are they falling back on the improvisational clichés that grew prevalent in the years since ‘09—’12. Two-thousand-thirteen Phish simply sounds different than ever before. Absolutely at the top of their game and peaking like they haven’t since the late-‘90s, the band is not only back to churning out innovative music, on a nightly basis, but they are once again, piecing their sets—and shows—together like no time since their glory years. I have thrown the term “Golden Age” a bit too loosely in the past couple years—I just didn’t realize the arc that we were on. But it’s safe to say that 2013—with Dick’s 2012 as the gateway—represents the bona fide “Golden Age” of the Phish from Vermont.
Not since Dick’s “Light” have we heard Phish develop a jam so throughly and thematically as they did with the “Crosseyed” that opened PNC’s second set. Fresh musical sounds and ideas rained down on Holmdel’s legendary pavilion in a jam that absolutely stole the show despite plenty of other highlights. Talking to a friend last night, we were trying to remember the last time the band had played five shows in a row with the quality of jamming that they have displayed thus far this summer. We couldn’t remember. Once again, as in the times of lore, the band is besting themselves nightly and willingly diving into the abyss each and every show, and this “Crosseyed” is but the current mantle holder. I would wager zero dollars that it will be in the same top slot after Jones Beach. This is the Phish we grew up with, the band committed to bringing us to new galaxies every.single.night. Deep into this “Crosseyed” jam, listen for echoes of the Vegas ’03 “Piper” in the rhythmic chord progression that Trey develops, it’s unmistakable. The PNC “Crosseyed” is the type of protean jam that absolutely elevates a show to another level immediately and brings every ounce of your soul right along. Pure Phish magic of the highest degree, and one of the most awe inspiring conversation I’ve heard the band have in memory, I present exhibit A for the argument that Phish is playing better than at any point in their career.
Capping this heroic journey, the band dropped into “Harry Hood”—another move that bucks setlist convention—and placed their spiritual piece in the spotlight of the second set. And damn did they deliver. Constructing an incredibly well-phrased solo with non-stop licks of glory, Trey continually brought back a gorgeous phrase that came to define the jam. Giving “Hood” the full treatment in a must-hear version, the band capped a thirty-minute song pairing that provided a microcosm of the psychedelic experience.
Taking a heavy-handed breather in “Axilla,” the guys dropped right back into action with the second “Sand” of summer. This version was night and day from the lackluster SPAC version, as Trey leapt into action immediately, slicing and dicing the night with slinky rhythm chops that coaxed the rest of the band into active participation. This jam totally exploded, bringing a sweltering dance session into an equally sweltering evening. Unlike the guitar solo wankery that Trey can easily fall into, he kept it super fresh in this version focusing on rhythm licks for the duration. And just when it seemed like they might blow “Sand” out of structure, instead Trey elected for “Light.”
When Phish plays “Light” right now, it’s like being launched out of a cannon into a original musical universe, and last’s night’s version was but our latest ride. Again, Trey sculpted an sharp and dialed solo in “Light” before the band even began to take it out. And when they did, they once again tread on sacred ground. Providing a late-set stunner that balanced the second half of the show, the band locked into each other in yet another gospel according to Phish. And this time Trey used his wah pedal to proselytize, leading the band into staggering ground and absolutely owning it. And before we knew it, the guys had led us to the mountaintop, providing the show with a astonishing late-set peak. In the denouement, Trey extensively quotes “Maria” from “West Side Story” before bringing the piece through a seamless transition into “Good Times, Bad Times.” And the audience roared with approval. The band brought the set home with the second “Slave” of summer—a beautiful rendition that punctuated the evening with dramatic resolution.
Honestly, with Phish playing at the level they are right now, there are no lulls in the their show. At set break, a friend who was streaming at home texted me that he thought the set was kind of lame. But I had the opposite experience at the show. He asked why, and my answer was simply—“They are crushing it.” Only treading on jams with “Wolfman’s” and a ferocious “Bathtub Gin” that evoked the spirit of the all-time version in the same shed 13 years ago, the band’s playing was, nonetheless, enjoyable and entertaining from the jump. “Llama” provided a kick start to the night while “Julius” served as an injection of blues-rock shreddery. Trey finally took a solo in “Yamar” after leaving it hanging the past few times, and “Stealing Time” felt crunchier than usual. Even “Theme” seemed to have a bit more mustard than average. This is the Phish we grew up with—even a set of contained songs popped with energy and creativity.
2013 is becoming a whole ‘nother ball game, and at this rate, there is no telling how far IT will go. Once again, anything is possible on any given night and the band seems determined to remain a step ahead of the game, showering us with lightness every step of the way. It is now quite evident—whether they knew it or not—that the band’s comeback has all led up to 2013, the celebration of their 30th year together and a rejoicing of the hallowed spirit of the band. They have come out of the gates this tour as a revitalized force of nature, and when things are clicking like this in the Phish universe, there’s no place on Earth that I’d rather be.
I: Llama, Wolfman’s Brother, Sample in a Jar, Julius, Halley’s Comet > Bathtub Gin, Lawn Boy, Ya Mar, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Theme From the Bottom > Suzy Greenberg
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Harry Hood, Axilla > Sand > Light* > Good Times Bad Times, Slave to the Traffic Light, Rocky Top, Cavern*
*teases of “Maria” from “West Side Story”
PHISH YOGA CLASSES ON TOUR
Surrender to the Flow Yoga: The Music of Phish, The Practice of Yoga.
Perhaps you’ve heard about my brother Chris’ Phish Yoga project. In 2010 he began teaching Phish themed yoga classes that connect the philosophy of the band to the teachings of yoga. After packed classes and lots of enthusiasm on and off tour throughout 2010 and 2011, Phish Yoga has expanded. Chris brought in five other huge Phish fans that are also certified yoga teachers and this past May held the first Phish Yoga Teacher Training in New York City. Check out the brand new website created by Michael Levin, here to learn more about this unique project, the teachers, events, and a lot more.
Phish Yoga is a 90 minute asana class set to immersive experience of live Phish. Each class is thematically constructed to draw parallells between Phish and yoga, describing how these practices are similar ways of accessing higher consciousness and transcending our rational, limited understanding of existence. All proceeds of Phish Yoga are donated to The Mockingbird Foundation and Street Yoga
Summer 2013 will include pre-show classes in Chicago, New Jersey, and Washington, DC (as well as a class last weekend for the SPAC shows in Malta, NY.) This Saturday 7/13, for the Merriweather shows, STTFY will be hosting a class at Synergy Yoga and Pilates in Columbia Maryland. Kerry Contini and Michael Levin will be teaching. You can pre-register here.
Next Saturday 7/20, at Village Yoga Lincoln Park in Chicago. Class with Tracy Stonaker. Pre register here using the Pay Pal donation button. Later in tour, Chris will be teaching in San Francisco and in Denver. Check the website or like them on Facebook for up to date information.