In one of the most symbolic moments in recent years, Trey came out for the second set of Sunday night’s show at Merriweather wearing a t-shirt! In leaving his button down in the green room, Trey conveyed the comfort that he once again feels on stage at a Phish show. In the days of lore—days that may not remain as unmatched legend for much longer—Trey had a rotation of t-shirts, but ever since the comeback, it’s been collars and blazers for Big Red. The comfort Trey is feeling is clearly shared by his bandmates as well as they annihilated Merriweather Post Pavilion to close out the Northeast portion of their summer tour. Playing a ballistic show from start to finish, the band showcased why so many of our lives have changed for this band. The excitement that is swirling between the crowd and audience at shows these days is unprecedented for the modern era. For the past few years Phish has played shows using the sounds and jamming styles from their past, but starting in 2013, and exemplified by last night’s “Light” jam,” Phish has reinvented themselves and their sound once again—a hallmark of their career—while taking all their jams in new and innovative directions. I shudder to think what the Gorge and San Francisco will be like, let alone fall tour! Hide the women and children folks, this is getting serious.
Aside from “Light’s” monumental excursion, the greatest take away from last night’s show was the first set. Playing, hands down, their best opening frame of summer, the band threw down some unexpected twists taboot. After moving sharply through the first third of the set, the show elevated to another level when the guys dropped the most impressive “Stash” since post-hiatus. Taking the piece into blissful realms and then into a wah-laced segment a la Worcester ‘97, the band packed an incredible amount of action into the now-resurrected piece, and damn what a great development. “Stash” had been left for dead as nothing but first-set filler, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the song makes it into the second set before tour’s end.
Phish followed “Stash” with a “Scent of a Mule” in which the band actually used the Mule Duel to showcase their musicianship and create something different. One feature of this jam was Fishman on marimba, a new stage feature as of tonight, and—wow— it made some abstract sounds. My personal favorite surprise of the set, however, came next in “It’s Ice.” Launching from the ambient jam into a filthy dose of disco funk, this one came like a left hook from Sugar Ray Leonard as he distracted you with his rope-a-dope on the right. Check this piece out for a vivid illustration of just how damn nasty Phish is right now. Capping the opening half with scorching versions of “Tube” and “Antelope,” the band received an extended standing ovation after the first set! The addition of a throw down first set completely changes the contour of an evening with Phish, providing an incredible boost to any show.
With an interesting move that I didn’t realize until later, the band kicked off the second frame of Sunday night’s set with the exact triumvirate as they started Bangor’s—“Golden Age > Twist” and “Number Line.” And in retrospect, the sequence had a very similar flow. “Golden Age” exploded into a furious groove jam that saw Trey favor his wah pedal once again, a move that causes every Phish fan to giggle with delight. Though “Golden’s” jam stayed within normal territory, it, nonetheless, enthralled any Phish groove junkie in the audience. Bleeding into “Twist,” the band once again seemed on the verge of popping out of structure as they turned toward home. “Number Line” provided an unwelcome second-set interlude before Phish turned the pavilion upside down with the Merriweather “Light.”
When “Light” started up last night, one could only imagine the places it would take us after witnessing the SPAC and PNC versions. The opening chords of the song are now enough to make any psychonaut drool in a pavlovian response. Continuing to push the envelope with their modern launchpad, last night the band came up with music that verges on indescribable. Some amalgam of free jazz and hard groove sprinkled with calypso and topped with an avant-garde stop-start cadence is about the best I can do. But let me tell you—this shit brought the house down. There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about witnessing greatness and being completely cognizant of it while it is going down, and that was exactly the feeling I had last night. Phish was inventing music that only they could make right there on the spot, and people were freaking the fuck out—and that’s where this whole experiment got started thirty years ago. Segueing seamlessly into “Boogie On,” the band’s unstoppable momentum spilled into the cover and spiced up the version quite a bit.
As the band tore through a hot “Julius,” there was about 45 minutes left on the clock and everyone could see the “You Enjoy Myself” from a mile away. But what nobody could see was the infectious and active jam that would spring from yet another classic that had lost its luster. Sticking to the groove paradigm last night, I don’t think it will be long before we see the band take a “YEM” into open waters—the Gorge perhaps?
As tour follows the lines going South for two shows and then takes a quick right turn out to Chicago, the trajectory of this run is mind boggling. After the show tonight I thought of all the west coast friends who will see the band at The Gorge for the first time this year and what an awakening they are in for. 2013 is the moment we’ve been waiting for since 2009. 2013 is what I thought was possible when Trey stepped in stage in Brooklyn in 2008. Now it’s all happening right before our eyes.
Is the south ready for Hurricane Phish?
I: First Tube, The Moma Dance, NICU, Roses Are Free, Chalk Dust Torture, Stash, Scent of a Mule, It’s Ice, Tube*, Run Like an Antelope
II: Golden Age > Twist, Backwards Down the Number Line, Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman, Julius, You Enjoy Myself
E: Loving Cup
* “Ice” tease