Phish returned to Summer Tour with a monster weekend comprised of two standout shows and one for the record books in the mid-Atlantic last weekend. Following a four-day break, the band has made a concerted effort to deliver the whole package each night to each audience and were successful on three consecutive nights to begin the second half of Summer Tour 2014. Phish certainly hit a stride with these performances and their fluidity has stepped to the forefront of their shows to compliment their already present jamming. Everything has now fallen into place and the guys are in the zone as they approach the final week of a tremendously successful run.
It became quickly apparent this past weekend in Charlotte and Merriweather, that Phish is serious about their segues again. I’m not sure what, if anything, transpired during the four day break, but the band came back firing off seamless transitions at almost every juncture. Beginning in Charlotte’s second set, the guys wove “Fuego” “Twist” and “When the Circus Comes to Town “ into a seamless suite of music. Even with all of the segues that transpired at Merriwether, the slyest of them all happened when the guys unsuspectingly transformed the “Twist” jam into the tour debut of Los Lobos’ “Circus.” A definitive musical segue with not a momentary glitch, this shift actually deserves consideration beyond just its all-tour status. The transitions continued to fly on the first night in Columbia as the band slithered through a second-set sequence of “Carini -> Ghost > Steam -> Mango” with notable flow. But this second-“leg” trend, though only three days old, came to an immediate head in Sunday’s retro segue-fest, the likes of which hasn’t showed its face in oh, about two decades! Bobbing and weaving in and out of songs with spontaneity and precision, the band treated the audience to an old-school affair in which the excitement generated was as much about what would happen next as it was about the music. Totally in the moment and having a blast, the band tore off countless segues, but the most seamless movement of the night came in the musical palindrome of “Free -> Tweezer -> Simple -> Tweezer -> Free.” Delivering three songs a single piece of music, the guys took the early-set mashup theme to a whole new level with this clever vignette. The entire vibe of a set changes when the band makes smooth transitions between songs, and one would expect this trend to continue through the south.
These artistic transitions helped contribute to the second Mid-Atlantic take away—Phish’s delivery of complete second sets. Though Summer Tour started out strong in this regard, the band’s set craftsmanship took a small dip after Randall’s Island. Phish began to bounce back in Chicago, specifically with their third-night performance, and continued this upward swing with these past three shows. With only one blemish in three main events (Charlotte’s harshly “Rift”-corded “Piper” jam), Phish’s second sets have not only been proficiently smooth, but exceptionally so. This arc was highlighted by Merriweather’s Saturday night performance in which the band threw down a bulletproof second frame. Each segue was considered and artistic, virtually every song contained a legitimate jam, and the entire set went off without hitch. Even Sunday’s wild ride was notably smooth as the band worked through countless shifts between songs and schticks. Phish’s sense of the moment—one of their defining characteristics throughout their career—has returned in full this summer, and no performance illustrates this more than Sunday’s unforgettable affair. The best versions of Phish instinctually know when to pull back and when to push things far over the edge, surfing the energy of the crowd and the moment as well as any performers in history. Sunday night’s show at Merriweather showed us that, even while pushing age 50, the guys can still blend their musical acumen with their sense of the absurd to craft a wacky though virtuoso ride through a unique universe called Phish.
And don’t look now, but two of the weekend’s three first sets were great too! Both Charlotte’s and Sunday night Merriweather’s opening frames popped with energy and musicality. Friday’s first set featured powerful versions of crowd favorites including “Mike’s Song,” “Back on the Train,” “Weekapaug,” “Possum,” “Tube” and “David Bowie,” as well as a quality version of “Wingsuit” and the most improvised “Winterqueen” to date. This amounted to a virtual non-stop barrage of serious Type I jamming throughout Charlotte’s opening set. Sunday’s first frame contained legitimate improvisational highlights in “Curtain (With),” “Sand” and “You Enjoy Myself” and also derived energy through the rarities of “Fee,” “My Sweet One” and “Saw It Again.” On each night, as the setbreak lights came on, one felt like he had already been through a legitimate musical experience, and in the modern era of Phish shows, that makes all the difference.
Meanwhile, the jams have continued to roll. This weekend’s improvisational Dean’s List has two tiers. The first is headed up by Charlotte’s “Chalk Dust Torture” and Merriweather’s “Tweezer” while also featuring Saturday’s “Ghost” “Light” and Sunday’s “NICU.” The second tier includes Merriweather’s “Carini,” “Harry Hood,” and Charlotte’s late-set “Reba.”
As we turn to the final five shows of tour, Phish has their feet solidly under them and the creative faucet locked in the on position. They certainly seem like a band that is primed to slaughter the south in a victory lap of a successful summer tour. Crushing it night after night creatively and consistently, and having the time of their lives, this is Phish live without a net and in their prime once again. Or simply put—this is Phish en fuego.