Letting Loose

7.28.21—Walmart Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer via Phish]

The tentative band we saw in Arkansas was nowhere to be found on Friday night in Alabama, as Phish came out far more relaxed and played a really good show, taking a strong step forward towards regaining their groove. The change of vibe was palpable throughout the first several songs of the night, highlighted by “The Final Hurrah,” prompting Trey to call for “Ghost” in the middle of the first set. The late-’90s groove vehicle quickly transformed into a cohesive, melodic-ambient exploration that stood out from anything played on night one of tour for it’s single-minded purpose. Page—mixing his Rhodes and synths—and Trey hooked up to collectively paint an impressionistic top half of the jam as Fish—switching up the rhythm and sometimes eliminating the backbeat—teamed with Mike lending an amorphous feel to the excursion. I love this style of Phish.

The buzz of the show, however, will certainly be the longest-ever take on “Carini.” Pushing the piece to 25 minutes, the band unleashed a straight ahead groove escapade that must have had everyone at Oak Mountain buckwilin’. As the jam exited its structured framework, Trey surfed his bandmates’ collective rhythmic wave with extended blues-based soloing that just wouldn’t quit. But when Trey finally gave up the reins, the band entered more varied music textures that pushed the music into edgier, three-dimensional territory. After they briefly passed through these experimental waters, Trey cast in his line and hooked them out into a soaring, blissful peak for which modern Phish has become famous. It felt like this was the first time in the opening couple shows of tour that the band fully dropped their inhibitions and let the music flow through them without concern as to where they were heading, resulting in a catharsis of built up pandemic tension.

I gotta take a moment to comment on the “Martian Monster” that followed up “Carini.” Ever since it’s Halloween debut in 2014, I’ve been waiting for Phish to place this piece in the second set and really have at it. It’s potential is astronomical. Though they didn’t blow it open here—not by a long shot—they got loose and improvised more than usual. As Trey laid some thick ’97-esque rhythm chords into the groove, I thought shit was about to truly pop off. Nonetheless, it was great to see the band inject some playfulness into the all-too-static single, and hopefully there will be more second set versions to come this run.

“Golden Age” saw the band fully synced and the funk jam possessed some extra teeth tonight as Trey alternated between lead and rhythm playing. It seemed as though it might be moving into deeper territory just before it wound down into “Mist.” “Blaze On” and “Hood” rounded out the non-stop set that certainly bodes well for the upcoming weekend in Alpharetta. “Ghost” foreshadowed what I believe will be the next step in Phish’s quick return to improvisational virtuosity, moving out as opposed to straight ahead. The band began this re-development with Arkansas’ “Simple” and furthered the process with “Ghost.” Be on the lookout for Atlanta’s “Tweezer” and “Mercury” to further this arc.

Having been to so many of these shows over the years, its kinda funny and cool how I can more or less have the experience at home—totally sober and eating dinner and what not. And if even if I’m not actually having the experience, I can viscerally feel the experience I’d be having were I there. I can picture the people I’d be next to smiling and laughing, and feel the energetic contours of the show. Listening at the same time the show is happening, which I did tonight, helps facilitate this for sure. Over the past couple years, I have found that the mental buildup of missing shows is far worse than the actual experience. As it is happening, it is just not that big of a deal. That said, I’ve yet to miss a truly monstrous “Tweezer,” so talk to me after that happens. But in the end, the show unfolds and then it is over—c’est la vie. It is certainly easier knowing the shows are going on in hot spots of an ongoing pandemic, but nonetheless, like so much of life, it’s all in your mind.

Atlanta Phish rarely disappoints, and this weekend feels like it will deliver big time. Stay safe out there!

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