Fun and Then Some

Deer Creek [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Phish is a protean music force whose creative genius is delivered in countless ways and in all shapes and sizes. For Deer Creek’s Sunday night finale, Phish applied their improvisational acumen over the course of the entire second set, crafting a unified musical statement that combined serious musicianship, trademark humor and a liquid flow. Seamlessly weaving one song into another with a couple of mashups along the way, the band creating a non-stop journey through the multiverse of Phish. Though the second set was underlined by fun, the music still got quite deep at several points, illustrating the yin and yang of a band that feels unstoppable right now.

A neon-futuristic dance club take on “Bathtub Gin” got the party started quickly after setbreak, as the band undertook an exercise in collaborative groove painted with their new-era sonic palette. As the jam approached the precipice of an ambient movement, instead it dissolved into “Waves.” A super thick groove emerged out of the post-hiatus piece, over which Trey spontaneously began singing the lyrics of “Ghost.” This slowed down, gooey take on the song seemed primed to launch into massive highlight, but at the break in the song before the jam, the band switched directly into the opening hit of “Sneaking Sally,” and this is where the zany mashup madness that would characterize the set began. Singing “Ghost” lyrics over a hyrbid “Ghost”-“Sally” groove the band, essentially, played two songs at once, reeling in an enraptured audience on their edge of their seats to see what would come next.

The deepest parts of the set came next, within a short but hypnotic ambient jam out of “Twenty Years Later,” and an absolutely menacing improvisational passage that emerged out of a late-set medley of “Twist” and “Makisupa.” Following Trey’s one man comedy act in “Makisupa” in which he created a lyrical mashup from all the songs in the set, the band took a left turn into the netherworld, building a dark and harrowing excursion that sounded like a summoning of demons and dark spirits of the occult. The abrupt change of vibe provided serious musical gravity to a lighter set of thoroughly entertaining hijinks-based Phish.

Sometimes when Phish rely on antics and comedy to carry a show, the musical experience can fall flat, but that was not the case on Sunday night, where the band’s musicianship and creativity remained on high throughout the show. The whole second set really felt like one piece of music from “Bathtub Gin” through the end of “Twist,” as the band never stopped playing and everything blended together seamlessly. And when they finally did stop to the roaring adoration of their audience, the band broke out a real treat in the Page-scribed rarity of “Most Events Aren’t Planned.” Capping the set with “More” which blended into the end of “Bathtub Gin,” Phish stamped a special set of musical theatre complete.

And while the second set provided the entertaining centerpiece of the night, the first set contained more than few musical highlights—first and foremost in the retro combination of “Curtain” > “Mike’s Song.” “Mike’s” has had a propensity for the generic in recent years, but this version broke the mold completely. As the band chugged through the well-loved jam, Trey and Page hit a point where they started to soar into major key territory. While Mike and Fish continued to hold down the infectious rhythmic pocket of “Mike’s,” Trey and Page took the top half of the jam to a heart-tugging, heavenly realm. This experiment in musical juxtaposition absolutely slayed and provided a slice of uplifting life music as the show had barely begun. From this point, it felt like it was going to be a special night in Phishland. Subsequent first half highlights came in an abbreviated but filthy “Mercury” jam, a funky and interesting new Mike song called “Casual Enlightenment,” and a ripping, on point set closer of “David Bowie.”

To end the night, Phish laid out a phenomenal version of “Slave to the Traffic Light” that summed up the emotional and communally appreciative vibe of the weekend in Indiana. Amidst pre-show rumors of the tour’s imminent cancellation, the crowd soaked up every last drop of Sunday night’s show, as the days of taking this all for granted are over and done. But this buzz seems to have been nothing more than white noise of the ever-churning rumor mill, as tour moves forth to Chocolate City tomorrow night. Hershey has had a small but special place in Phish history, and with Golden Tickets readily available for the undersold shows it certainly feels like the next two nights may add to its lore.

I. Sigma Oasis, The Curtain > Mike’s Song > My Soul, Weekapaug Groove, Mercury > 46 Days, Taste, Casual Enlightenment*, David Bowie

II. Bathtub Gin > Waves -> Ghost > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Twenty Years Later -> Waste > Twist -> Makisupa Policeman > Twist -> Makisupa Policeman -> Twist, Most Events Aren’t Planned, More > Bathtub Gin

E. Contact, Slave to the Traffic Light

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