Back to the Freezer

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 2nd, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Ameris Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Anyone following Phish’s first week of tour could feel a Sunday night “Tweezer” coming from a mile away. And given the band’s current proclivity for extended jaunts through their second-set centerpieces, one could only imagine what might happen if these two things collided. When they did, the results were drool-worthy. The band set shifted into high gear and let it rip for over 30 minutes straight, crafting a full-throttle epic that has the Phish world buzzing.

Jams this long usually have an ebb and flow to them with distinct thematic sections and movements, but aside from one gorgeous synth-drenched, quasi-ambient passage early in the jam, this “Tweezer” became a relentless groove fiesta through and through. Fishman really pushed the pace and drove this jam, maintaining hard-hitting, punchy rhythms for a mind-numbing length of time. Coupled with Mike’s otherworldly bass work, the two of them maintained a dynamic pocket for far longer than we usually hear. This foundation of groove provided a playground for Page and Trey to play liquid lead lines and funk-laced dance patterns that kept the vibe at 11 for the entirety of the monstrosity.

Though there are subtle shifts within the jam, once the band is in the zone—which happens after a blatant tease of “Esther” in the 15th minute—they achieve a one-minded flow state for the duration in which they channel groove ambrosia directly from Mt. Olympus. During this second half of the jam, it sounds as if their minds shut off and they reach improvisational zen, allowing the music to move through them from the subconscious realm out into the world.

Much like this “Tweezer,” Phish’s three mega-jams thus far in tour, have been more straight forward and energetic rather than abstract and deep. One can hear the band’s enthusiasm and emotion dripping from each melody, beat and bass line. It feels as though they are trying to make up for time lost over the past year and a half, jamming more with instinct and inspiration rather than calculation or thought. Their impassioned improv is jumping off the stage and translating loud and clear, even through audio streams and webcasts far and wide. It almost sounds like the band members have just been released from captivity and are re-discovering what fun it is to jam together. Wait…

It will be interesting to see how second-sets develop moving forward. Will the band’s improv largely come in these larger-that-life packages or will it become more evenly dispersed throughout second sets to which we are accustomed? I’m not saying one is preferred but just observing a shift in contour. Though their have been secondary jams that have encompassed the improvisational fallout from these main events, aside from “Prince Caspian” these supporting excursions haven’t really reached original places. “Twist” kept the jamming going last night, and was certainly engaging if less than groundbreaking. “Piper,” however, did reached some inventive, collectively-built spaces by its ending. The main improvisation of each past three shows, however, has primarily come via the macro-jams of “Carini,” “Chalkdust,” and “Tweezer.”

Sunday night’s vibe was set early on with the one-two punch of “Set Your Soul Free” and “Reba.” “Set Your Soul Free” reached a blistering, feel-good peak that foreshadowed what would follow throughout the night. A particularly slow take on “Reba” and a creative version of “Jibboo” both featured very patient interplay between Trey and Page and carried the clean, emotive soloing that is quickly characterizing much of Trey’s post-pandemic work. Each also provided cathartic peaks that pointed to the more monumental ones that would come in “Tweezer” after setbreak.

That was quite the comeback weekend for the Phish from Vermont! With a full-slate of shows scheduled for this summer and fall, it feels like the sky is the limit for the band right now, as they are—in essence—just getting warmed up. And if crushing 30+ minute “Tweezers” is what they are doing on their first weekend back, what is to come at Deer Creek, Atlantic City and beyond? Time will tell. But first, a stop in Nashville.

I. Buried Alive > Set Your Soul Free, Reba, My Friend, My Friend, 555, Kill Devil Falls, Gotta Jibboo, Sparkle, Thread, Meat, Run Like an Antelope

II. More, Tweezer > Twist > Piper > Farmhouse, Waste, First Tube

E. Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise

Hitting Stride

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 1st, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Ameris Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Phish’s third show back from their pandemic-forced hiatus was filled with fiery improvisational highlights, notably anchored by the impeccable guitar playing of our favorite six-string assassin. Armed with his new “4.0 Guitar,” Trey’s tone and dexterity really stood out tonight as he took the helm on most all of the band’s excursions, guiding the music with clean, emotive soloing. Tonight’s shining example of this style of play came in the band’s marathon take of “Chalkdust” that opened the second set. Throughout the jam, Mike and Fish shaped an uptempo, chugging rhythmic course not unlike many “Chalk” jams of lore, while Trey’s inspired guitar narration pushed the plot of this jam into enchanting pastures—a golden thread woven through a captivating musical journey. And when he sometimes backed off into rhythm playing, Page was right there to carry the melodic path with an array of his new school sounds. Though the synergy of the band underlined the entirety of this piece, their one-minded play really popped in its second half where Phish navigated some authentically original textures and Trey’s inventive, melodic eruption reached its pinnacle.

While “Chalkdust” was the jewel of the show and of Trey’s individual showcase, the most boundary-pushing improv of the show came two songs later. After a swanky version of “Steam” came out of “Chalkdust,” the band started up what seemed to be a cool down interlude of “Prince Caspian.” But clearly feeling the flow, the band blew out the jam into a drone, collective sound sculpture that is right up my alley. Hearkening back to their millennial sound of ’99, Phish employed layers of distortion, feedback and blurred, shoegaze effects to craft a sonic exploration that drastically veered from the clean, melodic vibe that has characterized most of their improv of this young tour. Page unfurled more of his modern synth offerings that lent an almost prog-rock element to the tonal psych-art. I really dug this mid-set surprise and would absolutely love to hear further jaunts into this realm this summer.

Phish came out with guns blazing in Alpharetta, playing an improv-laden first set filled with choice bangers. Absent of filler material and stacked with classics and crowd favorites, the opening set illustrated the band’s burgeoning confidence while immediately gripping their audience. When Trey’s playing is really on point, it elevates the band’s structured jamming, creating engaging excursions that are otherwise susceptible to the generic. Examples of this came in the set’s final pairing of “Stash” and “Bathtub Gin,” the two brightest highlights of the first half for me. His playing in “Stash,” specifically shone. Trey, and the band as a whole, built momentum throughout this set, coming out of the gate strong with “Sand” and an extended run through “Everything’s Right,” but gaining cohesion and tightness as they progressed through the opening frame. Trey’s precision with the intricacies of “Foam” provided a signpost of what was to come from him throughout the rest of the show.

As expected, it has not taken long for Phish to find their way again. Possessing telepathy like few bands in history, the band has gotten right back to business and is excelling within days of hitting the stage. After playing together for over 30 years, what’s a year and a half?

I. Sand, Everything’s Right, Turtle in the Clouds, Maze, Destiny Unbound, Foam, Stash, Bathtub Gin

II. Chalk Dust Torture > Steam > Prince Caspian > Golgi Apparatus, AC/DC Bag , Shade, Mike’s Song > Silent in the Morning > Weekapaug Groove

E: A Life Beyond The Dream, Cavern

Letting Loose

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on July 31st, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Oak Mountain Amphitheatre [Greg Marcus]

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!



And We’re Off…

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on July 29th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

7.28.21—Walmart Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Well, I was expecting something a bit more explosive than that. Though the band looked overjoyed to be onstage again and played a perfectly palatable opening set, they sounded less than cohesive after set break as they dipped their toes back into open improvisation. I suppose that was to be expected after such a long layoff, but I figured their preparation plus the magnitude of the moment would cause some sort of Phish magic to click and they would drop a comeback show that would have the community abuzz. Instead, the tour opener in Arkansas likened a welcome home party rather than a serious musical undertaking, likely super fun for those in attendance, but somewhat short of engaging from a distance. That said, I think the jamming will come around quite quickly, and I expect that the band will be far tighter come Atlanta.

“Simple” provided the most engaging and ambitious music of the night for me, as the band dug through some dark and abstract terrain en route to a pretty unique jam. Though the band members explored the same sonic wormhole throughout this passage, they didn’t always sound fully connected while navigating it, sometimes presenting individual ideas that didn’t completely mesh. I really dug the melodic motif Trey laid down at the beginning of the jam and continued to reference throughout in various tones and contexts. I liked the direction of this jam quite a bit and hope to hear more improv that covers similar musical ground.

“Disease” was fine but nothing out of the ordinary. This jam didn’t progress much in any narrative sense, though it seemed to be finally getting somewhere in the minute or so before they moved into “Simple.” Page employed some synth-heavy sounds towards the beginning of the piece that could lend some nice textures to the mix this summer. It was great to see the band attempt two full-on, quasi-patient segues, from “Disease” into “Simple” and even more interestingly, from “Simple” into “Fuego.” I liked the go-get-em attitude right out of the gate, and it bodes well for an adventurous spirit this summer. Beyond the opening two-song sequence, the second set didn’t really offer much to write home about.

Phish did seem totally proficient in their structured jamming in pieces such as “Tube,” “46 Days,” “Wolfman’s” and “Plasma,” all which provided smooth and satisfying groove-based excursions. So their somewhat clunky open jamming wasn’t a matter of chops, but communication which makes perfect sense after they were all sequestered alone for the better part of a year and a half. I really don’t see this as an issue at all though, as they should easily kick this rust off within another show or two.

The question of what song the band would open the post-Covid era with circulated amongst fans for the better part of the past year. I had moved through several stages of predictions, and at one point long ago, when i first heard it, I figured they’d open with “I Never Needed You Like this Before.” It just made too much sense from a lyrical perspective. I had since moved on from that thought and posited they’d go with a well-known favorite to get the crowd instantly amped, but as it turned out, they decided to send a musical message of dedication to their fan base with Trey’s pandemic-scribed rocker. It seemed to work well, especially as they followed it up with the adrenalized injection of “Tube.” The show got underway quickly and the band’s new era was off and running.

In terms of my own experience, I used the webcast audio to listen to most of the show without the video, only watching the very beginning of set one and the very end of set two. The video really throws everything off for me, bringing in a visual element that has never been a part of my Phish experience in the live setting. I have never really looked at the stage during shows, and watching the close up video feed is really jarring for my senses, causing me not to hear the music in the same way at all. Subsequently, I’ve never gotten into Phish videos of any kind—official or Team Hood DVDs, webcasts, Dinner and a Movie archival videos—they don’t do anything for me and detract from my listening experience. I’d much rather just listen to a show as a means of revisiting it. Moving forward in this experiment, I won’t be watching webcasts to experience the music. If I am able to tune in live, it will be through an audio-only feed, though due to my paternal responsibilities, I will be listening to the shows after the fact more often than not.

I will say that I thought I’d be seriously thinking of changing my mind about Atlanta after tonight’s show, but after seeing the crowd, I do not think I’d be comfortable around that many people in such tight quarters right now. It didn’t look fun to me in the present climate. So I will move forward with listening from afar for the time being. I hope all who were there had a blast!