[We would like to thank user MGOLIA6 for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
Let’s cut the bullshit, as of late, as tours come and go, an unrealistic expectation has been placed on the band. Fault can clearly be placed, at least partially, on the band, for setting such high standards to begin with. Add to that a limited set of fall tour dates, the band’s 40th anniversary, a 2000th showversary, and the proverbial let down is all but inevitable. The remainder of the blame lies with us, the listeners. Why are we so needy? Then I got to asking myself, why the fuck did I volunteer to review this show? A Sunday show, an early flight home, the list of cons goes on and on. But the answer is simple, I love this band, warts and all, regardless of expectations, seemingly because of expectations and the simple fact that in the face of all the bullshit in the world, experiencing a Phish show live is quite possibly the one place that I can find solace from the deafening external noise that abounds these days.
So at 8:02 PM CT, in a city that literally owns music, Phish took the stage and fucked themselves, dropping into "Buried Alive." Concise and edgy, crisp as the autumn air, "Buried Alive" played its role, lead-off hitter style, got on base and stirred the already frenzied zealots into a craze. I would venture a guess that the majority would agree, when "Buried Alive" kicks things off, we expect things. So, when that dreamlike passage bleeds into "AC/DC Bag," despair is in the air and hype lingers with lore to evoke this sort of worrisome panic amongst the masses.
Bag is bag, rollicking and vermicious as a knid, rising to a fever pitch before dissolving into (fuck me) "Free." An opening triplet that is ripe with existential energy. Midway through this bluesy tromp in the blimpalot, Trey finds a pocket that the band consumes en totale, whole band interplay, that would come to define the evening, ensues. Mike’s liquid bass compliments Page’s staccato playing and with a tapestry of drums, "Free" glides home and the opening triplet is in the books. Wax bled, stamped, sealed.
Did you know that the next song to take center stage was "Sightless Escape," well GFY (that’s either good for you, or something less nice…LOL)! Brah, there is not even a song history to this ditty. This surfin’ safari, beach boys-esque ballad, has this decrescendo of notes (think "Wipeout") that is super catchy with a refrain, equally catchy, of “there’s a light” repeated until the band finds a choice wave and rides it for 8 minutes back to shore. This pre-pandemic Ghosts of the Forest ditty hadn’t seen the light of day since Dick’s 2019, a gap of 138 shows, but probably not the “bust out” y’all were looking for!?
Some centrifugal force has got a hold of my legs and even as the music subsides between songs, I am gripped by the anticipation of what’s to come next. So when "Undermind" is birthed to mixed excitement (listen to LivePhish to see what I mean), I am bubbling from energy generated from the previous tracks. I hop on Page’s soul train, excited by his extended solo, slip into Trey’s lead and the rubber has met the road at Bridgestone Arena. Say what you will about "Undermind" (and I am sure you will if you haven’t already) but it is sneaky good, driving to a climax that leaves me shaking my head. While staying purely type 1, don’t dismiss its tightness.
With little delay, "Yamar" brings the calypso strut. Trey introduces Leo as “my grandpa” and "Yamar" does what Yamar does, brightens up the joint. Nothing but smiles as the sonic bubble of notes permeates the crowd, drives to its climactic burst and pops. With the full stop, "Beauty of a Broken Heart" begins, expressing Page’s lament of the band’s breakup, which erupts with some funky plucking, slides back to the song proper and lands safely back on solid ground: no records broken here, nothing to set it apart other than inspired playing to a semi-sizzling peak. Again full stop! Are you catching wind of a theme?
The bell hooks inspired lower case “hey stranger” comes crashing in (the whole bell hooks thing is just a theory from yours truly based on the lower case arrangement of the characters). Sometimes Trey’s effects blur the bass. While those effects were no stranger, Mike was keeping steady with Trey’s brooding groove and added a deeper resonance to the type 1 tapestry of sound. The compliment paid dividends as “stranger” trilled to a peak and “built a bridge” (well actually it didn’t) to the closing reprise of the chorus, “it’s all I know.”
"Taste’s" contemplative theme continues this, now, purely ballad-addled set. To this point, nothing negative can be said about the playing. The band is tight, Page takes center stage with his fluid lead, literally tickling the keys to a frenzy. Taste builds to its "Norwegian Wood" section, keeping with it’s typical fit form and function.
Again, full stop, and then "Evolve." Page is clearly the Christian McCaffrey of set one. His buttery key strokes resonate above and beyond the rest of the band, without overpowering, and not in an ego-driven, “grasping at the spotlight” way. The catchy ballad seems to land with the masses, climbs to a clumsy peak, and ends. Again, full stop…ad nauseam.
I’m left looking around at the audience, my far back Page side floor seat, within the yellow tape, right as the metal partition appears…thinking this is a set one of set one songs, with the hinted excess of the opening triplet aside, we are just playing songs. Its like a Nashville studio session, with the cities tightest set of musicians. But its Sunday, we should be at church, letting the glory of HIM resonate through us, holy ghost, praise be, the body of Phish, and all that jazz. So it’s only fitting that from the ballad-riddled set a "Ghost" of epic proportions should manifest.
Its blurry, phantasmagoric intro aside, when the "Ghost" jam “Caspers” its way into existence, sense is somehow made of the previous ten tracks. Punching above its weight, the 13-minute marvel, builds a theme, generates energy around its core structure, and glides into the atmosphere before guiding it to a substantive peak and smooth landing. Not the MSG Space Ghost, but still a "Ghost" that delivers the goods. And with that, Set one is in the books.
Let’s call the "Birds of Feather" set two opener a surprise. Straying from the new norm of set two openers being the warm up to the JOTN, "Birds" slips from the flock and has its sights set on the stratosphere. The jarring song position quickly melds to an Allman-esque jam before dropping into a brooding minor key jaunt, Fishman lingering in the higher registers before splashing the cymbals and letting Trey’s echoplex (is that what its called at eight minutes) resonate enthusiastically. A second peak builds, Trey now in a higher register, though I wouldn’t call it major key, post hiatus mode, then driving towards a return to the Birds theme and hitting the major key excitement that sometimes overwhelms. We are only eleven minutes into this “Birds” and we have explored a heaping helping. Sustained notes, trilling and white light peaks then lead us toward the denouement. Is it "Birds" anymore, I don’t know, until Trey reminds me, off key…Its set two but, still, full stop!?
I know "A Wave of Hope" because from out of the chaos a moon appears. I wonder what the sentiment of “this too shall pass” is supposed to evoke from my unfettered soul…recalling as I twirl in the reddish LED glow of Kuroda’s rig, that I have to recap this show: FUDGE RIPPLE! This is where the set gets nutty, gets serious. The launching pad of AWOH drives to a peakish rise, whole band interplay, coursing notes played by Trey and Page, as compliments to each. We build, and build, and build, a master class in hose being thrust from the stage, cascading off and through the audience, the next series of passages, played convincingly as if it was composed, climbs to a spiral of notes and ruminates in the ether before the devolving begins sparked by some eerie bass vibes, then a sonic dissonance that is hypnotizing.
The whirling gets guttural, sinister, brooding again, then slips to silence. Oh, and did I mention, full stop. What transpires next feels like it was built for Nashville. Neil Young’s "Cinnamon Girl" dropped for the first time since The Baker’s Dozen delivers this driving rhythm and is used as a reset coming to a, yes you guessed it, full stop!
As "Golden Age" bursts from Neil Young’s ashes…my only thoughts are of Derek Trucks and the SPAC version (expectations!?). Trey’s raspy voice (must have caught what my son has) struggles to fully grasp the lyrics, but what is lost in his voice, is resurrected in his playing. I am immediately transported to the Pepsi Arena (at that point the Times Union Center) the afternoon of 11/27/09 when my buddy Jon and I stuck our ears to the side door of the venue and listened in to the sound check amused by some decidedly new music being “checked” by the band. This "Golden Age" continues the melodious playing by the band, while not hitting astral heights. There is a decidedly delicate passage that they linger in at about five minutes in that I wish they would explore more, but alas, a call and response groove is found and explored.
The dark side rears its ugly head at the seven-minute mark, grog and brood abound, like sloshing through a mire, hoping for some reprieve. I recall looking back up into the crowd at this point and the hypnotic groove had infiltrated the upper rows. Once the crowd had been taken, this repeating rhythm emanated from the stage, a deconstruction of sorts, decayed to a driving bass. Me re-thinking, why the hell did I volunteer to recap this show. Oh yeah, this is why. To describe the patient dissolution of "Golden Age." If the band had not achieved HOSE status to this point, they were now flirting with it. Demonic forces prevailed and what comes next is like a passage through the mind of Stanley Kubrick!
More could be said about this "Golden Age," and better, but, guess what, I am the fool who opted to review this motherfucker! It only speaks to the mastery of the radio dial jamtronica when "Golden Age" becomes "The Well;" literally like a radio dial was being tuned to The Twilight Zone. Wait, no full stop! While the opening lyrics seemed to land firmly on terra firma, once the chorus was sung, the atonal vibration resonated and drifted us into dreamland. Chairman of the boards soars, so damn pretty, coaxing the ivories to a scintillating build, Trey is tagged to keep the positivity prevailing, not quite a major key, just super positive. "The Well" lingers in a type 1/type 2 space never quite achieving lift off, but certainly exploring lower lying elevation. And, full stop!
As the opening notes of YEM ring out from stage, there is a sense that we are about to be treated to a spirited rendition, culminating from the build of the entire set. There is a heightened excitement emanating from the audience now, glow sticks arriving on the lower deck as Trey’s soaring guitar hits at the five minute mark before building to the “Boy” peak. The surge of the sustained note again boosts the crowd. Spirited is probably an understatement because there is a good 10+ minutes of build to the vocal jam. Funky, bluesy, riveting, a full as fuck sound to be sure, the boys locked and loaded open up the flood gates, Page doing some victory laps around the arena on his keys. The nine minutes or so post tramps is must hear at all costs. Trey does a quick -7 tease at the onset of the vocal jam, things get dark and like that, the fullest of stops, as set 2 closes on high note.
My son loves Arlo The Good Dinosaur! For one, Arlo is his name, but also for the howling that Arlo The Good Dinosaur and the critter use to communicate. So when the band drops into "The Howling" the arena becomes a frenzied chaotic mix of screaming and howling and I am grinning from ear to ear knowing back home my son is probably howling as well. There is a sense of release that comes from howling, and a collective howling helped release a lot of the pent up expectations of this Sunday Show. Echo effects abound, with a reprise of full audience howling, and as "The Howling’s" funky groove dissipates and "Suzy" is revealed, the chance to dance away those same pent-up expectations is provided and the whole arena gets down. "Suzy" allows Page another opportunity for a victory lap, his keyboard-evoking images of a Mario Brothers coin collecting spree in the basement.
As the last notes were played, the house lights jarring me from my stupor, I slowly crept out into the brisk autumn evening, jarred further awake, now tasked with the daunting undertaking of finding my way home to try and encapsulate the evening’s events cohesively for y’all. So here goes: Phish delivered in a rather atypical fashion tonight. A show with a first set that, though it had so many full stops, caught a flow, punctuated by a rather flashy "Ghost," and truly caught flight in set two, despite the lack of segues. And, as the Nashville extended Weekend draws to a close, we hop in our cars, and catch flights back to reality (or to the Nutter Center), knowing we can rest our weary minds that Phish will continue to deliver the goods despite our lofty and unrealistic expectations (and theirs). Full STOP!
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