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Review by Anonymous
First of all, the Paradiso is an old church that has been converted into a performance space, replete with stained glass windows and an ornate double balcony, all in the confines of a building that holds no more than a thousand people. It was a very intimate place indeed, and the energy of the crowd was intense and intent.
The opener, "Ghost", got things off to an easy, "Wolfman's"-type groove. The jam out of this tune developed significantly, and altogether "Ghost" clocked in just over twenty minutes. At one point, Trey and Fish were singing their favorite brand-new lyric over a jammed groove, "I think you know where you are"...you're on the back of a worm!" It was an auspicious start to the show, even shutting up some of the cynics around me that were sick of seeing the new tunes over and over.
"Horn" was next and then "Ya Mar" followed, with a particularly cool drum segment featuring delicate work by Fishman and a hushed audience. "Limb By Limb" was next, which also proved to be an excellent new song. The vocals are all divergent while at the same time convergent, and the lyrics are actually quite cool. Mike has a really cool background vocal that totally stands out in a killer way. The jam out of this tune was damn impressive; I was finding myself lost in rhythms that are not typical to your standard Phish jam.
After a brief respite in bass space, with Mike doing washes of sound while Page tweaked his Moogs, they segued into the vaguely Celtic lullaby cadence of "Funny As It Seems". Frankly, this song is a disappointment. The J.J. Cale lyrics have just too much of a straight-ahead cheese "lovey-dovey" feel to them, especially coming from a funkster like Mike. Still, it provided some rest for the next selection, "Saw it Again". This tune kicks, with two separate sections. In the first, there are killer "wah" effects from Trey and a totally punchy arrangement of the background vocals. The second section features a slower, harder groove with everyone singing with gospel's conviction, "I saw it again!" An absolutely killer rock and roll song! Trey was yelling about being on the back of the worm again during this one also.
"Dirt" followed, a Beatles sounding-ballad that was maybe placed a little closer to the also-slow "Funny as it Seems" than I would've preferred. "Dirt" has a nice instrumental ending with Trey following the lyric melody. Of all the songs that seem appropriate for the mention of worms, "Dirt" didn't get one.
Next, they broke into the old bag of tricks and pulled out a magical "Reba". Trey was just soaring as Chris Kuroda began involving the stained glass for the first time, lighting up the glass from behind with pulses of light. Full of nuance and melodic expression, this was a truly heavenly "Reba". Which brings me to a digression: is Trey God?
"Dogs Stole Things" closed out the exhaustive eighty-nine-minute set. This is a standard rocker that doesn't seem like it has much room to go anywhere; the groove didn't even seem that cool, kind of stale. Maybe Trey isn't God.
The music of Set II was so good, it surpasses my ability to be objective. Being in Amsterdam brings with it certain advantages, and those advantages tend to manifest themselves most intensely during a set break. So take my review with a grain of salt, or whatever else is handy.
To begin the second set, Fishman stepped out alone on stage, walked over to Page's electric piano, and started playing a little repetitive ditty. At first I thought that it was actually John Medeski (MMW were playing a week later at a Dutch jazz festival) because Fishman looks like him now, with his crewcut. This is the first time that I've heard Fishman play keyboards in a way that is listenable. Improvement is a good thing.
The rest of the guys then came out, and Trey began the opening to "Timber Ho" while Fishman made his way back to his set. "Timber Ho" was just ridiculous, with Trey busting out otherworldly noises and fat chunks, along with killer support from the Chairman of the Boards.
I was floored that my favorite cover tune of theirs ("Timber") would be followed by one of my favorite originals, "Bathtub Gin"! In forty-five shows, I have only seen "Bathtub" three times, so I'm still totally batty when they start into it. This version is truly a top five of all-time - œtype affair - full-on "synthoslinky" bass from Mike at one point that will blow your mind when you hear the tape. The syncopated beats that Mike found late in this jam is just further evidence that the man is grounded in his own, uniquely satisfying groove.
The "Bathtub" jam then led into a superslow sex-groove jam version of "Cities", slowed down considerably. In fact, the "Bathtub" jam was just kind of going along, slowing down, and then Trey just kept hammering this one chord slower and slower (it was the "Cities" chord, but with the effects it sounded totally different) and then eventually he just spoke into the mic, "Think of London!" and the roof just about came down.
Aside from playing it at such a slow beat, they were leaving a lot of space around the music (not spacey, but sparse) of the composed part and the initial part of the jam followed this effect. It had sort of a slow blues feel, again, with nice space around the music. The blues feel then sort of absorbed the psychedelic vibe in the room and began mutating into a jam that reminded me of the liquid blues feel that they had in the thirty-five-minute "Free" from 11/22/95 Landover, MD.
Eight minutes into "Cities" the jam loses the more straightforward feeling of the blues jam and sinks down into another wash of sounds, similar to the Mike and Page volume-swell jam from the legendary Providence 12/29/94 "Bowie". There were massive blocks of sound swelling out and in, sometimes with simulated Doppler effect. At one point, when the jam was getting that "weeble-wobble" feel, Trey yelled out, to everyone's bewilderment (once again), "I think you know where you are"...you're on the back of the worm!"
So, twenty minutes after "Cities" began, we're still rolling with this whacked jam happening and no clear direction in sight. It was sweet! "Cities" wound up clocking in at twenty-three minutes, but it's hard to tell if the last fifteen minutes might have been something distinct. The "back of the worm jam" perhaps? Raging versions of "Loving Cup" and "Slave" closed out the set. Not a weak link in Set II! I could have sworn they were putting more emphasis on "Oh, what a beautiful buzz." Ahh, Amsterdam"...
"When the Circus Comes" seemed like an appropriately laid-back encore for such an exhausting evening. Sent home for a night of rest, we were psyched that we still had one more to go.