, attached to 2010-10-26

Review by waxbanks

waxbanks Superb close to a strong week of shows! Phish will never be a reggae band, but the Gregory Isaacs tribute is just one of three reggae tunes in this show (if you count Trey's doofy original, Makisupa Policeman), and Night Nurse is probably the strongest pure reggae rhythm work the band has done. (Between Night Nurse, Mellow Mood, and the Have Mercy bustout earlier in the week, I almost convinced myself the boys were warming up to play Natty Dread for Halloween. ALMOST.)

Every song is juiced with something special; the boys are in their best 'Phish 3.0' form right now, no question. The Curtain (With) jam - which (Attention, Nerds!) is basically a Reba jam in Limb*Limb's meter, with all the roiling tension and tonal-shifting that implies - is customarily beautiful; the reggae tunes are groovy; Song I Heard... is pure rock'n'roll climax; Mike's and Ghost are on par with their best renditions of the year (Mike's Song is particularly encouraging).

But the best moments - the patient, multifaceted Light jam and the stunning Ghost > Mango > Weekapaug > Llama sequence - are as good as anything since summer 2003. Light is more insistently rhythmic than the celestial 8/7 Greek version, but just as rich, and few moments in Phish's recent history can compare to the feeling of ecstatic release shared by band and audience alike during the show-ending string of segues, with Trey belting out off-key lyrical callbacks and careening madly from one improvised transition to the next. It's old-fashioned fun in a distinctly new musical language: they've finally figured out a way to integrate the spare/spacy sound of their late-90's music, and the rock-hedonist haze of their '2.0' material, with their recent song-driven approach (itself a much more emotionally accessible throwback to their contained early-90's performance style).


What's missing is the ominous darkness that coloured Phish's greatest performances - the joyful peaks of those classic Fall '97 shows were all the more extraordinary for the forbidding valleys that preceded them. Not to say Phish 2010 are always cheery, but they're certainly a lot less inclined to give in to darkness and melancholy than they once were. For instance, compare this ASIHTOS to the canonical 6/19/04 version, which spends half of its 18 minutes in deep cold water before alighting on an icy shore. The much busier Amherst version resolves in a mighty wail from Trey's guitar, and if 'resolve' is a very fine emotion for a musician to share, it doesn't stay with you, haunting your sleep, like the distance and loneliness contained in the SPAC version.

Yet I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy the heartbreak and inner torment that produced Phish's pre-retirement music. The new happier Phish might not have any interest in the dreadful vistas opened up by their years of Weary Continuance - or maybe their interest is outweighed by sensible self-preservation - but after all, they're just four middle-aged guys. And we share in their happiness. And we've got the tapes. Those were scary years: the millennium clock counting down, resources dwindling, cliff edges growing nearer seemingly on all sides, deathly voices of unremembered times welling up from below, the boneyard of the past...

I wish to go back, sometimes, but also, certainly, to return afterward. Always remember that 'Go toward the light' is not an invitation to more life - and neither is 'Come into the dark.' That was the serpent's-voice of Chance calling out, but we (with this quartet of artists we love) content ourselves instead with Change, which is inexhaustible. And who'd begrudge his fellow human being's contentment, anyhow? Isn't that one of the things we came for?

You should seek out this show, along with (unquestionably) 10/19 through 10/23, 10/12, and (you have the hard drive space after all) the whole rest of the tour when you get a chance. That's a simple answer to the hard question, I guess.


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