, attached to 2016-06-24


G0NEPHISHING Phish were set to play their second and third shows of Summer Tour 2016 at Wrigley Field in Chicago on June 24 and 25. To some informed ears, tour night one up in Minneapolis had confirmed two pre-tour rumors: the band had new material to test-drive live, and they would shoot slowly out of the gate, measuring out carefully the energy and the experimentation.

Riding along in the rocket ship were three good friends. We slid into our seats twenty-five rows up from third around 7:00 PM CST. Lights at 7:38, as the sun slipped behind left field. 79 degrees and a light Lake Michigan breeze blowing in from right. Bad night for lefty longballers. Perfect night for anything else.
Even Bartman couldn’t mess it up.

Set I

Sample: Slow and languid, yet perfunctory and straight-forward at the same time. Safe but familiar way to start the show. Band felt engaged but nervous and holding back. Same for the crowd. Sound isn’t bad back where we are. Three speaker stands are scattered around the outfield at eye level (ear level?). Not sure how the upper decks fared, but from our vantage point, upstairs was cocked, locked and ready to rock.

2. CDT: Same. Type 1 all the way.

3. Martian Monster: such a great tune. This and “Your Pet Cat” are far and away my favorites from Halloween 2014. Tragically short, though, clocking in at 4:46. The Vegas debut was almost 10 minutes longer. Just as we were sliding into the groove, Trey fades out into the opening notes of “Rift.” Things beginning to get real for our crew and compatriots.

4. Rift: It’s not my favorite tune musically, but I’ve grown to appreciate the lyrics. It also isn’t the easiest song to dance to. So this was a great chance to watch with my ears for a few minutes, disengage from the stage and look around. A sudden tap on my shoulder from the walkway behind me. It’s a colleague of mine who works in federal government I.T. We had spoken on the phone a few times, but I had only met him in real life two nights prior. Phish never came up. And yet, there he was parked on my six, having a ball. Only at Phish.

5. Yarmouth Road: I like the key changes of this song, and the reggae beat. I also like it when Trey gives everyone a turn at the mic. But…well, meh.

6. Sand: popped up earlier in the show than normal, or at least earlier than it has in recent years. Always a great tune with an inviting opening to experiment, both on the dance floor and on the stage. At 9:49, the longest show of Set I. Jam stayed Type 1, without a whole lot of divergence from a standard “Sand” groove. But this was the first song after the sun had dipped below the walls of Wrigley, so we got to see Kuroda’s new rig emerge in the gloaming. I absolutely love the additional panels and screens…it allows for such a greater range of effects, video clips and animations. Not sure where CK5 got the inspiration, but the new flat screens behind and flanking the band look suspiciously like section versions of what you’ll see at a GirlTalk “concert.”

7. Miss You: new Phish! 7:46 of repeating a standard three chord progression, sorta-pretty solo like every other new-ish Trey Ballad. As @HeyScotty wrote in his recap, “Unlike The Rolling Stones’ song of the same name, Phish’s ‘Miss You’ is a slow burning ballad in the same vein as ‘Show Of Life’ and ‘Joy.’” But do we really need another “Joy”? Was this written in acknowledgement that an aging fan base needs more bathroom breaks than they used to? If that’s why it came to be and popped up when it did, then Phish, I salute you for your fan-focused sensitivity. I think Trey, though, picked up on the crowd’s reaction to “Miss You.” As the final notes rang in the cool midsummer’s eve, Trey mentioned that the band is, “Working’ on a new album. That was one of the songs from it, so we might play a couple more. We don’t know yet. You guys are the greatest…ever. Thank you for giving us the confidence to try out these new tunes. Really means a lot.” Can’t say I’ll be missing this one, Bob.

8. The Wedge: Sun slips further down as Fishman starts the always-amazing syncopated intro to “The Wedge.” This song has grown on me a lot over the years. I used to — don’t laugh — confuse this with “Rift.” Dropping into the semi-composed solo section around 2:30, the Chairman of the Boards starts getting up, so we can start getting down. Wonderful if abbreviated pastiche on the grand piano. Side note: I thought throughout the two shows Page and Fishman were the standouts (Page on night one, Fish on night two), with Mike virtually absent, and Trey taking home a solid B average across the weekend (C+ on night one, A- on night two).

9. Free: standard as they come. Not a whole ton of hammer-down on what should be a hammer-down song.

10. Blaze On: The midnight banger from New Years 2015 sets the standard in my book. And every fresh-faced, wide-eyed fan gets to snicker at the double entendre smoldering in the title. Good, punchy build baked into this song’s structure. Why they didn’t take this one for a ride in Atlantic City during Halloween 2014, I will never know. This is heaps better than 2/3 of what the played during the “Wingsuit-Proto-Fuego” set. Clocking in at a shade under 8 minutes, this closed a totally Type 1 opening set that contained but a few minutes of jamming scattered across its 70 minutes.

Set II
1. DWD: Lights at 9:26 CST for the 10th DWD second frame opener I’ve seen. La Decima Disease. Though many think it could use a little relocation, I love it here. Perfect launchpad. 5 minutes in and the jams starts. Page continuing his lovely grand piano fills from Set I. 6:55, he slides to the organ, then back to the ivories a few measures later. 8:30 he’s back on the organ with one hand, piano with the other as Trey starts quieting it down. 8:45: that’s my MuTron! Love how Big Red has worked this distinctively Jerry effect into his chemistry set. Adds a lovely new layer, rounding off and softening the edges of plinko-y rhythmic passages. I wish we heard more of it. 9:15: Fishman starts transitioning to a more driving, high-hat-heavy backbeat. Fighting Trey initially, who seems like he wants to take this to a super spacy, dirty late 1.0/trademark 2.0 place. But no, Fishman is emphatic that we aren’t revisiting the Oxy Years tonight. 11:20: there’s Mike. Surfacing to join Fishman in pushing the beat forward, faster and fuller. Trey and Page jump in the life boat, though Page is clearly digging a funkier direction, smattering 2001-ish fills throughout. 13:45: Trey flips to a majestic progression, moving up the fretboard with calls then responding to himself lower down. Still feel like they’re searching for something to hold onto. Save a brief few passages, there isn’t much direction to this Disease. No one is stepping up to point out the pathway. 15:50: fade to a classic 3.0 ambient washout, which is such a lovely new gear to their music. But in this case, it was a call to the bullpen. Given the alternative, I’ll take an ambient segue over a ripcord any day. The relief pitcher? A fire-breathing heat-hurler named…

2. Fuego: Fun to hear the crowd chant the chorus. Trey clearly likes this tune, at least singing it. (Must be a screamer?) The breakdown coming back into the main Fuego theme is a nice, I’m-in-the-garage-wailing-with-the-boys-and-just-discovered-distortion way. During the “rolling” outro, another nice laugh for the crowd. 5:50: they drop out of the composed section but still stay in Type 1 territory. 6:55: another pretty and purposeful melodic progression from Trey that vaults them allllmost into Type 2, but Mike keeps it pinned to the “Fuego” bass line. 8:35: Trey briefly echoes the main melody. Effortlessly nails it without missing a note. But a minute later we get the full on “Fuego” chords, and another fast fade to an ambient transition to Twist. These segues are like you would find on a studio album: 10 seconds or so on each end of the divide, like the producer just knobbed down the volume so he could get on with the session.

3. Twist: This is another lyrical Marshall masterpiece, and one of my favorite vehicles for exploration. I also love the sultry, slinking swing of it. Santana could absolutely wail on “Twist.” Anyone who can pluck a pentatonic scale can wail on it. This song has changed significantly since its debut back while Phish was busy destroying America in 1997–1998, and I wish they would bring back the patient, stripped-down opening from those days and from the album version immortalized on Farmhouse. My favorite “Twist” remains the epic Island Tour cut, painted by an equally watershed performance by CK5. 6:25: Mike, is that you? Can you speak up? You ready to take the scarf off and start something? 8:00: I believe we now have a pulse from Cactus. Locks with Fishman to pick up the pace, taking us smoothly to a brief taste of Type Two…until Trey veers back to what I think is the G#M main theme. 9:25: dirty Trey returns with heavy distortion, middle reverb and a light touch on the MuTron. Side note: throughout the two shows, Trey was definitely toying with the dirty-dirty from the old days, especially a heavily distorted reverb. The acoustics of the ballpark battered around his echo effects to great…effect. 11:25: Trey leads us into a new, descending progression. Fish and Mike jump right on it. 10 seconds later, Page is there. And we are on a whole new plane, one of the now-familiar 3.0 major key happy plateaus built by the relentlessly back-beating octopus arms of Jon Fishman. Now, we are hearing solid creative purpose emerging, along with an increasingly apparent level of comfort and wordless communication on stage. 14:45: Another swift studio segue.

4. Twenty Years Later: If one had to use the restroom, this would’ve been the moment. All I’ll say about this cool down song is that a) I’m glad we got Fish a rest, and b) does Phish have the most kayak-themed originals out there? Off the top of my head, there’s Twenty Years Later and PYITE. That’s two, which actually does not mean a lot. Know of any others? Could be a slick co-branding opportunity. Or not. To be fair, the song’s guitar breakdown/outro is nice and hard-rock in the best way.

5. Waste: a perfectly-placed treat. One of my companions was dying to hear it live, so I was even more glad it popped up. Sure, it’s not on most jaded vets’ second set wish list, but so what? A pretty, interesting chord progression and lovely, simple solo for the guitar and for the keys, whether it’s off an album or live, though I think that Trey has struggled hard to sing the “come waste your time with me” outro since at least the version on “Bittersweet Motel.” Just hard to hear him try to hit and hold those notes. Too much time spent hanging with Kid Rock took its toll on the vocal chords? Recognizing things have perhaps gotten a tad too feelings-y, they slammed down into one of my all-time favorites.

6. 2001: the argument could be made that, if you are making the case to a skeptical civilian to both appreciate the singular musical skills of the Boys from Vermont AND convince them that these are the funkiest bunch of white guys around, “2001" is a great Exhibit A. It also happens to be their most flat-out danceable jam in my book. I would donate a kidney to see a vintage Great-Went-style “2001" some day. This baby could be 6 minutes (like the Wrigley version), 16 minutes or 60 minutes and it would still get even the most rhythm-less hips gyrating. Alas, tonight would give us a brief dip into THE FUNK BAG.

7. Backwards Down the Number Line: before the show, in discussing the songs we wanted to hear and NOT hear, this was near the top of the list for the latter. Yes, I get how the song means to Trey and Tom and ultimately the whole band. And yes, I have heard a few ripping, extended versions live and a few more on couch tour. Just isn’t for me…though I have yet to encounter a fan who puts this in their top five. But, given the sprawling Phish oeuvre, I guess there are many that don’t crack top fives. My peace has been made. Let’s move on.

8. Loving Cup: an energetically played version that stayed in its lane. Did its job. Wham, bam, thank you ma’m. A lower-case exclamation point on a second set, and a show, that so far had some fun moments but no real must-listen highlights. As we awaited the encore, I ruminated on the old saw about golf: that a bad day on the golf course is better than a great day anywhere else. The same fully applied to June 24, 2016 at Wrigley. Until…

1. Space Oddity: the band came out but skipped their instruments and strolled straight to the front of the stage. “Grind”? “Hello My Baby”? “I Didn’t Know”? Love Phish a-capella, which in this slot usually means we would get two tunes before bedtime. With the HARD 11 PM CST curfew looming ever larger, that was a pretty safe bet. But wait.

No idea what was about to happen. Then, with Trey in the lead, they dropped into the David Bowie all-timer. As the boys belted out “Ground Control to Major Tom…” the roar that went up from Wrigley rivaled any I have seen in 60 Phish shows, any live sporting event or any concert. Such a surprise to us all and a touching tribute to the late, great Ziggy Stardust. These guys have spent 30+ years as a band, and I have spent 16+ years a fan. The fact that they can still throw the most unhittable of sonic knuckleballs is awe-inspiring. And they absolutely nailed the entire tune, instrumental sections and sound effects included. Threw their backs into it and clearly practiced for hours and hours. Spine-tingling shivers when the whole stadium joined in for “The stars look very different tonight.” You bet your spacesuit-wearing ass they looked different. I hope that Bowie’s loved ones hear this, for I don’t think you could dream up a more fitting, Phishy and appropriately off-beat expression of admiration and appreciation for the musical genius we lost earlier this year. My two hopes are that a) “Space Oddity” reappears [Note: it did to close out Set I at Mansfield] and b) the band has an equally original, meaningful plan in the works to honor the Purple Man from Minnesota, who passed away with way too much music yet to make.

2. Antelope: An always fun cap to a set or a show. Tucker us out by demanding our best running man dance moves. Not going to say no to free baseball, or bonus Phish. But I felt then, and still do now a few weeks and re-listens later, that ending with “Space Oddity” would have been perfect.

As we made our exit/escape back to reality and a friend’s fantastically close Wrigleyville pad to cool down and process the past three and a half hours, it became clear that for at least a few nights, there would be little to no law enforcement in the area. Chicago’s finest stood at street corners and, at Addison and Clark, sat mounted on horseback. But they were focused less on cracking-down and more on keeping the civilians and the cosmic soldiers separated, moving along and filtering out into the night. Into this permissive void we strolled, surrounded by what sounded like every car in the city simultaneously getting its tires slashed. The hiss was deafening.

In the 5 blocks from the show to the safe house, we passed no fewer than 7 roving bands of the infamous Nitrous Mafia, each trailing a wake of balloon-huffing boys and girls. As a showmate, who is newer to this hilarious-if-seriously-shady aspect of the scene, observed: “This is scary, right?” It wasn’t quite like the post-show, post-apocalyptic lot in Camden, NJ, but it was damned close.

A weird and wild end to a weirdly tame Friday night spent with great friends and the best band in the world. We collapsed into bed like kids on Christmas Eve, wound up and giddy.

What would we find under the tree on Saturday?


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