Friday 06/03/2011 by ericwyman

PNC REVISITED

The onset of summer tour has certainly produced a lot of conversation here on the blog and in the forum. First and foremost, thank you for your participation! Please don't let my conviction deter you from telling me I'm a dumbass, which I am. That being said, there has been an overwhelming discussion on what makes a good review and what doesn't. There's no real answer to that, but all I can say is that for me what follows is my opinion. It's critical in nature, but I'm not attempting to say that this is the de facto version of a show's story. We all have different experiences and we should engage in discussing our opposing viewpoints, not questioning whether they are correct. So please, let me know what you think. I feel very strongly about these ideas, but it's not a doctrine I'm putting forth.

With three shows in Bethel, NY to open the 2011 summer tour, Phish provide several standout moments over the course of last weekend. As the tour moved south to New Jersey, I was interested to see whether they pick up on the momentum of the first two shows or get sucked into the mid week vortex.

After an energy building Chalk Dust opener at PNC in Homdel, things took a dramatic shift into the second song with Roggae. I, for one, love this combination. There are times when the energy builds so high in the first three or four songs that the eventual come down feels like a lead weight. Placing up-tempo and down-tempo together creates an amazing balance, not to mention that Roggae is one of the best choices in this category. When PYITE begins, there’s a sudden uptick right back to post-CDT. Great setlist orchestration by Trey here. By the time that Sand rolled around, everyone took the opportunity to stretch out the jam a little more. Trey provides some pretty little repetition and scale work by Trey around the 6 minute mark, but listen to Page. The layer he creates here is indicative of how awesome he is playing right now and demonstrates an addition to things that I don’t think he was making previously. After this however, the wheels come off the set. While Tube was finely executed, I wholly expect it to be the next popular battle-cry for “song most in need of extending” now that Halley’s has gotten the treatment. From the beginning of Divided Sky, Trey seemed uncomfortable and at the 2:38 mark he loses the handle and just takes a break. Remarking to the crowd “I did that on purpose”. In what had to be a cathartic moment for such an irregular trouble, Trey just lets the rest of the band proceed to a point where he can easily come back in. This is one thing that makes Trey so endearing. At his core, he is still just a guy entertaining a crowd and at certain moments that speaks more to his ability than any extended jam can.

When Phish began the second set, they picked up right where Sand left off. Using After Midnight as a jam vehicle the band pushed the improv led by Mike through most of the first half. As was heard in Sand, Page and Trey slowly begin to take their own turn with the melody shortly before turning into Possum. After Midnight was well executed treat and felt like an appropriate time for the exploration. Possum is quickly becoming "one of 6 choices in a jukebox" annoying. I don't care how hard you danced, the song is lacks any real interesting facets and doesn't need to be played every third show. Drowned features a nice little synth segment at about it's midpoint, with Trey building a corresponding eerie melody that almost foreshadows moments we will find in the following show. You Enjoy Myself closed the set and while it was perfectly fine, it was overall another uneventful version.

When the second show opened First Tube, Stealing Time and Camel Walk it was yet another blistering opener to a show. Heavy Things was a relatively odd choice, but the Gotta Jibboo really got the show moving with a slow groove that Trey settles comfortably on top of for several minutes of very nice soloing. Shortlly there after came the second Kill Devil Falls, a version that shrugged right back to its roots leaving the fantastic improvisation behind in Bethel. The first set highlet however, was the Split Open and Melt that followed. With a slow build and magnificent tension and release, this is a version you want every time. A good set with good flow and no let downs as Page slayed yet another breakdown in Suzy to close the set.

Second set began with absolute fire. An opening tweezer ... which led into an absolute throwdown bustout cover, Led Zeppelin's No Quarter. The song which finds its Phish roots in Page's Vida Blue arsenal was perfectly executed in ever fashion conceivable. Zeppelin is in some ways the perfect sound for Phish when they put the time and effort into getting it right. While every Halloween costume has been amazing in its own way, Zeppelin still feels like the missing piece. This was another great example of them killing it once again. Back this up with a powerful opening to Carini there was the sense that this set could be an quintissential rager. But the Carini jam quickly fluttered with an awkward transition into Piper and things started to unravel. Just as Piper began to have movement, it was chopped off for Twist, which got the same treatment for Ghost and then finally BDTNL. These songs lasted approximately 6, 6, 9, 8, and 11 minutes long respectively. To be honest, I'm shocked they were even that long, because the vibe of actually listening to them is much more stunted and abrupt. I am subscribing to the theory that this was 100% a creation of the early curfew time. Phish, reportedly, blew threw curfew on Tuesday and if so lost some money as a result. By the time Carini got cooking, it's almost as if Trey looked at the setlist and thought "oh shit, we better get going to get through this". The result was hurried and sloppy and begs the question, why not just remove a song or two there. If they play a set that looks like:

After Midnight

Possum

Drowned

Carini

Piper

Ghost

E: BDTNL, Tweezer Reprise

They would have been heralded for their patience. Instead the overwhelming reaction was one of criticism and questions as to why a set could be so choppy. Which isn't to say that there's poor playing in here, there isn't. This is completely a matter of taking time and crafting a complete performance. After 5 shows, we're seeing results in the first set that are far above average for 3.0 and second sets that have no ability to maintain energy for the entire time. I think it's just a few wrong turns, but I'm looking forward to writing about great sets this weekend instead of trying to identify what's wrong.

Current 2011 show rank: Bethel 1, Bethel 2, PNC 2, PNC 1, Bethel 3

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Comments

, comment by joechip
joechip Nice job, interesting thoughts.

One point I'd make is that there was nothing really wrong with Set 2 of PNC 2 on paper...I mean, it doesn't look like too many songs for each of them to get fully developed and resolve in a satisfying way...for whatever reason it didn't happen I guess, curfew or whatever.... I know when I saw the setlist I expected the show to be getting raves.

A sign worth getting optimistic about: The best improvisations of the young tour have come out of unexpected songs. Who would've thought they'd play great jams out of Number Line, Halley's, Boogie On, KDF and Waves, while basically laying an egg in the first versions of Piper and Ghost?

I'm glad they're keeping us on our toes a bit.
, comment by tmwsiy
tmwsiy Funny the notion that so many people believe Phish has always been a jam band & that that is what they do. It is the exception, not the rule. To be shocked when Phish doesn't take out a deep extended jam belies their history. (Barring some notable brief stretches) This was a pretty good two-show run but not above average nor did they shit the bed on either night. Night 1's first set had plenty of highlights and was definitely pleasing. Night 2's Tweezer > No Quarter was enough to have made it worth the trip for me. Phish is special, but every song is not, nor is every show. Always been that way. Always been with the Possum too. Frankly, I'm much happier for them to pick something from the "jukebox" and rock it out rather than sleepy bullshit or a cappella or any of the other time wasters they've done in the past. They are playing well now and I do think the table has been set for a pretty good summer.
, comment by mgouker
mgouker It was a lot more satisfying hearing it on tape though. They were definitely rushing the curfew this time, though, and I think it's a bad trend. I'm ready for my 4 minute Ghost in Raleigh... grumble...

, comment by MikesGuitar
MikesGuitar I was at PNC night 2, and totally agree with your critique of the show. My expectations were not low per se, but they were by no means high. Here's a band that has been together for like 30 years, playing some songs that are almost as old, on top of all of their previous accomplishments and standards they have set for themselves and fans expect of them. Sometimes I feel that the hyper-fan base that is the Phish scene almost makes it difficult (for me at least) to even get really excited about the shows. It hard to feel an intimate connection with a band that is now so plugged in; being there for$60 is sort of crazy when this show will ALWAYS be available for free, videos are taken and so forth. I understand that it is a sign of the times and that Phish really probably wants nothing more than to connect with more and more of their fans in current ways. I guess what this screed is really all about is more on the fact of these immense expectations that are impossible to fulfill. And its not that the band plays badly, it just seems like we are never truly satisfied unless we get that one insane show, ie Utica or Halloween run.
Thinking about curfew too, what the hell? Imagine if places would just let the thing run it's course and bands could play all night long. Allmans would play until 6am! That's and event, not a statistic provider that Phish shows seems to be. That being said I love Phish and had a great time with great people which is way cooler than music I don't personally create!
, comment by TheVic
TheVic Eh-hem...I guess Maze was totally forgotten. It's weird that in 5 comments not a single mention of Maze...and two people I ran into both gave Maze a shrug of the shoulders. Maybe I'm crazy, but when you get a Maze (or most any Rift-album song) you should be happy.

That said, I enjoyed both 2nd sets at PNC, but I missed the 1st set, 1st night and arrived just in time. It's a wonderful thing being a Phish fan and living in central NJ...no phiner place to live if you want to see a lot of Phish and take off little work!!!

later
, comment by tmwsiy
tmwsiy @TheVic said:
Eh-hem...I guess Maze was totally forgotten. ..(or most any Rift-album song) you should be happy.
Agreed, the Maze was better than most though I am not a huge fan of it. The only songs from Rift that I enjoy seeing live are My Friend, Wedge, & Mound. The rest I could do without.
, comment by MrJones
MrJones "I don't care how hard you danced, the song is lacks any real interesting facets and doesn't need to be played every third show."

I scared my dogs, I laughed so abruptly and loudly at this ^^^ good review.

My overall feel this early in the tour is positive. It sounds like they are having fun and that is possibly the most important factor for me. Once they get bored it's back to no new Phish for us.

With regards to the flub in Divided Sky it is at least always interesting to see the bands reaction to a mistake, sometimes they catch themselves and if you were not paying attention you might not even notice the flub. But then sometimes, like this one, the only reaction is to laugh or make a joke. A rare moment in 3.0, that I have heard anyway. Makes me smile.

One other thing...

@tmwsiy said "...or a cappella or any of the other time wasters they've done in the past"

Really? A capella just a time waster? It seems to me that A capella singing is something they were interested in and took the time to learn so as to entertain their fans. Not just a cheap throw away.
, comment by pfk523
pfk523 Holy shit Batman. A Phish conversation among adults.

(totally appreciating the strong writing and grammar skills)
, comment by nichobert
nichobert For a guy that seems to like improv a lot, I'd guess you would have put some more words to that Tweezer. I thought the way the jam crested and moved into ambient territory while Fish kept playing some quiet but angular breakbeats underneath as the band continued moving the jam downward was the kind of thing I'd love to show Phish and go "Hey, this is a great way to play a concise ambient jam without abruptly pulling out of it and while still keeping it rhythmic enough that it could conceivably go back upwards into another jam if you ever wanted to do that: ;)

The rug getting yanked out from under the Carini jam was so frustrating after they perfectly nailed the balance between spacing out and keeping the show moving in the ending of Tweezer. That jam immediately got cool after the solo and then lasted 30 seconds. No!!

"A sign worth getting optimistic about: The best improvisations of the young tour have come out of unexpected songs"

I totally agree here..and once again, I think this would be a great thing to be able to talk to Phish about. I can understand the reluctance to launch into 20 minute jams at this stage in their career, but the idea of stretching everything out a little bit while leaving the option to continue outward further if they're feeling it seems great to me. I'd be really stoked to see a Phish that was determined to add new wrinkles and play these succinct thematic improv bridges between songs. I guess my head just isn't where the band's is at, if I happened to be in the best band on the planet I probably would have jammed out Bouncin by now ;)
, comment by pfk523
pfk523 "Sorry, you haven't commented enough to vote."

Hey Mr. Administrator guy, FUCK YOU
, comment by nichobert
nichobert And fwiw, I love the general sound of the band's improv right now. Even when it comes in all too short snippets before the next song's intro riff comes out of nowhere in a different key & tempo from the preceding jam. Like i said, I get it if they don't want to be some uber-jamband like the Disco Biscuits and add 10-20 minutes of improv to every song, but a lot of these segues that felt abrupt could have been masterful if Trey would hold off for another 15-60 seconds and work the common ground between the improv & the next tune. Both Tweezer segues felt really natural, glad to see this side of the band poking through!

I just hope that Superball features the boys letting it all hang out a few times. When you've gotten 80,000 people out to a field for a weekend and you're the only band on the bill, it seems like you might want to up the improv percentage a little bit and really play with the idea of taking so many people on a magical journey through sound and light.
, comment by pfk523
pfk523 I can say FUCK but cant like somebody's post? I only vote on Tuesdays anyhow. Oh and if you need a DBA holla.
, comment by Beans_NJ
Beans_NJ Really people! That pnc2 show was a walk in the park for them. They gave up forget rushing. That ghost and twist were was too short not to mention the piper. Screw the piece of paper in front of u Trey and play with the mood of the night. It was a constant buzz kill from no quarter on! IMO.
, comment by findyourcity
findyourcity Just listened to that split open and melt and it's definitely got to be up there with my favorites. I hear you about pnc2 set2 but I thought the # line made up for slightly shorter ghost and all that. I think pnc was two shows where there were a few lackluster performances of songs surrounded by some amazing stuff and great vibes. These were not the best shows ever, but still got some real top-notch 3.0 in there. The icing on the cake for me being the huge tweezer > no quarter in the thunder storm. Sick.
, comment by ericwyman
ericwyman @nichobert said:
For a guy that seems to like improv a lot, I'd guess you would have put some more words to that Tweezer. I thought the way the jam crested and moved into ambient territory while Fish kept playing some quiet but angular breakbeats underneath as the band continued moving the jam downward
Yes! I agree completely. I will admit it has been a bit of a challenge to be concise in these multi-show recaps. Gotta skip some stuff for the sake of brevity.
, comment by djmeneses
djmeneses Really great review! Keep up the good work.
, comment by spencer
spencer Dude, concise solid review. The balance between pointing out the good and the not so good-right on the money. It is appropriate for a fan base like ours to be critical, in fact I would argue that it helps drive the band to the (hate to use this word) "epic" performances they can accomplish. However it is important to make sure we are pointing out the magic they do put out there every time they play as well. Even the worst Phish shows have their special moments and we do ourselves a dis-service not to acknowledge them. Cheers on the review!
, comment by ericwyman
ericwyman You should be buying a copy of Pine Knob right now. Recap coming as soon as I can!!!!

6/3/11 - Clarkston, MI
, comment by april81972
april81972 People who complain about flubs, dud shows, short versions, throwaway songs, etc. etc. etc. must not be fans of the Grateful Dead. One can only imagine how the 'hyper-fans' nowadays would critique Bobby or Jerry messing up the lyrics to a song (which happened virtually EVERY night), or playing an uninspired version of PITB. Could you imagine what people would be saying if the Dead were playing today and Jerry screwed up the crescendo to Morning Dew?

I've been seeing these guys since 1994. I was a skeptic when they came back from their 'hiatus.' I heard the tapes and just wasn't convinced they could take me to the place they took me while growing up with them.

I've seen four shows now since the holiday run and am scheduled to see two more next weekend. While there's no way they'll ever take me back to MSG 1994, they are certainly having a hell of a time up there and making pretty special music. That No Quarter the other night is up there with my all-time Phish concert highlights.

They're been together and touring for close to 30 years. If you expect every single song to be a masterpiece, then you need to start listening to more bands, because you'll just drive yourself nuts searching for that perfect show. It just ain't gonna happen. Be happy that they can take us to that special place...most of the time a few times an evening.
, comment by lizardkind
lizardkind I'm gunna preface my comments with my buddy and I were contempting quitting our respective jobs and goin on the summer tour. I talked him as well as myself out of it to just do the superball the right way and not hustle (too much).
While I've only had the pleasure of checking setlists on the regular with texts from friends at shows I can say it is overwhelming positive feedback.
I hope to get an acapella or some reba whistles or another crazy meatstick. Furthermore, after seeing the second set in michigan hearing I missed IT which was a jam filled 6 song second set. Jams are back!!!
, comment by B_rye
B_rye @tmwsiy said:
Funny the notion that so many people believe Phish has always been a jam band & that that is what they do. It is the exception, not the rule. To be shocked when Phish doesn't take out a deep extended jam belies their history. (Barring some notable brief stretches) This was a pretty good two-show run but not above average nor did they shit the bed on either night. Night 1's first set had plenty of highlights and was definitely pleasing. Night 2's Tweezer > No Quarter was enough to have made it worth the trip for me. Phish is special, but every song is not, nor is every show. Always been that way. Always been with the Possum too. Frankly, I'm much happier for them to pick something from the "jukebox" and rock it out rather than sleepy bullshit or a cappella or any of the other time wasters they've done in the past. They are playing well now and I do think the table has been set for a pretty good summer.
 
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