All right, raise your hand if you're gonna miss Couch Tour!
This event, as absorbed via the Information Superhighway in my computer chair, must have been wonderful to attend. Even the webcast was permeated with a sense of community and homecoming, and it's just a shame that it took a horrendous force majeure to make it happen. If Phish is playing, I'm either there or wishing I were, and this was most certainly true tonight.
Of course, it was the kind of night (last announced show this year, rumors afloat about another mini-or-quasi-hiatus, first show in Vermont since Coventry, loose and loping soundcheck) that stirs up disproportionate and even mythical expectations among fans. Tonight's show, while entertaining, was a reminder that expectations are best kept small.
"Chalk Dust", a song that has been far more interesting mid-set than it has in the leadoff slot since the comeback, didn't exactly find the band pouncing, and the "Moma Dance" that followed felt a bit like a second icebreaker. While many were expecting topical nods like "Water in the Sky" or "Drowned" - the latter of which would have meshed perfectly with the gallows humor of Fishman's "Hurricane Muumuu" - this "Moma" would suffice. The SS "Moma" served as metaphorical counterpoint to the way Vermont absorbed the energy of Irene, taking wind and water into its sails to achieve velocity rather than buckling or crumbling.
"NICU" arrived somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, but was capably delivered. Then "Funky Bitch" - a time-honored cover that seems to pull up just shy of its historical summit these days, and did tonight as well. "Sample in a Jar" felt its 1995 oats a bit, surprisingly, tacking on the bonus chorus that the "Bitch" jam felt to be lacking. A genuinely popping "Sample"!
My favorite "Cavern" of all time is the one that I heard at Jazzfest in 1996, primarily because the "take care of your shoes" line dropped at the precise moment that the skies puked up silver-dollar rain that quickly turned the Ray-Ban Stage infield into a pond. Tonight's "Cavern" recalled that moment for me and... well, that's one of the many reasons I love this band.
The moisture theme persisted into "Bathtub Gin". The most notable part of this "Gin" was the "Tweezer"-esque intro, which found Trey dropping out to build some long-overdue tension before the whole band landed on the one. The jam proper was about as linear as "Gin" jams get these days - if not by-the-numbers then certainly not for-the-books. "Alaska", much as I appreciate the Band-like chord changes and whimsical nature of the lyrics, dropped few jaws. The "Possum" that followed did little to remedy the set's flagging momentum.
Of course, leave it to Phish to stick the landing, as they did with a really nice "Wolfman's" > "Julius" combo. A few minutes into the "Wolfman's" jam, Trey made the first hard left turn of the night, modulating into a very unexpected harmonic space. The rest of the jam didn't quite realize the potential that was suggested in that moment, but it did signal an awakening of sorts in the arc of the set. The "Julius", though, provided the arguable highlight of the entire evening. and will gain a reputation as one of the best if not the best "Julius" of 3.0. The jam segment began like many strong "Bowies" or "Rebas", retreating into quiet ambience before patiently building to a well-earned peak. No 8/3/97 or 10/31/94 to be sure, but head and shoulders above the rest of the set, and you can quote me.
Setbreak music was "The Entertainer", deftly played by my daughter on our living room piano. [Did I mention how much I'm going to miss Couch Tour?]
Okay, I'll get this out of the way now - I loved what happened in the first half of the second set tonight. I've already spoken with a few folks who were not especially enchanted with the "Carini" but they can all get bent. When you dedicate "Carini" to Carini, you are rather obligated to deliver the goods, and tonight's "Carini" jam is precisely why I still geek out on Phish. Motion, a juxtaposition of light and dark, and a willingness to (if only occasionally) throw caution to the wind. A connoisseur's "Carini" in my book.
"Down With Disease" was perhaps most notable for a tease of the legendary Vegas "Piper". Think I'm joking, noob? Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Of course, that jam in itself references "Disease" several times, so the karmic scales are now re-balanced. Very enjoyable "Disease" even if it followed a somewhat worn trail without blasting a hole in the stratosphere.
Truly great "Slaves" couple grace and power. The 4-chord progression of this jam makes that possible, but not always achievable. We heard a particularly good "Slave" tonight in that regard; while not on par with 11/21/97 or 7/4/99, for example, this version was unrushed and finally explosive. Until I have a chance to compare formally, I'll call it a gratifying leap forward from the Tahoe rendition I saw about a month ago.
"Rock and Roll" managed to sustain this set's impressive momentum, but fell far short of this summer's consistently high watermark. [Let's all enjoy a tangent here and appreciate where this song has taken us in the last few years - peaking with the transcendant Gorge version. If that hosedown doesn't send tingles up your spine, you're on life support.] "Twist" featured some especially fleet-fingered soloing from Trey, but resolved all too quickly, bleeding into a passionate and appropos "Number Line". My inner metal-head wants to despise this song, but my unconscious won't let me and my foot won't stop tapping. The other night I had a lucid dream that I watched Phish play this at a water park, while each and every bather signed along to the lyrics in American Sign Language. Because why not.
The final three songs of the second set hardly fell short of the mark in any way, but delivered little to write home about. There's a recurring issue, it seems to me, with setlist construction. Perhaps Trey doesn't know how much time is left in the set, and makes a conservative call by decking up several (2-3) set closers in a row, where that space might have been more aptly filled with a bona fide jamming tune. For instance, I would have much preferred to hear a set-closing "Split" - a song that's slowly clawing its way back to glory and may any day break on through to the other side once more - than the unfortunately rote "Suzy" > "Zero" combo Phish chose to play tonight instead. I've said this before and I will say it again - it's time for Trey to start scripting setlists again, instead of leaving flow to chance every time Phish takes the stage. I realize it flies in the face of Phish's Power of Now aesthetic, but why not give it a try?
"Loving Cup" encore, folks, and that's all she wrote. Lovely way to spend an evening. and I extend my sincerest thanks and admiration to everyone who worked so hard to pull this together. Phish and the people who work for them are some of the finest human beings on this rock, and that's in no small part due to the "freezer" from whence they came. Please, dig deep, and give all you can.
Until next time...
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July 23, 2017
19 hours ago
Madison Square Garden
Encore: Sweet Jane
 Phish debut. Trey on drums.
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