The band and everyone in attendance at last night’s show in Columbia, MD were right where they were supposed to be. This band was never supposed to stay on hiatus after 2000. They were never meant to stay retired after 2004. There was simply too much left to be said. Thank God they came back to let us hear it.
Everything simply feels right these days with this band who have been blowing our minds now for three decades. Some shows in the current state of Phish feature multiple extended jams. Others, like the previous night’s show at Jones Beach, feature one “you have to hear this to believe it” segue after another. Still other nights, like last night, are far less exploratory and still have the ability to take the audience on a stunning musical journey. You never know what you are going to get in 2013 and that is an exciting place to find yourself as an audience member.
After a standard “Kill Devil Falls” to kick things off, the band launched into the first “Destiny Unbound” in 61 shows, the jam section of which was a perfect microcosm of the current state of Phish. The very end of the jam featured Page moving to clavinet which in turn inspired Mike to start dropping bass bombs. Even on the official LivePhish release, there is an audible crowd yell at this point. Even when strictly staying within a song’s structure, you never know what is coming in 2013 Phish.
After a typically solid “Taste,” Page stepped to the forefront for only the sixth ever performance of “Halfway to the Moon.” Interestingly, a third of those have come at Merriweather Post Pavillion. “Twenty Years Later” then led to a “Maze” that featured a little extra mustard. Just like the “Destiny Unbound,” you never know when a memorable moment is lurking around the corner.
One of those came in the form of Page’s solo in “Maze.” More accurately, it came from the rhythm trio of Trey, Mike and Fishman playing under Page’s solo. Trey started jumping up and down and got very aggressive with his rhythm guitar playing which was instantly picked up by both Mike and Fishman. The result helped launch Page’s solo to another level. The MPP crowd, which was filled with energy the entire evening, responded with an explosion of approving noise. It was one of many moments in a place where you wouldn’t necessarily expect one.
The second ever performance of the new Mike tune, “Yarmouth Road,” was followed by yet another set closing “Split Open and Melt.” While certainly less exploratory than the version from SPAC, this was a great set closer. They stayed in the typical Melt form (3 measures of 4/4 followed by 1 measure of 9/8) for much longer than they have been lately. As they frequently do with "Ghost," part way through the jam it switched to major for a brief stretch, then wound its way back to more dark and minor territory. The flow and unexpected highlights of the first set were promising.
“Down with Disease” kicked off the second set in typical rocking fashion. Stretching almost fifteen minutes, it featured a few distinct sections that were woven together seamlessly. The highlight of this jam was the completely out of nowhere return to the main theme at the end. Judging by the crowd reaction, no one in attendance saw it coming and it really set the place off. The “Free” that came next did feature a slightly extended bass solo in the middle, which Mike seemed to be ready to let go on for a good while but Trey kept things moving along.
“Bouncing Around the Room” featured one of the loudest crowd reactions of the night and was a nice breather before a very spirited “Birds of a Feather.” While it didn’t quite reach the levels of the Atlantic City "BOAF," this was an above average version with some great interplay within the band. In particular, there was a nice conversation going on between Trey and Fishman. Many people take for granted how melodically Fishman plays the drums; this jam is a great example of that. You get a drummer that phrases as well as he does and half of a band’s problems evaporate almost instantly.
Next up was the second “Harry Hood” in three shows. It is not surprising that this tune is getting so much play these days – it is creative, inspired and you can tell the band is having a blast playing it. It was definitely one of the highlights of the evening: Page on the talk box. Trey teasing “Birds of a Feather.” Mike teasing “Dog Log.” And that was all well before the jam segment even started. Trey began by soloing chordally a la the SPAC “Ghost” and took it home with some old school melodic shredding. The joy this band is playing with today is contagious.
Trey’s “Architect” made its second appearance in a Phish setting which set us up for the home stretch. “Mike’s Song” made a now common late-set appearance, and did not disappoint. There has been a very public clamoring for the second jam in “Mike’s Song” to reappear into the repertoire. While that has yet to happen, most will agree that it is resoundingly trending in the right direction.
This version was focused, energized and had different members stepping to the forefront at different points. This is how chamber music is supposed to be played. Assertive playing while having an ear always open to respond to those around you. Trey soloing melodically, then switching to rhythm guitar while Page takes the lead on the B3. Trey and Fishman trading machine gun licks at the climax of the jam. Mike playing more notes than just about any other bass player without ever playing too many or stepping on any toes. (How does he do that?!)
The middle tune of the Mike’s Groove sandwich was “Simple” which has been a particularly wonderful creative jam outlet for the band in 3.0. The last few minutes of this were a gorgeous, meandering conversation between four of the best musicians in the world. Playing together for 30 years will tend to help in the communication department. Easily a highlight of the night.
The final song of the second set was a ten minute “Weekapaug Groove” that was a fitting closer to a great set. After a standard start to the jam, Page moved to the clavinet and got his Herbie Hancock-circa-“Rockit” on, while Trey backed him up rhythmically. Mike’s playing was very sparse in the middle of this “Weekapaug,” which gave them space to do their thing. Then it returned to a more familiar, bass heavy place. Fishman even threw in a disco beat for about fifteen seconds. You never know where anything is headed nowadays, which is just awesome.
The encore was “Waste” followed by a “Good Times Bad Times” that absolutely blew the tent off of Merriweather Post Pavilion. You want to talk about a little extra mustard It literally takes your breath away when all four members plus CK5 hit one of “those” climaxes at precisely the same moment, all in perfect sync with each other and the universe. The climax of this “Good Times Bad Times” was just that – an explosion of energy that inspired reactions ranging from guttural screams to stunned silence. That’s how you end a show emphatically.
Phish left the Merriweather Post Pavilion crowd drooling in anticipation for tonight’s show. They showed off the many different strengths the band currently brings to the table and reminded us that you can’t sleep on any songs because you never know where the highlights are going to be.
We were all supposed to be there last night, getting our groove on together. Thanks for coming back, Phish.
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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