From the editors: For this installment of our Summer Tour Recaps, the editors of Phish.net wanted to extend an invitation to Peter Skewes-Cox (aka @ucpete) to offer his perspective on Friday night’s return to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Peter is a San Francisco native and longtime West Coast fan who in the last few years has become a more avid contributor to phish.net by reviewing shows and annotating as many teases as he can.
The 20th show of Summer Tour 2013 (and this reviewer’s 25th show since 1999) brought Phish to the place where being a dirty hippie was invented. A place I’m proud to call “home”. The tour has started off quite well, and has only continued to gather more steam (and rain) as the band knocks out its annual West Coast Swing. The anticipation in the crowd of 7,000 was palpable, and it seems in every direction one could hear a conversation involving “Tweezer”, “Tahoe”, and “37 minutes”. Not only was the “Tahoeezer” fresh in everyone’s minds, but the last time the band was at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, this happened. Would the band drop a 38 minute Ghost tonight, replete with “WOOO”? Or would they “revert” back to the fluid, well-structured, cohesive sets of July? Would the first of three be the “song-driven” show? Would there be a much-wanted Dead sit-in or cover for three San Francisco shows falling in the week between Jerry’s birthday and the anniversary of his death (somehow I got both in my first two shows and haven’t had either since)? Let’s find out…
For only the third time ever (each time in 3.0), “Free” starts us off around 8:08 PM, and it’s clear the band means business. The sound is well mixed, the lights shine brightly from the start (remember, we’re indoors!), and the band is locked in from the first notes. It’s business as usual for Phish 2013, and we get a little taste of the funk when the jam comes around. Mike’s got a little extra gravy on his meatballs and Trey provides some spot-on melodic complements in the space Mike leaves for him. The improvisation comes to a nice but standard-for-“Free” peak, and after a short huddle we get our first rarity of the night, “Meat” (41 shows). This is only the 7th “Meat” in the last 13 years, and it’s been played exactly once each year in the Phish 3.0 era. It provides a little more first set funk, and has a nice extended ending that features perfect timing in the stop-start sections as well as an atypical wah-infused breakdown from Trey, a little extra Hammond mustard from Page, and Mike milks his bass a little more before the stop-start turns into a full stop. “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” (42 shows) has a little more rust than “Meat” but gets the job done, and gives the crowd 90 seconds to guess whether we’d get “Suzy Greenberg” or “AC/DC Bag” next – but those in the know knew it was too early yet for “Suzy”. While this “Bag” is on the standard side, it serves its purpose in “getting the show on the road”, and the ending winds up (as usual) before winding down into a short but chaotic piano-driven bit that serves as a nice bridge to “Vultures”. It’s almost like the band was reviewing the Alpine 2012 setlists before the show, as only five songs in, “Vultures” is the third rarity (41 shows) last played in Wisconsin on the last Summer Tour. After shaking off a bit of rust, the band starts moving in on a jam that takes this song to new heights. I’m not sure what we officially call them, but the “Eastern-like scales” that Trey has been honing the last few years work perfectly for “Vultures”, and Trey integrates them on-the-fly as if they were part of the original composition. While Trey circles ‘round-and-‘round, Page pecks all the meat off the bones with his clattering and crashing on the Baby Grand while Mike and Fish hold the bottom down. Though the show had already started off in a most interesting fashion, this “Vultures” jam represents the first “must hear” moment of the evening (if you’re impatient, skip to about 5:20 in the LivePhish) recording. After this amazing show of improvisation, we get our first official recollection of Lake Tahoe, with the crowd filling the space between the band’s closing doublets with “WOOO!”-s. Trey had a goofy grin on his face afterwards.
After a brief pause and another short discussion, fan-favorite “Roggae” gets the nod for the first time since the historic and previously-mentioned 8/19/12 show at the same venue (I had the bad luck of only attending BGCA1 and BGCA2 last year despite BGCA3 being my birthday – though my “consolation” was a healthy baby boy so I ain’t mad). While this “Roggae” doesn’t approach the level of improvisation seen two years earlier at the Gorge, this rendition certainly is no slouch. The band turns on the hose and doesn’t let up until the crowd is saturated and satisfied. This tune’s sheer beauty is enough to make a grown man cry, straight up – though I must admit I’m a softie for the tune. It also serves as a reminder that the circus is the place for all of us who have no qualms about dropping whatever it is we’re doing to chase these guys and their jams around the country. Rather than dwelling in the euphoric aftermath of “Roggae”, Phish presents us with our first extended improvisation of the evening. Within a few bars of “Sand” starting, the spaced-out ambience is gone and BGCA has turned into a full-on dance party. CK5 provides the perfect back drop, keeping the boys in the shadows with the lights down so we can all dance like nobody’s watching. The jam kicks off and swirls around, hinting at “Manteca” at times, “Crosseyed and Painless” at other times, and one of my friends swears he heard something reminiscent of “Fly Like an Eagle” as well. The lights grow brighter. After the hinting-but-definitely-not-teasing section, Page starts a little “Plinko” action and the lights dim again for a build. The jam grows patiently before coming to a peak -- CK5 goes nuts with the lights, which in turns leads the band to another short peak. Page brings some more crunch and we’re back to the main theme. Is this is the best “Sand” ever? Not even close. But it definitely does the trick, and I’ll take a 10 minute “Sand” in the first set any day of the week – it was somewhat surprising that it had been on the shelf for 14 shows on this tour.
The band regroups briefly for another huddle before calling for “When the Circus Comes”, the second circus reference in three songs, which was especially topical for me having taken my kids to the circus on a whim Thursday night. Trey smiles when he sings “Never thought I could make it this far”, and goes on to slay the jam like he wrote the song himself. Unfortunately, the circus (i.e. the crowd) decided that this was the portion of the show to start up a conversation and much of the good will built up by the band from the rock-solid-rocking in the “Vultures”, “Roggae”, “Sand” segment had all but evaporated. The crowd chatter continued, and I swear the woman behind me thought Mike was telling her to “Babble on, baby!” during “Babylon Baby”. I’ve mentioned this before on .net, but I’ll say it again: I’m so glad that Mike and Page are writing, and even though much of the crowd wasn’t paying as much attention as I was, I had a smile plastered across my face. The jam in “Babylon Baby” had a “Party Time” feel to it towards the end, though perhaps that’s relatively common and that perceived allusion derives from my unfamiliarity with the tune. Perhaps sensing the loss of momentum Trey kicks off “Reba”, which starts off a little hot and never slows down, and “features” a little “Bag it! WOO! Tag it! WOOO! Sell it to the butcher in the store” action, and by this point, many of the vets begin to groan – Trey chuckles with perhaps a hint of unease. After deftly navigating through the complex composed sections (with a little hiccup in the fugal section), the pre-jam DRN-NRNT… DRN-NRNT solicits a few more dispersed WOOOs and a concomitant number of groans and eye rolls. I heard: “Are we really doing this now?”, “This isn’t a String Cheese show…”, “These noobs have no respect!” from those around me. The Reba jam starts off with some playfulness between Trey and Page before stepping down a notch, and patiently stays in the subdued but melodic space. I actually thought I heard a near-Dixie tease from Trey (~8:56 in LP), which is only of note because he went Full Dixie later in the night. The jam continues to build in a classic Reba way, before coalescing into a beautiful peak. Continuing with the old school feel, Trey plays some riffs that could have been ripped right from an early ‘90s “Reba”, which induces Fishman to drop the EOF signal on his toms. I wanted a few more measures, but overall this Reba delivers in spades and warrants a few more listens -- though it likely won’t be a bolded entry in the Reba Jamming Chart, it is a great Reba. They did whistle, and there was more WOOO to close out the song.
Up next, the band complemented the earlier Mike tune with a newish Page tune, “Halfway to the Moon”. The crowd didn’t seem too excited after the first few notes, and having never seen the tune live I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had complained previously this tour about Trey not performing well enough for the new Page and Mike songs, but I changed my mind last night. From the beginning of “HttM”, Page made it clear that he meant business, and Trey followed suit. One of my buddies texted me “Halfway to the Bathroom” but if he had followed through on that he would have missed some stunning full-band improvisation led by Page and Trey. Trey took some ownership and pride in this rendition of “HttM” and it was well-received on stage and in the crowd. A standard-great Golgi leads us into set break with one of the more interesting and well-played first sets of Summer 2013 to-date. There was no mind-blowing improvisation, but like many first sets on this tour, there was excellent flow with the only small lull coming in the “Circus”, “Babble On” segment. If you can only listen to half of this nearly 90 minute (!) first set, listen from the very end of “Bag” through “Sand”, and check out “Reba” and “Halfway to the Moon”.
After a few 15 minute breaks, the band comes back out looking hungry, hoping to build on the song-selection fluidity and overall tightness established early and maintained throughout the first frame. Trey’s staccato strumming means we were about to get punched, and sure enough the second frame opens with the crowd-pleasing “Punch You in the Eye”. It felt a little rushed at the start, and there was yet more WOOO action (has something gone from completely organic and unforced to so contrived and played out in such a short period of time?!). After the crowd got their WOOOs out and the band got their sea legs, they let “PYITE” breathe a little and it worked out just fine. Another buddy mentioned that this rendition was dedicated to former Giants closer Brian Wilson who just signed with the hated Dodgers: “Oh Wilson / Punch You in the Eye”.
Out of the smoke left from PYITE arises a spaciness that Mike begins to commandeer, and we figured we were in for a “Down with Disease” or a “2001”, and we were treated to the former. When the jam starts proper, the venue explodes. “DwD” stays in the box until there are some slight changes of pace introduced by Fish, and it seemed like they were heading to the oft-found spacey ambience but it didn’t actually get there (or maybe it was all in my head). The Type I power jamming steps down a notch, which leads into a brief minor-key excursion before popping right back into the box (to be clear, this is a good box to be in). The jam continues rollicking along, with no one taking complete control – some of the themes are reminiscent of the second half of the “Tahoeezer” really, or at least come from the same place in the band’s soul. The jam finally does lead into some ambient space which represented a fork in the road: would they move into something else, or would they “pull a Tahoe” and let the music play the band? I saw Trey form a standard G chord and I knew what was going to happen – my friend saw it too and bolted for the bathroom. To be clear, I don’t hate “Prince Caspian”, but the placement was a little off-putting. I thought “I better give this a chance”, though the last time the band ended DwD and started up Caspian, things really hit the fan (not the fan that was blowing Trey’s hair back all night – the proverbial one ostensibly and inexplicably covered in feces). This “Caspian” was neither long, painful, nor finished, and it was fine – the only note I took down was “longest note of 3.0?”. From cursory glances at iTunes during this post-show re-listen, it goes for a solid 68 seconds! In the settling of the dust before the typical Caspian ending, Trey gets a little fidgety and it’s clear something else is going to happen. And that thing is “Farmhouse”. Again, not a song I despise, but when Trey began playing it, all of the energy of the room disappeared. Everyone stopped dancing – total deflation. One might expect a duo like this (a beautifully played pairing, especially Farmhouse by the way) to occur as a cool-down after a long I-can’t-take-any-more segment – not as the entrée after some serious appetite-whetting hors d'oeuvres. Again, we reach another fork in the road: was that the entrée, or did we just have a bite of the dessert first? It turns out we just couldn’t wait for the cookies, though the early pairing wasn’t without some side effects.
Perhaps sensing the deflation – or, perhaps seeing everyone in the room stop dancing, start leaving to grab beers and hitting the restroom, or starting up conversations, they bust out another relative rarity: the first “Seven Below” in 46 shows. But the transition from the relative down-time to going full bore wasn’t seamless. Trey had some troubles nailing the primary riff, and there was some overall uncertainty from the foursome. And when they jumped feet first into the jam, it didn’t click right away. But it did get there eventually, and when it did, it was awesome. The jam went full “Plinko” mode for a bit, and Mike came over the top from the bottom. The “Plinko” section builds up and leads a huge release that sent shockwaves across the venue. During the post-orgasm cigarette time, the band remains fully locked in and stops on a dime: WOO! And boom, they’re back in full swing (more Tahoe ripples in the space-time continuum) – the band knows they’re back in Tahoe mode again too (more WOOO! by the way), and before we can catch our breath they’re back in double-time and outro-ing the “Seven Below” theme. Almost 14 minutes of wall-to-wall action, and the “Prince Farmhouse” is forgotten. “Theme From the Bottom” keeps the energy high – while they’re not breaking any new ground here, the jam is woven carefully, patiently, and almost perfectly. The vocal harmonies are particularly good this time around, and CK5 clearly has this one down pat, even flashing the ceiling lights whenever Page does his ivory twinkles in the intro. To further distance themselves from the cooled down end of the 3rd quarter, Fishman starts up “Harry Hood”. Page goes Frampton, Mike goes Meatball, Trey rushes into the vocals, and it’s all Hood after that. Trey drops a “Dixie” tease proper, and as they approach the final peak, Trey goes for a 37 second note (second longest of 3.0?) and he can’t help but sing along. The whole band, CK5 included, is shredding Hood every single time it’s played these days (which frankly is quite a bit).
To be honest, at this point I was expecting “Julius” or “Character Zero” and I was just going to have to be ok with it because the show had been great up to that point anyway. But they start up “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan” instead, and I was happy it wasn’t a typical “2C” but I wasn’t sure how it’d go. After the big release from the start of the jam, they quickly drop down and stay there for a bit, and then Trey goes all Woody Woodpecker staccato before bringing it back up, and before I know it I’m listening to the best “STFTFP” I’ve ever heard! The end goes completely into the Twilight Zone, perhaps subconsciously induced by the full-band vocal flub – “got a blank space for the faulty plan” (that’s how locked in these guys are, they’re even flubbing as a group!). The Twilight Zone features extra outro vocals and a looping fadeout, with some weird Fishman-induced tribal band and crowd WOO!-ing. What the hell happened there? I’m still not sure even after another listen, but I like it. I figured that was it – they’d already played for almost 80 minutes – but they start up the true closer, “Squirming Coil”. The composed section is once again tight, and Trey and Mike stick around for a bit more of the outro than usual. Unfortunately, while Page is playing a heartfelt outro (was there a tease in there?), some folks in the crowd start clapping along. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but when he’s actively changing the rhythm and progressively slowing, clapping to whatever-rhythm-you-feel-like doesn’t work. I realize I sound like a crotchety old man, but that bugged the hell out of me. Something tells me that the clappers are a complete subset of the WOO!-ers.
Because the theme of tonight’s show was “you can’t predict this setlist no matter how hard you try (except Bag after OKP)”, there was some uncertainty about what the encore would be. They hadn’t played “Loving Cup” since Toronto, and it seemed fitting that Page would start the encore alone after finishing the second set alone. Or would Trey squeeze “BDNTL” in there? It’s been a while for that too. Obviously they’d just play “Possum” right? No, no, no: “Walls of the Cave”! Again, “WotC” wasn’t groundbreaking, but to hear a balls-to-the-wall jammed out “Round Room” song with CK5 once again burning the house down with the band was a perfect way to finish this curiously but brilliantly constructed show.
As far as the second set goes, you should check out the “DwD”, the “-7”, the “Hood” and definitely the “STFTFP”, but to be honest, this whole show is put together so well that it doesn’t really make sense to listen to only parts of it. Everything’s connected and you’re missing the synergistic effects if you parse out only half the tracks. In retrospect, I think this was the “song-driven show” of the three nights; for example, tonight should contain the deep space exploration. But I will take this kind of unpredictable, bust-out-laden but largely-in-the-box (jam-wise) show over just about any other song-driven show I’ve ever heard. Plus, “Spock’s Brain” is still on the table for tonight… see you there!
Thanks for the .net staff for inviting me to be a guest reviewer – I hope I didn’t overstay my page-limit!
If you liked this blog post, one way you could "like" it is to make a donation to The Mockingbird Foundation, the sponsor of Phish.net. Support music education for children, and you just might change the world.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
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.
Phish.net is a non-commercial project run by Phish fans and for Phish fans under the auspices of the all-volunteer, non-profit Mockingbird Foundation.
This project serves to compile, preserve, and protect encyclopedic information about Phish and their music.
The Mockingbird Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Phish fans in 1996 to generate charitable proceeds from the Phish community.
And since we're entirely volunteer – with no office, salaries, or paid staff – administrative costs are less than 2% of revenues! So far, we've distributed just about $1,500,000 to support music education for children – hundreds of grants in all 50 states, with more on the way.