After Friday night's stellar show, I'll admit to facing this assignment with some amount of trepidation. I was worried about having to review a show that in all likelihood would be below the heights reached on the 25th. Well, let's say that there was no reason to worry - last night stands at least equal and maybe above its partner, and the two shows were of such high quality that we will be talking about the Worcester '13 run for years to come. Now, on to the show!
I was anxious to see what changes the DCU Center (née Centrum) had made, especially after reading Parker's excellent preview. Well, if any of you were worried, it is the same old Centrum - a cozy little barn of a hockey rink that has been the site of many amazing Phish shows. The concourse was a little cleaner and brighter, but bathroom lines were still long and getting in and out of the building was still a long and annoying process. Sound on the floor was great, although when I ventured into the stands during Prince Bathroombreak Friday night, things were a little boomy and echoey.
There is nothing like the vibe at a Phish show after an awesome show the night before. There is a buzz in the room, with everyone wondering "can they top that?". Saturday night kicked off with a super upbeat "Party Time" that got everyone moving. "PYITE" followed, a very tight version that kept the energy levels high. With some of Trey's delay loops still fading from the end of "Punch," the band launched into a "Back on the Train" with an infectious groove that kept everyone dancing (and "dancing" as the word is interpreted by middle-aged white guys). BOTT had some delicate guitar work by Trey that was really quite nice. When they launched into "My Soul," I figured I knew what type of first set this was going to be: a Saturday night dance party (for the bros, think about it). But "Bathtub Gin" changed all that. A very cool moment of Trey singing along with what he was playing on his guitar, then the jam was off to the races. The band started off with some cool almost "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" moments, and followed it up with a huge raging build to a powerful finish. Every band member was on point in this jam, which completely changed the complexion of the first set.
I was stunned to hear Page start playing the "Ride Captain Ride" electric piano riff - one of my favorite covers, and my first time ever seeing it live. And being on the floor with a bunch of friends that I've met on this trip (some in person for the first time this weekend), well it was just great. Not to mention impeccably played with some great work by Trey during the guitar solo. At this point, after some fine dance tunes, a great "Bathtub" and a rare cover, everyone in the house was probably thinking the rest of the set was just going to be a nice bonus. Phish had other plans, however. A monster of a "Stash" followed. About 8 minutes in there is a cool moment where it seemed like the jam was going to modulate into a major key, but they didn't quite get there, ratcheting up the tension. The end of the jam immediately before the coda featured some enormous guitar sound from Trey, just great work.
The "Simple" that followed gave everyone a chance to test out their sing along skills, and had a very cool chill-out section at the end of the jam. When Fishman started hitting the hi-hat that signaled the start of "David Bowie," a rumble went through the crowd, as if everyone was as surprised as I was that we were getting another jamming tune in this excellent first set. The jam started in a very chill, almost breakdown like fashion, with a typical - and typically awesome - "Bowie" build. A completely unnecessary "Zero" closed out the 86 minute set (the Bowie would have been a fine endpoint) - but Trey was clearly feeling it on guitar and wanted another chance to shred. If you are like me, you barely ever listen to first sets, but give this one a chance - there is some great stuff in there, particularly the "Gin" to "Bowie" sequence.
Set two started off with a brief announcement from Page updating us on the World Series score, but the less said about that game, the better. On the other hand, one can't say enough about the "Drowned" that kicked off the second set. They blazed through the composed section as men possessed, as if they knew they were going to drop a bomb of a jam. The jam kicked off with Trey playing with a cool watery effect, and then quickly dissolved into a spacey section not unlike some of the middle parts of Pink Floyd's "Echoes." Cool interplay between Page on synth and Trey using pedals here, with some crowd pleasing bass bombs from Mike. About ten minutes in, the whole band latched onto some rhythmic riffs. This lasted a couple minutes until Trey started playing some huge anthemic chords, which I thought might signal the end of the jam, but instead lead to a very chill happy melodic section. The major key melody built and built to a huge peak, which they then broke down into a short spacey interlude that immediately led into "Light." Just seeing a jam like this was amazing, and I would have gone home happy but the band was not done.
"Light" has probably been the number one jam vehicle of 3.0, and this version was no exception. This jam featured some excellent work on the clavinet by Page, which the whole band latched on to and expanded into a fantastically danceable funky theme. This went on for a few minutes until Mike busted out the envelope filter, sending the crowd into a frenzy, with (I think) Fishman adding some random "Heys!" in time with the beat. And you know what they say, any jam where a band member is yelling is a great one.
Amazingly, this wasn't the end of the jamming - "Sand" quickly followed the end of "Light." The opening of "Sand" seemed a bit slower and funkier than typical, and then Trey kicked it into high gear with some powerful chords. A hot version to be sure, but fairly restrained in comparison with the top 3.0 versions of this tune. The "Theme From the Bottom" that followed was great, with only a couple flubs by Trey in the technically tricky bridge section. Following "Theme" I was astounded to hear the opening riff of "Mike's Song" and what a "Mike's" it was! A unique version by 3.0 standards, this Mike's featured Trey playing some very cool fills with some delay on them for good measure. Still no second jam, but this Mike's is must hear. Following the coda, the band quickly launched out into space, and where I was expecting to hear the plaintive opening notes of "I Am Hydrogen," instead I felt Page's watery synth riffs wash over me signifying "No Quarter". Aside from a slight clam at the beginning of the tune in which your webmaster and I shared a grimace, this version of the tune absolutely rocked, and also made me a believer that the band absolutely needs to do a Zeppelin album at some point, if not this year. They would kill it. A typically fiery "Weekapaug Groove" closed out what was a thrilling second set.
When the band came out for the encore, my wife said to me "why is Fishman wearing that funny hat?" It appeared to be a Fishman donut snow hat. The band then launched into Boogie On, and at some point the hat came off and we all realized it wasn't Fishman. Nobody had any idea who it was, but it was clear the man had serious chops. After Boogie On, Fishman came out and introduced the drummer as Kenwood Dennard, one of his favorite drummers. For a moment it appeared as if they would both play on the next tune, but Fishman just left the stage and let Dennard play on Possum. This was a cool decision, because the presence of Dennard made this Possum one of the coolest, funkiest and unique versions the band ever played. I'm unsure if Mike changed up his bass line to try to lead the beat or what, but if you haven't heard it, imagine Possum played with a funk band rhythm section and you'll have some idea what this sounded like. It turned a typical rocking Possum encore into something spectacular.
I'm not great at ranking shows, and almost every time I attend a show it gains points in my mind just because the experience at a Phish show is so awesome, so it is hard for me to place this show into any sort of historical context. But if forced to compare the two Worcester shows I attended, however, I think I would give the nod to this show over Friday night, mostly because I loved the Drowned jam and because the jamming in the first set was so solid. But you'll get no argument from me if you want to pick Friday, because the jams in that second set were truly excellent. Bottom line, these were two excellent shows that sit proudly in the Worcester tradition of classic Phish. Definitely give them both a listen!
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February 26, 1997
20 years ago
Encore: Highway to Hell
 Heavy metal outro.
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