Greetings, Phish fans! Summer tour 2014 kicked off last night at Great Woods – a venue that has been housing Phish performances for over twenty years and through which a CliffNotes history of the band is told – with a performance that featured a mix of classic and familiar songs as well a measured dose of material from their new album, Fuego.
Fuego has been received favorably by the vast majority of fans as well as the mainstream press. The band seems enthused and determined to focus on that material and allow it to breathe and grow in their live performances. So, let’s splurge! Bring us some fresh wine! The freshest you’ve got – this year! No more of this old stuff!
If there is one song from the album that is already universally loved it is clearly the title track. “Fuego” (the song) seems destined to “go big” and upon the opening notes there was a palpable excitement in the air. Three live performances is far too early to project the role it may play in the repertoire, but it hasn’t yet stretched out beyond its very dense structure – any latent potential of the song remains just that, a potential, a subjunctive, a question. Is “Fuego” destined for an expansive improvisational launchpad role akin to “Light,” or is it more “Walls of the Cave” – a beloved composition that adheres closely to a fixed structure?
The move of “Wingsuit” from the opener on 10/31/13 to the closing slot on the album suggested a natural slot for the walk-off set closer, where it succeeded spectacularly at Great Woods. The song offers expansive and inviting lyrical themes and is pregnant with the emotional weight of a true rock anthem. Will it go Big, or will it be “Bug?” The upside potential is limitless – the song’s, the band’s, yours and mine. Time will tell.
A more curious and interesting case is provided by “Waiting All Night.” A lovely studio track that benefited greatly from the guidance of Fuego’s producer, Bob Ezrin, “Waiting All Night” may stand alone in a first set jukebox, launch into something more powerful, or settle nerves after an improvisational roller-coaster. Tuesday’s performance was fine in isolation but (IMHO) suffered slightly from its placement following an unusually by-the-book opening half of the second set. The “Mike’s” > “Simple” > “Free” segment was, generously and politely, a workman-like sequence that dispensed with the notion that a Phish gig’s second stanza requires improvisation, or anything new. It is really a lovely piece that will perhaps require tryouts in a number of utility roles to find its proper footing.
Turning to the improvisational meat of the show, there are three: “Stash,” the brilliant segue from “Ghost” to “Weekapaug,” and “Harry Hood.” “Stash” was fantastic and measures well against other 3.0 standouts (7/30/09 Red Rocks, 7/14/13 MPP, 10/31/10 and 10/31/13 Atlantic City), and was further enhanced by the flexing of new muscles from Chris Kuroda in new-to-2014 fractal-based mind-spinning awesomeness. “Ghost” was asleep at the switch until Fish drove the band back into “Weekapaug” – a.k.a. “Mike’s Song Second Jam” – a reprise of sorts to the same “Ghost-a-Paug” from 12/30/13 at MSG.
Then the “Hood”... wow. You basically have the whole story of this show, or any show, in this 18+ minute “Hood” – confident and competent composed section, a daring leap into the unknown, a jumbled wad of confusion and uncertainty, then deep-space-nine that sucker, get weird, and pour your heart and soul out to complete the package. The performance immediately summons a comparison to 8/5/13 Hollywood, both as a top-tier 3.0 version and because it bucked script and placed the big improvisational moment of the money set late instead of early. Works for me.
As is becoming a bit of a habit, for our “point-counterpoint” segment I’m joined by my dear friend, Lily Morton, who will take it home with her view… and then we invite yours. Happy summer, be safe, play hard, fly high! -PZ.
last night's concert is the starting point of a glorious summer. my impression overall was one of superb unity going forward. this thought is also reflective of the unity of the new songs of fuego with the old phish standards we all know and love. the show was strongly bass-driven and all songs held tightly in the framework of the rhythm section. cheers to Fishman - the timing clock-master.
the set one standouts in my experience - 555, a winner of a song among the new record releases and stash, an old friend. within stash i noted an inspired tension and brotherly wrestling between the bass and guitar. most fun.
bouncing around the room and cheers to chris kuroda for lighting cool enough to drop the temperature a few degrees. the lighting of both sets was dominated in cool colors, blues, purples, greens as this palate helped offset the steamy steamy heat of july's beginning in the northeast. love the light.
birds of a feather into wingsuit slowed down the momentum as the first set came to a conclusion, a necessary reprieve to the intensity of warmth. wingsuit is a dear lovely song, a most beautiful concept. it has a future for potential improvisation particularly where the guitar is likely to stretch and take flight. wingsuit is a calm collected composition that seems to be evolving moments of intensity and exploration. the song isn't necessarily calm throughout, making things yet more interesting. moments beginning in calm flight take alternate changes and turns. wingsuit will evolve with extended jam stretches, sound flight navigated of the guitar… just a prediction.
set two was all about mike. with mike's song opening straight up with no surprises into simple when things got very surprising as simple was hot hot hot, smoking hot as there was a noted 'something' in last nights simple. perhaps it was a noted tension again between the base and guitar. very nice.
waiting all night, a most pleasant calm moment (a beautiful calm) to recollect into a ghost that felt singular and in perfect company to the great ghosts of the past. this ghost felt unique and singular and in my experience was the peak of last night's concert experience. epic ghost.
into mike's into hood. there were moments that carried my ears off into something in the hood... somewhere late in the composition. i can't recall exactly what it was. i simply noted that it happened.
julius was an awesome encore. a one song encore as this seemed quite long, so upbeat and i was most happily elevated in my spirit after last night's opening concert this summer tour. it is going to be a hot hot summer. things are going to remain very interesting... we have superb unity here.
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Mike Gordon: December 10, 2016
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