Friday night’s Phish gig at The Amphitheater at the Wharf in Orange Beach, AL began an increasingly rare three night, three city run. The first such run since 2012 also presents relatively modest driving distances (three to four hours) between shows, almost like we’re back in the 90s.
The Wharf itself is an interesting venue. Only a few miles from the site of the Hangout Festival (and the BP oil spill of 2010), the amphitheater is situated among a complex of high-end condos, mediocre restaurants and overpriced retail stores. Like Oak Mountain, the venue has no covered pavilion and no lawn. The reserved seats are just metal bleachers, behind a not-oversold GA pit area. Despite a seemingly tolerant atmosphere (the other Richard and I got to-go cups from Ginny Lane), there wasn’t much of a lot scene. Tickets seemed plentiful, with both pit and reserved seats available for face value or less – even free.
The last bunch of shows on this tour seemed to start close to their scheduled start time. However, it was after 7:45pm before Phish started tonight’s show, which was scheduled for 7pm.
“Chalk Dust Torture” has been one of the bigger jam vehicles of the summer, but tonight’s opening version was more of a shorter, straight ahead warm up. This was a good indicator of where the rest of the set was going, as most of the songs stuck very close to their composed structures. Mike briefly stomped his fight bell during “Moma Dance” and Page offered extended organ solos in both “Heavy Things” and “Tube.” “Wolfman’s” was where they came closest to jamming in the first set, with Fishman aggressively pushing his mic to his left, some loud playing from Mike, and a nice peak at the end.
Photo © Pete Mason
“Curtis Loew” offered a 36 show gap bustout for us setlist watchers, and the southern crowd reacted loudly and appreciatively to the Skynyrd cover. Page either took some time to reacquaint himself with the song, or he has it completely internalized, because he nailed the lyrics, offered a few deep growls, and played a pretty piano solo.
The set break seemed brief, and the opening to “Down with Disease” was fairly distorted. Trey’s playing during the pre-jam portion of the song seemed a bit deliberate and slower than the typical “Disease.” The extended jam was led by Trey and Page, with some staccato interplay between them. Midway through, they got fairly spacey before hitting a big energetic peak, which saw Trey playing some riffs reminiscent of the first set “Rift.” Slowing down the end of an excellent twenty minute jam with more rhythmic playing, Trey subtly introduced the opening notes of “Theme from the Bottom.” “Theme” contained some soaring Trey solos, but ultimately served as a break between “Down with Disease” and the next jam.
When they started “Tweezer,” the crowd reacted loudly, and Trey played some trilling notes between singing the lyrics. Before the last set of lyrics, Page played some dark interesting patterns and as the jam began, Kuroda used some bubbly effects on the back of the stage. Although the run through “Tweezer” didn’t really hit Type II territory and stayed at a slow pace, Page, Fishman, and Trey engaged in some complementary playing during the last half of the jam. “Tweezer” ended with a lilting, melodic solo from Trey, which led into the opening of “Prince Caspian.” Even Trey seemed a little bored with the selection and the band came to the first complete stop of the set.
Photo © Pete Mason
Unfortunately, “Waiting All Night” sucked a lot of the energy out of the Mike-side section of the pit with the crowd becoming nearly silent. On this tour, Phish has seemed more focused on, or dedicated to, a collection of new songs than at any time since the summer of 1997. By experimenting with the setlist placement of many of the Fuego songs, the band appears interested in exploring where each song may ultimately fit into the repertoire. Sometimes this creativity works, but like here, that’s not always the case.
Continuing the every-city-gets-a-”Fuego” pattern, the crowd was reenergized by this selection. The band didn’t jam it out, but after having the crowd sing the “rolling” lyrics, they perfectly executed a transition back into the “Tweezer” theme with Fishman also singing “rolling” over Trey’s guitar. They then dropped seamlessly into “Slave to the Traffic Light.” This segment of the show was another high point of the night and well worth listening to.
It was too early to end the set, so Phish was either going to go with a handful of rockers or possibly do something interesting. They sort of split the baby by dropping into a crowd pleasing “2001,” which ran smoothly into a keyboard and bass heavy “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” While Page continued to fool around with “Boogie On,: Trey played the opening part of “Antelope” in rhythm with Page. The two of them then essentially played a couple minutes of a “Boogie On”/”Antelope” mashup. Moving through a Munster’s theme tease, typically strong shredding from Trey, and another “Boogie On” quote from him, “Antelope” ended the set. Although it was brief, the improvised mashup was the third clear highlight of the show, along with the “Down with Disease” and the segues in the run through “Fuego”/”Tweezer”/”Slave.”
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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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