Sunday 08/03/2014 by bertoletdown


Tonight, Oak Mountain Amphitheatre hosts the 21st and second-to-last show of Phish’s 2014 summer season. Tomorrow’s capper in Alpharetta will close the books on a tour that has left smoking craters in its wake and paid off with a consistency that rivals fall 2013. With one or two minor exceptions that are probably better left unnamed, the band has played with purpose, patience, and fire at every stop this summer, spinning ideas into moments and moments into grand, cathedral proclamations.

On a few of these nights (like the second night of Merriweather, which is by now a shopworn reference) it has seemed as if Phish could do no wrong. The band’s own social media stream suggests that they are doing a whole mess of rehearsing out there on the road (as distinguished from sound-checking), which would certainly explain in part the confidence and surefooted execution we have seen so far.

Photo © Phish, Phish From the Road

Other forces are probably at work as well. Dropping covers out of the repertoire almost entirely (an extrapolation of the winning strategy the band adopted over the holiday run at MSG) has made room for them to focus on and celebrate their original material. Sure, this tradeoff cuts both ways (because who doesn’t miss seeing “Drowned," “Rock and Roll," and “Crosseyed and Painless” in the rotation?), but it does appear to net out as a positive. To these ears, JEMP is in their happy “tight but loose” place that makes them Jedi-level dangerous.

Out here on summer tour, there is no try, only do.

The circuit is complete.

Signs point to “yes.”

So let’s get this show on the road.

Photo © Peter Burrage

AC/DC Bag” proves a suitable introduction for what will prove to be a straightforward but satisfying first set full of bangers. Trey fires off some stinging chicken-pickin’ licks en route to a quick climax before we tumble hastily into a ragged-but-right “Poor Heart." Trey begins the first “Cities” of 2014 on the C# instead of the D, but recovers nicely and goes on to delight the crowd with a Birmingham reference and improvised lyrics. It’s a dank and laconic version appropriate for a warm southern evening. Welcome back, “Cities”!

A surefooted but short “Kill Devil Falls” follows, then Trey atypically introduces “Reba” before playing it. Like every other “Reba” this summer and every “Reba” since the truck set at MSG, this one is dealt face-up and flawless. Short? You bet, not unlike a 1992 version, and every bit as spic-and-span.

Photo © Pete Mason

A very forward-leaning theme has emerged by this point: short, sharp shocks, one after the other, all in the service of a proper Saturday night rock and roll show.

Possum” is tonight’s nod to Skynyrd-style boogie, and features some unconventional tones from Page during his solo. “Sample in a Jar," often clam-baked in recent years, comes off without a single hitch, and with some surplus oomph. The ensuing “Funky Bitch” is nice and hot, too.

But the first bona fide exclamation of the night comes courtesy of Page, who simply manhandles his organ break in “Maze." His solo section has been the highlight of many recent versions, and not only for his playing; Trey really seems to dig the comping role in this part of the jam as well. The Chairman earns a titanic peak in this version as the band gathers yet more momentum.

Photo © Phish, Phish From the Road

“Maze” is followed in rapid succession by a syrupy, bluesy “Ocelot," then “Sparkle” and “Cavern” (which implodes to the band’s apparent amusement when Trey biffs a lyric in the second bridge and everybody, like, stops playing and stuff). By this point the set is already running north of 80 minutes, and most action is on the “end of set” outcome.

Instead, we’re treated to “Wingsuit," which works remarkably well as a first set walk-off. Its lyrics promise adventure ahead, and its outro section combines root chakra thrust with emotional depth. One of the unique and memorable moments in this version arrives courtesy of Mike Gordon, who lays down a bed of rolling thunder during the typically-silent section just before the jam. The song serves as a dramatic capstone to a first set that bodes well for the remainder of the night.

Photo © Phish, Phish From the Road

The second frame kicks off with “Carini," whose gangster lean may have developed just the slightest hitch after 2013. In fairness, this is probably the result of a deliberate attempt to spread the jam around to other songs a bit after letting it dominate nearly every show in which it appeared last year. “Ghost” surfaces next, sans segue, and like nearly every song played tonight, it does not fuss around. This “Ghost” cuts straight to the high speed chase, almost like a first set version from 1997, and beelines to a majestic and white hot peak. WentGin” is bandied about as a reference point during this jam, which (it should be stressed) is more an allusion to the approach and structure rather than its majesty or durability. This outstanding “Ghost” evokes a “Drowned” jam in places and glances past “Simple” on its way to “Mike’s."

In keeping with the theme of the show, “Mike’s” is launched out of a cannon. Trey scurries to his Echoplex almost immediately once the verses are done, and for the next several minutes simply breathes fire from his cabinets. This might be one of the shorter Mike’s in history, even as compared with the truncated 3.0 standard, but it is nonetheless blistering, spine-tingling, electrifying. It egresses predictably into the “Simple” that has already been teased, and which churns up a quite a nice dust cloud itself. Very cool “Simple," this, driven along by the rhythm section and awash in weirdness in a way most are not. According to several accounts from the show, “Simple” is accompanied by a meteor burning up in the atmosphere above Pelham, which serves as an apt metaphor for the show itself.

Photo © Phish, Phish From the Road

Now “Joy” steps forward to occupy the power ballad spot. Placement will always be the hobgoblin of songs like this, but this “Joy” comes across as a well-earned and well-executed palate cleanser, not deflating in the least. Not so with the “Weekapaug” that follows, which nearly ends before it begins for lack of a compelling direction. So it is on a Saturday, very often, and so it is with “Julius."

Phish reclaims nearly all of its lost momentum with “Sand," which like the “Mike’s” and the “Ghost” before it wastes no time accessing interstellar space. Mike pushes against harmonic boundaries here while Fishman holds down a rock solid pocket. Trey escorts “Sand” to a smoldering climax before resolving it quietly, then Page turns to the grand and introduces “Wading in the Velvet Sea." On paper, “Wading” suggests ballad overload, but it’s hard to deduct points when Phish has been charging so hard all night long. And it’s not like they’re about to limp across the finish line; the set closes with the first Alabama “YEM” since 1999. It’s a classic version with a scorching solo from Trey and a percussive and evil vocal jam.

Pelham, AL LE poster by Michael Gaughan, with Dan Black from Landland

Encore chatter centers around “Fuego," which has been performed at every other venue on this tour, but it’s not to be (which is perfect if you’re the sort of fan who likes to see the band confound expectations). Instead, we’re treated to “Quinn the Eskimo," a song I’d gladly hear at every single show, and which probably punctuates this gig more fittingly than would a prog opus.

A jam purist who glances at the setlist and timings might be tempted to skip over this show. Big mistake. There is a time and a place for a show like this, and I can’t think of any better time and place than a summer Saturday in the south. Give it a spin, and cinch up your seatbelt just a little for “Maze," “Wingsuit," “Ghost," “Mike’s," “Simple” and “Sand."

See you all Sunday in Alpharetta!

Setlist Pictogram © Joseeen (available at Etsy)

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, comment by InsectEffect
InsectEffect Nicely done! Recaps have been particularly thoughtful, positive and insightful this year, and this is no exception.

Have any covers been played more than once this tour (excusing 2001 as a Phish interpretation, rather than a strict cover)?
FACTSAREUSELESS You guys keep outdoing yourselves.

Another superb recap. Beautifully and appropriately written with cutting and descriptive prose, yet never varying from the task at hand, just like the show itself.

Masterful job Chris.
FACTSAREUSELESS I'm looking for no-holds-barred Llama opener tonight.
, comment by Land2reform
Land2reform Always enjoy reading your articles @bertoletdown!
, comment by ScottyB
ScottyB Nicely done, Chris
, comment by MeatChaps
MeatChaps Nice review. Painted a nice picture of the flow. Sometimes "Wading" is perfect.
, comment by MartianMOMster
MartianMOMster Greast review for a great show last night. :) Now, all I want is a Dog Log tonight in Alpharetta and I will be one happy gal. <3
, comment by willcano
willcano wonderful recap. phish is the coolest.
, comment by makisupaman
makisupaman Great review per usual Chris. Oak MT is a fun venue with not a bad seat in the house, and last night was the first show that I could walk to and from without difficulty as our room literally overlooked shakedown. Very much looking forward to what's in store for us tonight as a renaissance summer concludes.
, comment by frankstallone
frankstallone Great review as usual.

I had amazing seats last night, 5th row on the aisle right between Page and Trey

There was a couple with their 5/6 year old daughter in the 2nd row. They had a Simple sign the little girl was holding up right in front of Trey before set 2. You could tell he tried to go into Simple right out of ghost but couldn't make it happen, so he did Mike's > Simple instead. Little girl was singing her heart out in her dads arms during simple and Trey was looking right at her... which is why he went into Joy. Both of those were for that little girl
, comment by j_led
j_led Summer 14. Recaps have never been better.
, comment by JahNuhDead
JahNuhDead Wading blows in the 2nd set every time.
, comment by munrosa
munrosa Awe man, you can't follow up the two previous great posts with the wading comment :) . Nice anecdote about the girl!
, comment by frankstallone
, comment by GAphishin
GAphishin It was an amazing show. The weather held off, the clouds kept the sultan of southern heat off and I will state that the entire show seemed to rip. It was a southern throw down and . . .no mention of trey's i-am-in-the-audience-and-phreaking-out-to-mike moves later in Sand.
Also, I back the concept that the wading ballad was a little irked at first notes, but it was a lovely prep for the YEM ahead.
Thanks for the honest review.
They are playing so well, I just smile!
, comment by jwelsh8
jwelsh8 Great stuff, Chris. Really liked:

"The second frame kicks off with "Carini," whose gangster lean may have developed just the slightest hitch after 2013. In fairness, this is probably the result of a deliberate attempt to spread the jam around to other songs a bit after letting it dominate nearly every show in which it appeared last year."
, comment by fluff_hen
fluff_hen Thanks for the story about the little girl @frankstallone - brought tears to my eyes (though I really don't approve of a 5 year old in the 2nd row).

Great review, really captured the show!
, comment by Postingnutbag
Postingnutbag Nobody's gonna talk about seeing the meteorite fly over the stage during simple, I thought it was astonishing
, comment by LooksLikeDave
LooksLikeDave Great write up! The meteorite was definitely amazing and happened during a great jam!

I was hoping for a Forbin's Ascent up Oak Mtn all summer. That's funny how people were naturally thinking of Feugo as the encore - I honestly thought they might bust out Forbin's as an encore after we got the Lizards encore in Portsmouth..and they've never encored it.

If you listen to Quinn, I hadn't noticed until that night, that the first two chords almost sound like Forbin's and in rhythm. I almost lost it before I realized it was Quinn lol.
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