Wednesday 08/12/2015 by phishnet


[Editor's Note: this recap is by musicologist and contributor Jake Cohen. Jake's blog is at: –PZ]

When Phish catches fire, we all win. Whether you’re at the shows, listening at home, or just following along through setlists and recaps, there is a certain energy and excitement that permeates every thought and every discussion we have about this band. Make no mistake, Phish is on fire right now. While it’s far to early to prognosticate, I wouldn’t be surprised if some day in the future we’re talking about August 2015 as one of “those months.” Since Atlanta the band has been on a tear that has been truly impressive, creating legendary moments at almost every show.

Sunday’s oldie/rarity bust-out-fest at Alpine Valley was an altogether different kind of affair, with the band improbably combining as many of their most beloved, oldest, Gamehendge-iest songs into one first set. Often, when the band decides to play that show where they go deep in their catalog, the trend continues for a show or two, with the band plumbing the depths of their repertoire and pulling out a few stops that no one expected, even if they don’t pack the same punch as, say, a “Harpua” or a “Forbin’s” or an “Icculus” or “Sanity” bustout (think 7/30/03 following the bustout-heavy 7/29/03). Tonight’s first set was cut from that mold.

Photo By Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road

Thankfully, the band included plenty of improv in the first set alongside a number of tour debuts and one huge bustout that made this one of the most enjoyable first sets I’ve seen in a long time. And although the show started with the rare – though perhaps not on anyone’s “must-hear” list – “Crowd Control,” it was the second song, “Martian Monster,” that would provide a connective thread throughout the set, making this one of the most fun and enjoyable first sets of tour.

That said, the “Crowd Control” opener with its easy-going groove was a nice way to ease into the madness that was about to unfold. Trey continues to show that his GD50 woodshedding is paying tasty dividends, as he’s acquired more comfort soloing around the melody line. His solo featured the same long lines and smoothness that has characterized a lot of his type 1 soloing on first set songs where he riffs on the melody.

It’s tough for me to remember the crowd reacting to any song the same way we react to the opening of “Martian Monster.” They’ve been starting the song even before Laura Olsher’s voice finishes the narration, and this was an especially thick, swampy groove. Trey immediately started playing a highly percussive bit of riffing and strumming, and turned on his favorite new pedal, the Mu-Tron, for an especially funky, deep, nasty bit of soloing. I think that it’s not only fantastic that they’re playing a song from last Halloween regularly, but that they continue to improve on it. Page has gotten very adept with the samples, and is using them very creatively, becoming much better at playing around with the rhythms to the point that it almost sounds like DJ scratching at points, but also introducing a pitch shifter to some of them, something I haven’t heard him do until last night.

Leonard Fishman and Tom Marshall (soundcheck photos via Tom Marshall)

The band took the energy from the “Monster” and immediately parlayed that into some big head banging rock in “Axilla.” This song is always a great infusion of intensity and excitement into any first set, and coming so early last night it kept the rocketship in blastoff mode. As the next song began, I initially thought it was “555,” but the turnaround was something different….and then. “Skin It Back!” This is probably my favorite Little Feat tune, and although I was there when they busted it out at Jones Beach on 7/3/12, this was still a major deal for me. Right away I noticed how much it sounds like “Martian Monster.” In fact, I joked to my friends that I think Little Feat wrote the entire Haunted House set.

The “Skin in Back” jam immediately started teasing “Martian Monster.” But more than a tease, this was a full-on “Martian Monster” jam. But this wasn’t so much a segue back into “Martian Monster,” since many aspects of “Skin it Back” remained, including Page’s organ work and the signature riff. I’d really call it “Skin it Back” with a full “Martian Monster” jam and lots of “Monster” samples as well, including one well-placed primal scream, with more pitch shifting from Page. Trey responded to the excitement by not just doing a typical pentatonic funk jam, but introducing some Dorian modal flavor to his solo, giving it that especially “jammy,” psychedelic feel. Anytime you hear that kind of jamming, it feels like it’s somehow deeper and more prone to extension into the ether, and to have that in the first set was such a treat.

Photo By Patrick Jordan © Phish From the Road

Vultures” was another minor bustout so I was very pumped to get this. I’d like to take a brief aside about the “wooing” here, because I think that during “Vultures” I finally made my peace with the “woo”-ers. There’s been a bit of talk recently on Twitter and other avenues about the woos, with people seemingly coming down on either side. I’m pretty firmly in the anti-woo camp, as I think that Phish chooses when to have a moment of silence in their sound and we shouldn’t feel the need to fill every one with a woo. Where it really bugs me is the composed songs that have a moment of silence in them, like “Vultures” or as we found out Sunday, “Weigh.” So last night when the woos started I cringed a little. But then I saw Trey’s face during the woos at the end of the tune, and I realized just how much he’s getting off on it. He loves the woos, he was leaning hard into every one, egging the audience on. And I realized that this is now just part of Phish, and the Phish experience, and who are we to criticize what the band clearly loves doing? So while I won’t start woo-ing during “Vultures” or any start/stop jam any time soon, I’ve made my peace with it. You can have your woo and scream it too.

The delicate “Dog-Faced Boy” may be a song about a breakup, but it’s also a love song, and so on the eve of my 8th wedding anniversary, I put my arm around my wife and we swayed along and enjoyed the gorgeous tune. As the final harmony faded out, and another “spaceship is about to blast off” from Page, into a relatively rare mid-set “David Bowie.” This “Bowie” jam initially found its way into a slightly sunnier area, but otherwise was a mostly standard-amazing “Bowie” jam. Trey seemed to offer a little extra mustard on the final build.

The “Farmhouse” that I thought was coming earlier finally did come, and this version didn’t have any of the nice slow build qualities as the Bend version from earlier this summer. “Scent of a Mule” got everyone bouncing again, Page did another “Martian Monster” sample at the end of his part of the Mule Duel, and Fishman took an extended Marimba Lumina solo as his half of the Mule Duel. It sounds like Fish has been practicing, as he did some really nimble mallet work on chromatic notes that worked really well in the space of the klezmer “Mule” riff. He also utilized a pitch shifter slider to bend around the heavy bass notes that were erupting out of the instrument. Kudos to Fishman for taking this on, it’s been really cool seeing him learn a new instrument.

Photo By Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road

After “Mule,” it was clearly time for the closer, and with “Bowie” already out of the way, the band pulled a huge surprised and closed with…”Ghost”?! Of course, in this set there had to be some alien monsters along with the ghosts, with Page adding a bunch of ghost moaning sounds along with a few other Haunted House sounds. In the space right after “I simply haven’t looked,” the band did another big “Martian Monster” tease, highlighting the connection between all these big first set dark funk grooves. “Ghost” is a wonderfully malleable song – it’s jam seems to always meet the setlist placement needs perfectly. At Dick’s in 2013, the show opening “Ghost” was built like a show opener, with a straight-ahead big energy jam. This “Ghost” was built perfectly as a set closer. After some more “Martian Monster” teases at the start of the jam, Trey sat back and brought everything down to a very quiet and subdued place. Essentially, they were crafting a jam structured very much like an “Antelope” or “Slave” or “Bowie” jam, more typical set one closing fare.

This “Ghost” entered into a nice modal space again, avoiding the usual funky blues jamming and instead giving it that nice psychedelic aura, with Trey again exploring along the Dorian mode. Trey mostly sat back gently noodling and let Mike do a lot of work in here, while Page was highly active on the electric piano. A brief shift to the subdominant kicked Trey’s soloing into a Mixolydian feel, in other words, still modal but now sunnier and bright rather than dark and brooding, but then everything fell back to the tonic and Trey leaned on the Dorian 6th hard, accentuating the modal character of the jam. The jam didn’t so much peak in the conventional sense, but instead Trey returned to a bit of minor blues jamming before going back to the “Ghost” riff and playing it for quite a few bars, getting gritty and chunky. As a cap to the standout first set, the band gave us one more little mini-rarity, the a cappellaGrind.” While not technically accurate, “Ghost” definitely felt like the set closer though.

Photo © Jake Silco

My friend had been calling not only a “Fuego” at this show, but in his words, a “20-minute Fuego!” I was skeptical of this, seeing as that the first night of the Mann last summer was centered around a huge 20+ minute “Fuego,” but when the piano chords of the tune opened set two, my buddy turned to me and mouthed the words “20 minutes!” Despite being three minutes short, he was right; Phish again took “Fuego” deep for the first time since last year’s Portsmouth, Mann, and SPAC blowouts. The audience has really embraced everything about this song, and it’s a legitimate powerhouse in Phish’s catalog these days. The jam went in the usual direction, but rather than coming out of the gates swinging, the band seemed to sit back on it a little, as if to invite the opportunity to spread out. Spread they did, with Trey going to Mu-Tron after a bit of standard “Fuego” jamming. Trey was content to just play single chords with some nice delay effects, giving this section of the jam over entirely to Mike and Page. Fishman quietly kept everything from getting too ambient in the background, and CK5 of course set the psychedelic, spacey mood perfectly. When Trey finally did start playing chords again, he built a beautiful double plagal chord progression (the same one as the outro to “Hey Jude” or “St. Stephen”), which is especially perfect in Phish’s current jamming language because they’ve been all about the I-IV alteration in their big type-II jams, and in this scenario you basically get that twice in one phrase.

Trey switched over to a slightly countrified tone for a second, almost reminding me of an Allman Brothers tune, before falling into gorgeous circular descending riffs while Page and Fish built the overall sound up, Page hammering away on piano. A truly glorious “Fuego” jam. The fast rock strumming faded into ambience but then came back big time with the opening of “Rock and Roll.” This was a relatively short but fiery version of what is often a second set monster jam, but it filled its role nicely coming after the big opening “Fuego.” Trey eventually went for some fast strumming with the wah-wah pedal which was really nice, and the jam felt like it was settling into something more for an extended walkout. But then Page actually started singing the “it was alright!” refrain again, which ended any chance for further improvisation on this tune. Instead, the band went back to the gritty, dark, murky sound that’s been a frequent visitor this summer and took it into the chunky opening chords of “46 Days.” Even though it only clocked in at eight minutes, there was still a bit of something unique in parts of the “Rock and Roll,” a trend that continued in “46 Days.” Don’t judge these jams by their timings, Phish packed a ton of interesting music into these eight-minute segments.

They decided to forego their usual plan of blasting out of the gates of the “46 Days” jam with a big rock and roll solo, and instead Trey went right back to that murky darkness, low-necking the crap out of the early part of the jam with a variety of effects filters turned on to give this a really gritty quality, the same type of sound that’s come to characterize a lot of the dark jams this summer like the Bend “Simple,” the Atlanta “Tweezer” and “Kill Devil Falls,” and the Shoreline “Twist.” It was quiet and low in pitch, so this “46 Days” jam actually had somewhere to go. After a reprise of the lyrics the band led into a very funky, quiet, psychedelic jam, with Trey again taking a back seat to Mike and Fishman. It sounded almost Pink Floyd-y in that combination of psychedelia and funk, sort of like the middle “Echoes” jam or “Breathe.” This jam then turned bright and major key, with lots of great effects from Page. The major key flip turned out to be a nice way to get into the first “Taste” of summer. Totally a beautiful, buttery segue. The “Taste” jam was, like many other tunes in this show, peppered with a high dose of creativity and a modal feel. As he did on parts of the “Fuego” and “46 Days” jams, Trey again sat back playing fast chord strums with the wah effect turned on, while Mike and Page got a minor blues jam going, which is a big contrast to the usual “Taste” sound, before peaking the jam as usual.

Photo © Jake Silco

The opening segment of “Fuego” through “Taste” was fantastic psychedelic rock, with lots of modal type-II jamming in both “Fuego” and “46 Days.” The next segment of the show was just a big dance party. A big meaty “2001” was perfect here, and Trey again sat back just offering chords with a nice bit of delay while Page did his thing on the Rhodes. The drop into “Sand” kept the party going, with Page controlling the early part of the jam on clavinet and Trey going to the Mu-Tron for his longest foray into that sound, giving a nice big envelope-heavy solo that had a sinister sound to it, rather than the bounciness of “No Man’s Land,” for example. This “Sand” jam had a really nice swing to it, and while it didn’t peak with the same force as usual, it was very pleasing nonetheless.

The set closed with a series of Phish pop/rock, as we got the now-rare “Horse” accompaniment to “Silent in the Morning” (and yes, this exact thing did happen just last year: it again rained really hard and the band played a monster “Fuego” on the first night of the Mann). “Cavern” seemed to be the closer, but then Trey opted for an extended “Number Line” to close things out. Again, when Phish wants to jam the hell out of “Number Line,” they really nail it, and anyone who might groan to think of this closing the second set needs to listen to the all-out shredfest that put a cap on this great show. “Julius” kept the poppy rock vibe going into the encore, and with that we were off.

In retrospect, I think last night’s first set may have actually trumped the second! The “Martian Monster” silliness not only provided a fun connection throughout the set, but highlighted the ways that Phish has really taken their influences and put it into their new compositions. Phish is on fire now, last night was just another example of this. See this band on this tour at any cost.

Phish Summer 2015 – Setlists & Recaps
07/21/15 SetlistRecap – Bend 1
07/22/15 SetlistRecap – Bend 2
07/24/15 SetlistRecap, Recap2 – Shoreline
07/25/15 SetlistRecap – LA Forum
07/28/15 SetlistRecap – Austin
07/29/15 SetlistRecap – Grand Prarie
07/31/15 SetlistRecap – Atlanta 1
08/01/15 SetlistRecap – Atlanta 2
08/02/15 SetlistRecap – Tuscaloosa
08/04/15 SetlistRecap – Nashville
08/05/15 SetlistRecap – Kansas City
08/07/15 SetlistRecap – Blossom
08/08/15 SetlistRecap – Alpine 1
08/09/15 SetlistRecap – Apline 2
08/11/15 SetlistRecap – Mann 1
08/12/15 SetlistRecap – Mann 2
08/14/15 SetlistRecap – Raleigh
08/15/15 SetlistRecap – Merriweather 1
08/16/15 SetlistRecap – Merriweather 2
08/21/15 SetlistRecap – Magnaball 1
08/22/15 SetlistRecap – Magnaball 2
08/23/15 SetlistRecap – Magnaball 3
09/04/15 SetlistRecap – Dick's 1
09/05/15 SetlistRecap – Dick's 2
09/06/15 SetlistRecap – Dick's 3

Philadelphia LE poster by David Welker. Edition of 800.

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, comment by gpain
gpain Very nice review! I hope we get to read more of your stuff in the future.
, comment by CmdrChesticle
CmdrChesticle Great review. Thank you for describing the MUSIC as opposed to the scene in the parking lot, the weather, etc....

Snark aside, thoroughly enjoyed your reddit liveblog last night, it was great for those of us who couldn't hear it as it happened.
, comment by MindMuse
MindMuse Fantastic review: well written, great writing style, and descriptive. Write more of the reviews please.
, comment by elphish
elphish Nice job on the review
, comment by ForgeTheCoin
ForgeTheCoin Absolutely top notch review... Kudos. Going to go listen to this show... now!
, comment by gratefulterp
gratefulterp Great read. Wish I understood more of what I was reading. "Dorian modal"? I know, that's what google is for.
, comment by timst101
timst101 I also agree that this was a thoughtful and well written review. As a musician, it was chock full of super-relevant information, including multiple things I didn't know, and I was there!

The only thing I'd like to stress to the rest of the community pertains to the Bowie and the Mule from the first set. I felt like your review sort of glossed over two highlights for me. Which is OK, to each there own appreciation. My opinion was that the Bowie was outstanding, as Bowie has typically fallen a bit flat in 3.0 and sometimes just feels perfunctory, whereas this one was silky and smooth and blossomed into serious smoking summertime heat.

And I say this with no uncertainty, or as little uncertainty as you can have when voicing a qualitative statement such as this, but I truly feel that the spaceship landed last night during the Mule battle during Page's jam outro, with the Martian teaser and Gordo's super bombs. It was more than just a passing tease, it was a paradigm shifter. For me. Followed by Fish's Marimba Lumina solo (which was my favorite part of the OP, the excellent detail there), which absolutely carried on the same type and level of energy. I'm not just some crazy Mule chaser... I know how this sounds.

I don't think it's hyperbole to say that Mule and Bowie both might have been the best of 3.0, (and maybe the 2001 as well). Granted, I haven't heard every one...

Enjoy tonight and see ya at Merriweather. BTW, nice call by the OP on the "exact thing happened to me just last year".

Rodeo! - St.Pierre
, comment by InsectEffect
InsectEffect Great recap for a great show, thanks!

Agreed, it should probably be "Skin it Back/Martian Monster Mashup" on the setlist, or in the Notes. One of those wonderful things Phish does from time to time. See the 1994 Patterson NY show (and other Tweezer fests) for similar mashups.
, comment by MartianMOMster
MartianMOMster Excellent review! I will have to check out your blog now. :-) The Martian Mannster!!!!! So epic.
, comment by raidcehlalred
raidcehlalred @InsectEffect said:
Great recap for a great show, thanks!

Agreed, it should probably be "Skin it Back/Martian Monster Mashup" on the setlist, or in the Notes. One of those wonderful things Phish does from time to time. See the 1994 Patterson NY show (and other Tweezer fests) for similar mashups.
What remains totally clear (and this buoyed by the fact that the playing is so convincing) is the attention given to set list construction. The fun inherent (and implied) in a string of tunes like Monster, Axilla, Skin, Vultures .... Ghost .... really does evoke an earlier era(s). From the great many early Phish shows alluded to; the 'Element Set'; 'Guyutica;' to minor moments like last year's Feugolope. That this sort of attention to detail combined with really great playing is not designated to one show, or one weekend at the end of a tour is really exciting.

Feeling the same way I did when Live Bait came out: It's a great time to be a fan of the band.
, comment by raidcehlalred
raidcehlalred Only ten comments to a really thoughtful and awesome review, so.... Why not -

Great review! Really impressive. Just reread. Since you mentioned Twitter, I listened, once again, to the Vultures.

Don't give in, Jake!

Clearly, you know music.

Don't 'cast the final vote!'

I just don't 'hear' Trey leaning into the noise created in the composed silence. I loved your writing regarding Crowd Control and Trey's playing over melodic lines. I just didn't see, or hear, the wooing being 'invited.'

And even if this was the case.... It could be a mistake! Sort of like the route they've taken with Heavy Things (in non-woo related news). That tune needs more of the guitar you so adroitly discussed and less acoustic piano.
, comment by Phacemelter
Phacemelter Now that's a REVIEW ! Technically focused on the music and band communication. Thank you and Thank you Phish for Nailing it and Crushing it this Summer !

It's All About The Music !
Magna Awaits You..........
FACTSAREUSELESS All the above regarding an outstanding piece of work. Thank you!
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Great review, nice seeing someone explain why the jams seem so interesting. It's a trend going back a few years now!

As for the pitch shifting in Martian Monster, they definitely did it in the debut and the jam inside Free as well. Can't remember others off the top of my head but I have clear memories of a chipmunk going "your trip is your trip is your trip is" and then a lava golem going "your trip is short!"
, comment by nichobert
nichobert And as far as best Bowies of 3.0 go, the Summer 2013 versions are where it's at. With the same kind of joyful play of light and shadow, joy and menace that infused the MPP 2013 Stash (Stinko!). Also, the DTE 2011 version is really spectacular.

This was certainly an interesting Bowie jam, with more going on "properly" musically than a lot of significantly longer versions from the late 90s and early 2000s, but it's not a podium version for 3.0

One thing I can never decide if I like or not is this constant "best of 3.0"ing. On one hand, the enthusiasm is palpable and so exciting to see. On the other hand, it's like we are forgetting just how much great music Phish has made in the past 6 years. Set list construction is undoubtedly hitting the highest sustained gear we have seen since 04.. But as far as the actual improvisation inside the songs making up these sets, I don't think it's the leap forward some are making it out to be. I don't say that to take away from what they're doing now, I say it to remind people about what we have seen in the last handful of tours. To me, Bethel 2011 was where the page got turned. Some say MPP 2010 or the Greek. Some say the DTE DWD. Or Guyutica. Some say that Carini-> Taste set that kicked off summer 2012. A lot of people say Tahoe Tweezer. A lot of other people say Fall 2013 was where it all came together. Or the Randall's Dust. A lot are now saying Trey's GD50 practice sessions might have been the true turning point.

What's most important is that at this stage, damn near everyone is on board again. So while I haven't heard a single jam from this tour that would crack my top 25 from 3.0 and if I'm being honest I don't know if one would even make my top 50. It doesn't matter. What matters is that everyone is excited. Like REALLY excited. I can't wait to get my yearly customarily all too brief dose of the Phish in person this weekend.

Your trip is short.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Let's go with a weirder bust out set at MPP!

II: Round Room-> Ain't Love Funny-> I Don't Care-> The Shipwreck-> The Last Step, Curtain With
, comment by chooglincharley
chooglincharley Thanks for the good review Jake, and not because I agreed with all of your viewpoints except backwards down the corn hole, but because your review wasn't a rundown of the setlist, rather a review of an experience
, comment by Maverick
Maverick I want to stand up and say that Crowd Control IS on my must-hear list. It's a great opener. A call to action! And what usually follows is pure killerness!
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Crowd Control is usually a pretty good indicator that we are in for it.

I feel like it's been a harbinger of greatness ever since everybody hated it opening MPP in 2009. One of the more viscerally negative reactions to a song I've ever seen.

Then they did it again at the same venue the next year, and then we all "saw it again"
, comment by raidcehlalred
raidcehlalred @Maverick said:
I want to stand up and say that Crowd Control IS on my must-hear list. It's a great opener. A call to action! And what usually follows is pure killerness!
Relative to the band's massive catalog, CC has only been played a handful of times. And the last several have all opened shows. I am with you. I've no idea why anyone would not want to catch this awesome song (which, alongside storied MPP, has opened MSG and SPAC). Every time I have heard it, I have loved it.
, comment by J_Card
J_Card Can Jake do all of the reviews from now on, please?

His reviews are so knowledgable, descriptive, and smart. It's a very nice change from some of the other reviewers.

Nice job man, and thanks.
, comment by smoothatonalsnd
smoothatonalsnd You guys are right, "Crowd Control" is definitely a harbinger of good things to come. And I like its message. I just don't hear a lot of "dude I hope we get a Crowd Control tonight" before the show ;)

@timst101 said:
I felt like your review sort of glossed over two highlights for me. Which is OK, to each there own appreciation. My opinion was that the Bowie was outstanding, as Bowie has typically fallen a bit flat in 3.0 and sometimes just feels perfunctory, whereas this one was silky and smooth and blossomed into serious smoking summertime heat.

Totally agreed! I'm not sure why I skipped over the Bowie, because I agree with you, this one was definitely a few notches above the normal for 3.0, and I especially really liked the mid-set placement. As for best of 3.0, I still think that Utica 2010 Bowie was unreal (another mid-first-set version), and probably a few others. I would say that this Bowie didn't have a single, particular reason that made it standout, it was just overall better than usual on every level. Perhaps that makes it harder to write about. But definitely a set 1 highlight for me, too.

And I also love how not playing the song too often makes it that much better when it happens! Only the 2nd Bowie of the summer!

@J_Card said:
Can Jake do all of the reviews from now on, please?
Haha, thanks for the nod of approval. I appreciate the sentiment, but it's good to have variety in the writing style, everyone's perspective gives something unique and different. I'm sure this was too long for some people. Plus my wife would kill me if I had to write a review every morning on tour, as they usually eat up a few hours to get through the way I do them...
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