[We would like to thank Jeremy Levine, @Franklin, for writing the recap of last night's show.]
The Baker’s Dozen has felt like a weird jamband version of "Chopped." High stakes, themed sets, and more and more songs off the table with each passing night (presumably) means that they have to make something new and inventive in the face of confounding restrictions. Yesterday, when Phish opened its basket to reveal Rainbow Jimmies, expectations and predictions started to heat up. “The Squirming Coil” seemed like it was off the table after having been played the first night (7/21), but we could still be up for “Runaway Jim,” “Harpua,” something from Hendrix, Jimmy Page, or Quadrophenia, plus “Rainbow Connection,” “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” or any other curve balls the band might have in store. After hearing about "Chocolate Rain," a thirty-minute "Lawn Boy," and the legendary spicy chicken sandwiches at Section 119, I couldn’t wait to see what Phish would cook up for my only Baker’s Dozen show.
I would love to tell you all about the pre-show vibe, but a slow RV on Route 22 South made me miss my train into the city. My pre-show experience consisted of running through the subway, knocking children out of strollers, and leaping over turnstiles so I could make the opener in time. As I climbed the steps to our seats (which, for dramatic effect, might as well have been located on Neptune), Trey launched into “The Curtain With,” a song very high on my “Maybe One Day” list.
Spoiler: many songs got crossed off that list tonight.
Mike accented the slow part of the “With” section with a couple of well-placed bombs and I was a very happy camper indeed. The intro of “Runaway Jim” was met with rapturous applause from the stands (everybody loves the theme!), and the first jam got a little experimental, with Trey on the echoplex and Page on Lil’ Pumpkin. The second jam was all high-energy type-one glory.
“Waking Up Dead” followed. To me, this song is quintessential Phish — the emotional climax is on the word “vacuuming,” which should tell you everything you need to know — and so I was glad to hear it tonight. Mike had some technical difficulties and had to switch basses, and so Trey stalled with some thickly distorted leads while Page hit the clav. We also got some jamming in the breakdown after the “hanging by a thread” lyric, which Mike eventually cut short by returning to vocals, delivered with some bluegrassy flair. After a short pause, “Esther”came next. There were cheers. There were high-fives. I don't hold “Esther” in as high regard as many other fans, and for those people, I hope you get yours soon. As for this version, everything seemed to be in order as our set continued.
“Home” followed and my longtime friend and show partner Matt leaned over to remark that it was his second-favorite Phish song about social anxiety. During “Brian and Robert,” my longtime friend and show partner Matt leaned over to remark that it was his favorite Phish song about social anxiety. “Home” itself had a nice, big, type-one peak, which helped clear the air after the heaviness of “Waking Up Dead” and “Esther.” “Nellie Kane” came next. It was at this juncture that I ate my Clif bar.
When “Col. Forbin’s Ascent” started up, the uproar from the crowd was almost as invigorating as the song itself. Trey sounded well-rehearsed, covering most of the tricky guitar parts without flubs, while the rest of the band plugged away. We got a couple of delightful in-jokes from Trey in the transition to “Fly Famous Mockingbird,” the first of which was the words to the aforementioned “Squirming Coil,” spoken instead of sung. Not to get too speculative, but this gesture almost confirms the no repeats thing — after all, they could have just played “Coil” — but time will tell on that one. “Mockingbird” was gorgeous; I tried to soak in what might be the only version I ever see live. And “Bowie” closed out the set. In the jam, it seemed like Mike was trying to push some kind of ethereal samba, which the rest of the band just didn't buy. Trey eventually pushed us to the peak and the usual Bowie trilling to bring a strong set one to its conclusion.
Quadrophenia is your humble narrator’s favorite album in the entire world. Naturally, I was hyped to hear "Drowned's" signature piano riff and then hear the band plow through one of the keystones of Jimmy’s story. They did well, with Trey foregoing some of the tender guitar lines in the “I am not the actor” section, before the jam started up. In the beginning of the jam, Mike, Trey, and Page all tried to settle on little themes, none of which took Fishman's fancy. The result was similar to the version of “Down with Disease” from last year’s BGCA show, with Fishman chugging away while the rest of the band dropped little noodles here and there — it was experimental, it was danceable, but it was also in some ways puttering. Trey started to lean on a simple three-note melody, and the rest of the band started to lock into a groove. Things started to get a little crunchy and, in a more ambient space, Mike Gordon did a total Mike Gordon and pulled out some weird flashlight-looking device and started to speak/song through it. Then he used it as a slide on his bass. Bakers Dozen’d.
The jam concluded, and Fishman sent us into “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.” The jam that followed this song is, I would argue, quintessential 2017 Phish. Unlike the “Drowned” jam, the group locked in immediately. Fish picked up what Page was putting down, allowing the rest of the band to unite. Trey created some foundation and let Page go ham on top of it on the synth. Shortly thereafter, the band traversed what I'm considering calling the “Ambient Moat,” the juncture in a jam where Trey would have quietly guided us into “Twenty Years Later” or “Joy,” in 2016. But this year, the band wades across the moat and into the unknown; this time, we found a fragile, staccato interchange on the other side of the moat, with each band member laying down sparse themes. Fishman started to chug forward and we unite somewhat before the jam reaches a natural conclusion.
There was a pause. On the screen in front of me, I could see Trey make a little “O” with his hand in a gesture toward Mike. I consider flipping out. The band gives us an "Oom Pa Pa." I flip out.
"Harpua" is always a surprise. Even on a night where the band says “HELLO. TONIGHT WE ARE DOING A THEME. THE THEME IS THE SAME AS THE NAME OF A CHARACTER IN A CERTAIN SONG,” I was still doubting the likelihood of hearing it. One can't count their "Harpua" before they're Oom Pa Pa’d. But when it actually started up, I was beyond ecstatic, and from the sound of the crowd’s roar, the rest of the arena felt similarly.
As for the "Harpua" itself, it’s best if little is said about the narration and you just give it a listen. Suffice it to say that Trey and Mike sat down in folding chairs with newspapers to “hide” scripts that took us through some very strange discourse on the universe, topology, and doughnuts. I think we all expected some kind of Baker’s Dozen antics, and "Harpua" definitely brought the goods. The rest you'll have to hear yourself.
After a seventeen-minute second set "Harpua," some grooving is definitely in order. The “2001” that came next certainly got the job done. In the second jam, Page got back on the synth to bring us some Moon Funk, and fun was had by all. After quick romps through “Golgi Apparatus” and our second “In The Good Old Summertime” of the tour, an exploratory, hilarious, and altogether Phishy second set was at its conclusion.
For the encore, the Baker’s Dozen tradition of one-time covers continues, this time with Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.” The band sounded great and I'd be happy to see this song emerge as a second-set landing pad, but we’ll have to wait to see if any of these tunes get replayed… right now, it doesn't look like any songs are getting repeated until Dick’s, one-off covers or otherwise.
All told, the relistening highlights for this show are the first two second set jams (with a big star next to “ASIHTOS”) and the first set “Home” and “Jim.” Both “Harpua” and “Mockingbird” were delights in person, and I'm sure I'll revisit them in the future as well.
Five nights remain and it feels like, in spite of high expectations and what seems like a legitimate chance of no repeats, the band seems relaxed and joyful. I am too, and while I'm already headed back north, I'm glad to say that I got to see Phish at the Baker’s Dozen.
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November 18, 1989
28 years ago
23 East Caberet
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