There's no real denying that, during the 3.0 years, Phish has had a tumultuous relationship with the state of Texas. 2010 had the one-off ACL festival set which, while a good festival set, wasn't anything to write home about. Fast forward five years later and there were two summer shows in 2015, one in Austin and one in Grand Prairie. The first two set shows that Texas had seen since 1999. Expectations were understandably high. Austin was incredibly song-focused, and GP was good but definitely not great. Fall 2016 had two shows, again in Grand Prairie. The first was a fun, high energy show, but the second had, in this attendee's opinion, a travesty of a second set. The old adage for Phish shows -- "At least you had fun"-- still held true for these shows, though. And as a 12-year native of Austin, I attended all of them. And I did have fun for all of them (even during a second set "Friday"!) but to try to paraphrase Orwell, "All shows are fun, but some shows are more fun than others." Enjoying being in the moment and witnessing a band that is still playing well after 35 years of concerts is one thing, but there hadn't been anything truly transcendent in any of these shows. Which set the stage for 2018.
Would the band play another "Texas show," or would the magic --that we all know can occur-- happen?
It was hot in Austin last night. Not hot like it was in 2015, though, when I think show temperature was somewhere between 100 and the temperature of the sun, but still hotter than most out-of-towners likely expected. So the energy in the venue was anxious and ready for release. And as Trey opened up with "Sample in a Jar," I'm sure I wasn't the only one waiting with anticipation. As it was the first "Sample" since the legendary Baker's Dozen version, I found myself holding my breath as the band approached the "the simple smiles and good times seem all wrong" lyric. But, alas, this was a standard "Sample."
Coming into the two hole was a very unexpected "Light" in its earliest placement ever, and only third first set version. In a tour that's been sprinkled so far with some unexpected first set explorations, this seemed promising. A nice little Page-and-Trey-led jam developed but remained firmly within the bounds of "Light." What happened next was a clear indication that this was a first set. A compact "Moma Dance," followed by "Funky Bitch," "Heavy Things," "Theme," "Brian and Robert," and "Halfway to the Moon." Listening to the previous shows on this tour, I thought it seemed like there was a fairly high degree of mixed cues and flubs by Trey and all members of the band. But this stretch of songs, although probably not worthy of future re-listens unless you are a huge fan of any of them in particular, were played pretty well, and without anything too noticeably off. And they all had the requisite "extra mustard" you may be looking for in the first set. There was a half-second where it seemed like "Theme" would take off, but instead it settled-back into its normal form.
Then came "The Line." Probably the current most maligned song in the catalog, woo boy were people a little deflated to hear its opening moments. But I want to bring this version up because Page absolutely kills it on the baby grand after the vocal segment. Now don't get me wrong, it's still "The Line" and still the first set and by this point I was starting to feel like we were heading towards a repeat of (3.0) Texas shows past. "I Didn't Know" came up next, which was only really noteworthy because of Mike taking his pants off mid-song. But with the set closer, there was a strong glimmer of hope that developed. A frenetic "46 Days" sprung up, and elevated itself into a pretty fun and rocking jam that although was short at just over 10 minutes, packed a lot into it. And that hope continued to grow during the setbreak as thoughts of huge Tweezers on the five year anniversary of Tahoe raced through everyone's heads.
Well "Tweezer" never happened. But as the wind picked up just a bit prior to the second set starting, we got a strong message from the band: "Everything's Right." For a song that debuted only in 2017, it certainly has frequently been taken out on extended versions consistently. And this version in particular is, in a few words, simply stellar. Dark and melodious eventually give way to bliss and peaks in this monster 19-minute journey that goes by extremely quick. I'm not a musicologist and have never studied music theory, but I do know when I think something sounds really good. And the segment that develops around 12-minutes in sounds really good. And as an aside, is the theme of 2018 jammed-out TAB songs? "Everything's Right," "Set Your Soul Free," and "Soul Planet" have just been excellent this tour so far (as well as some of the standard heavy hitters as well). I like to imagine the band saying to Trey, "We'll play your song but we're taking it far out too." After a slightly jarring re-entry into "Everything's Right" to finish the version, another surprise song in the two slot happens.
"DWD" is typically considered a set two opener, but for the second time in three shows it began out of a strong second-set jam, in second position, and is simply must-hear. A continuation of some of the jamming heard earlier, it also covers a ton of ground in its relatively short 17-minute frame. An almost mirror of the previous "Everything's Right," its jam explodes into a light and bright section immediately, that eventually snakes itself effortlessly back into an evil and foreboding section that is a must hear and that segues pretty easily into "Steam."
"Steam" is its typical good self with a killer Trey solo in the middle portion. A compact "Seven Below" closes out the third quarter to conclude an excellent 55 minutes of Phish. It's unfortunate they couldn't have pushed that out a bit as well, because its groove was bopping right along. In terms of second set ballads, though, "Dirt" really can't be beat. There are few songs I'd like to hear every show, but "Dirt" is on the short list, along with "Horn" and "Pebbles and Marbles." Standard versions of "The Wedge" (making its second consecutive fourth quarter appearance) and "Wilson" follow, with a show-closing standard "Antelope" with good tension/release dynamics, and Kuroda having one last chance to have fun with all his crazy gadgets. An encore of "Loving Cup" made sure everyone was sent off into the night happy.
Putting it all together what did we have? Easily the best show in Texas in 3.0 (with again a pretty low bar to overcome). Two excellent must-hear jams in set two contributed to a stellar third quarter, and the first set closed well. Overall, a fun show. I know I had fun. And I know I'll have more fun at Curveball. See ya'll there.
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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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