, attached to 2014-07-25

Review by solargarlic78

solargarlic78 Quiet Nights:
Delicate Jams and Lots of Songs in Charlotte

There was a period in 93-95 when Phish would deliberately get really quiet during an improvisation (this culminated of course with the 12/9/95 “Silent Jam” during the Albany YEM). This was both for the band — the quieter everyone is, the easier it is to listen to one another and hear the nuances of all four members. But it was also a kind of test of the patience of the audience’s listening skills. Some parts of the crowd would use the quiet space to hoot and holler, but others would “shhh” them and try to help make the quiet space the band was searching for. Last night in Charlotte, I heard Phish returning to a “quiet” and patient approach to improvisation which required excellent listening and interplay between the members. While the summer shed could never create an equally quiet crowd, Phish seemed to use this quiet delicate approach to create very interesting jams — very quickly. This is the hallmark of their “efficiency” over the last 3 years — it no longer takes them 10-20 minutes to create really deep and ‘out there’ jams. Last night saw them ‘out there’ under the 5 minute mark of a “Piper.” With this efficiency, however, Phish chose again to focus more on songs and less on jams — as there were several moments where jams were cutoff.

The first set was very well balanced. We got the first Mike’s opener since 2012. This version had nowhere near the “fire” and rock edge of 7/20, but it did feature (right out of the gate) what sounded like a “Help on the Way” tease (whether it was intentional is quite another story). Don’t you all think it’s time Phish pay a bit more of a ‘tribute’ to the Grateful Dead (certainly they are comfortable with their stature as Phish to not worry about the constant comparisons)? Since the 80s we have one glorious moment of 8/9/98 and a whole lot of debated “teases” (do you hear that “Franklin’s Tower” jam in the 8/13/97 “Gumbo”? So do I). Perhaps they should do something in 2015 (the Dead’s 50th anniversary). Or, perhaps, they should do something this Friday on Jerry’s Birthday!!! The “Back on the Train” was the first to emerge out of Mike’s and was a standard groovy-blues number. Along with “Ocelot” and “Alaska” this is one of Phish’s one chord blues jams. A blues jam is usually based around chord changes (I-IV-V), but Phish enjoys the “freedom” of staying on one chord to create a more open jam unhindered by chord changes. (on archive.org you can hear recorded rehearsals of “Viola Lee Blues” where Jerry instructs the band to not play the changes in the Viola jam but to stay on the G chord to “make it free.”) “Weekapaug” is probably one of the most reliably enjoyable type I jams going (“Twist” and “Roggae” are others off the top of my head). This one started funky and built to the Trey solo. The “Wingsuit” was perhaps my least favorite version of tour so far. Trey made use of his “whammy” pedal (or pitch shifter — or “whale call”) in the Lydian jam in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I think at times his “whale call” can be great (I loved the 7/5/13 “Steam”), but this “Wingsuit” jam has proven to be a beautiful Trey solo on par with the “Curtain With’s” and “Reba’s” of the world. The “whale” just makes dissonance in what should be a melodious and beautiful jam. “Possum” and “Tube” brought the energy up in different ways (one blues, one funk) — and this “Tube” was over the 5 minute mark (not by much). After a standardly well played “My Friend”, we got perhaps the highlight of the set with “Winterqueen” (a shocking highlight to be sure). Since the album version came out, I could see the outro jam on this song had potential. This version got to that delicately quiet place with Mike, Page, and Trey literally trading licks in flurry of beautiful textures. Instead of seeing this song as a cheesy Trey ballad — that can interrupt second sets — it could be seen as the next “Roggae”? A 42 show “bustout” of “Beauty of a Broken Heart” felt nice after being beat into submission with “Halfway to the Moon.” A tease of this Page ballad was also featured in “David Bowie.” No one seems to be saying much about it, but to my ear this might be the best “Bowie” of tour. The best “Bowie” jams (when we’re not counting ones between 93-95!) venture out of the Em-D progression into truly really dissonant (or, alternatively, blissful major key) textures for a good 20 seconds before kicking back into the type I jam. This version ventured “out” several times into some really crazy sounding stuff. The first “Golgi” of tour was nice sugar on top after I’m sure many expected “Bowie” to close.

I’m sure when “555” opened set II the hopes of a mammoth version were high. There’s no reason this funky number should not be opened up, but it wasn’t last night. For some odd reason, Mike’s originals (besides his “song” in the olden days) never seem to go type ii. Do you know what’s weirder than a type ii “Wedge”? A type ii “Weigh.” Free Mike’s songs for jamming please! The “Chalkdust” that followed was another monster — competing with “Hood” and “Ghost” for jam vehicle of the tour (I pick the latter btw). This version reminded me of the Mann version in its constant cycling through theme after theme in an almost “stream of consciousness” fashion. In his incredibly insightful essay about 2014 Phish so far, @phishcrit described this as a “mercurial” style of jamming where the band is able to effortlessly weave from idea to idea in rapid (and coherent) fashion. As someone who prefers Phish to eventually stick with a theme and build it to something (see the SPAC Fuego or the Northerly Ghost), this was not my favorite jam of tour. I will admit in a sparse 16 minutes it covered a lot of very interesting ground — from loop jam, to echoplex inflected “woos”, to bliss dead-like rolling jams — but nothing really stuck. Next came the shocking return of “Fuego”, and this one was the most “jammed out” version since the stunning Mann 25 minute one (I’m going to MPP2 and have high hopes for the “Fuego” I will undoubtedly get there). At the outset of the jam, Trey got on the “wah” and then, again, effortlessly and very quickly, Phish had created an ethereal and spacious quiet jam. As it started to build toward “bliss town”, Trey, somewhat awkwardly, started teasing “Fuego”….in “Fuego”. And, then after a nice little chord riff, we are into “Twist.” Don’t skip this 7 minute version because you assume the “length” means it was worthless. This was efficient Phish at their best — once again creating really quiet and delicate interplay between the members (especially Page on piano — just relentlessly filling space with beautiful runs). The segue into “When the Circus Come to Town” was yet another stunningly well done transition — this is true — but then we are stuck with the problem that they abandoned a Twist jam for this kind of cheesy/crappy song (sorry). Next came “Piper” which also managed to really get “out there” in a mere 4:56 time period. In the most ripcordy moment of the night, Trey found himself playing the opening slide into a “G” note of “Rift” and decided to go with it. The rest of the band appeared to play “tug of war” by staying on the “Piper” groove, but Trey would get his way (he always does). This version of “Rift” was a bit of a train wreck as the rhythm fell apart during Page’s solo (I’ve been there!), and then Trey aggressively tried to play the chords to Page’s transition riff, but, alas, once again the chords were wrong and especially jarring due to Red’s aggressiveness. “Waiting All Night” took it down a notch I’m sure and I would prefer they skipped “Rift” and jammed Piper for 6 more minutes to set up a nice “->” into “Waiting.” I’ve often said I really enjoy a “Hood” or “Slave” at the end of a great set II to provide that soaring type I bliss jam to cap the night. Well, “Reba” can perform the exact same function — and it should more often. This one was well played and featured a mid-90s-esque detour into a quiet jam which is really perfect for “Reba” (and a perfect culmination of the quiet jamming all night). Again the band members really patiently listened to one another. Finally, the “Character 0” closer followed by “Loving Cup” encore seemed redundant: it is a bit too much balls to the wall rock one after another, for my tastes, but one has to admit the latter song seems fresh when it is not the encore every 8th show or so.

What to make of this band right now? While Mansfield thru Randalls was truly transformative, epic, monumental Phish, they seem to be in a different mood now. They want to play a lot of songs, create odd/interesting setlist arrangements and professional segues. Apart from the one long jam (last night’s CDT), the jams were tight, patient, efficient, but also objectively short. It is fun and interesting Phish for sure, but I must admit not exactly mind blowing. Hard to believe it, but only 7 shows left until the August lull before Dick’s. Savor it, fans.


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