, attached to 2015-08-05

Review by kipmat

kipmat Q: If Phish play Divided Sky at the time of the sunset, but the sky is overcast, is it still a Divided Sky at sunset?

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I cruised down US-71 and rolled into the lot at 5:15, and promptly realized I didn't have a way to track down anybody at the .net meetup. I headed to the bandshell/pavillion, where a band called Brother Bagman was playing as part of a preshow hosted by the Central Plains Jamband Society. Cool time, cool folks, but I felt like I needed a nametag. And I only had a couple of phone numbers, and my phone isn't a smartphone so I couldn't check the meetup thread. Phish last played Starlight Theater in 2012, which was probably the last time it was ok to have a slider phone. I thought I saw Doc Brown yelling at me from a passing DeLorean DMC-12...

And yet, everyone I met throughout the evening was cool. Pleasant, happy, loose (to varying degrees), and enjoying the day and the scene. Inside the venue, I sat behind a tour guy who told me he was selling Monica Lewinsky shirts with the legend "Sing Monica". I laughed, and asked to buy one of these not-hot-sellers-on-lot shirts. Alas, he never made it back to his seat after setbreak. And so I danced to the utterly-dancable Gotta Jibboo in the midst of four different Funky B's, all with different repertoires of great moves. The one in my row on my right was raging like a bespectacled Yarmouth Meg...

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I never felt setlist jealousy - jealousy toward a setlist for a show you missed out on - until about 12:00 AM Wednesday morning, when I returned home from work to find that, at the show in Nashville, Phish had played the first Mike's Song 2nd jam since Summer 2000. Up until that point, I had been Kelly Frears and the Mike's Song 2nd jam was Chuck Noland, and I was resigned to never again hearing that drop into the jam, and feeling that thrill of listening to Phish spin the wheel into uncharted musical waters. And then they do just that, at the show *before* the first Phish show I was going to see in nearly 15 years. Jeez, the nerve of those guys.

So I resigned myself to a mediocre setlist for KC. After all, it's been a sizzling tour so far, so I was sure Starlight would still be a fun show with moments of brilliance, or at least not a stinker like Rochester '13. They had played Starlight before, so they must have had some degree of affinity for the venue. And besides, what could I have asked from Phish to possibly top the previous night? Gamehenge with the Twyla Tharp Dance Company?

Thankfully, the not-quite-sellout crowd at Starlight provide some energy that boosted the sound from the stage. We cheered and hollered and clapped our hands and jumped up and down and shouted "woo" during Twist and roared at the silent stage during the pause in Divided Sky, all because we wanted the band to know that we were downright tickled that they would make the trip back to play again at this venue. The Bouncin' that came in the first set was clearly an audible by Trey, likely inspired by the many balloons being batted around in the crowd.

If I had made a setlist of songs I wouldn't have wanted to hear at my "comeback show", it might look a bit like this one. The setlist snob in me was rankled by KDF followed by BOTT, an utterly obvious 46 Days first set closer, and a mild Twist followed by a Wedge that may never again hold up a 2nd set like it did at MPP last year. But I politely asked my inner setlist snob to return to the lot to listen to some Spring '93 show, and determined that while I was at this show, I would savor every note, every sight and sound and drip of mist on the back of my neck, that I had been missing for so long.

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Musically, Phish didn't "swing" very much tonight. They weren't really "goofy" like they sometimes are on stage. The DWD jam was the only part I considered "psychedlic". Surprisingly, they didn't even play any bluegrass tunes for this midwestern, grain-fed audience. At the Starlight Theatre, Phish was a Rock Band putting on a Rock Show like no one else can, with a dash or two of prog-rock influence, and a healthy selection of mature, emotional ballads.

Phish was also a Dance Band, playing some of the most danceble beats this white boy would ever care to enjoy himself with. And they were happy, upbeat grooves - with the notable exception of Sand. I was glad to hear Fishman and Gordo kick off this tune a la the original arrangement, as opposed to Trey just strumming the chords out of nowhere, and waiting for the rest of the band to catch up. This to me was the mark of a band that has been woodshedding in the band rehearsal space; and as Pee Wee, Fred, and Maceo will tell you, this is a modus operandi that cannot fail to pay off onstage.

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Some Phish shows feature each band member, and other Phish shows feature one member of the band stepping up and carrying a greater load than they usually do. 8/5/15 felt to me like a "Trey" show, with him responding to the crowd's energy with a generous watering from the Hose, all the way through the encore. Ocelots usually reach adulthood at 3 years, and the 5-year-old Ocedoc' was a roaring, howling creature of the wild for this show - certainly no purring kitten.

Which is not to say that this was nothing more than a TAB show. Page led the show off with his beautifully nasty clavinet, and got the nod to take the first solo during The Wedge; Mike got to debut a song of his that I certainly never saw coming; Fishman was alternately John Bonham, Clyde Stubblefield, Billy Cobham, and Bill Bruford. And Trey is only able to sustain those notes at the peak of Divided Sky because of the lift the other three provide for him.

Besides his usual brilliance with the lights, Chris Kuroda provided a couple of great effects during that amazing jam out of Down With Disease. Right after Mike stepped on his Taurus pedals to make that bass-bomb sound, CK5 showed an image on the backdrop that might have been bubbles, but I thought it might have been an explosion pattern from a mortar shell. Right after that, he shined the bubble look on the band, along with some blue lights shining vertically overhead, creating the illusion that we were watching the band play underwater, turning Starlight Theater into a giant aquarium castle.

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I was a little surprised to hear Joy as the mid-second-set breather again, although I suppose it was due to be played again this tour. But it was a pleasant surprise; the tune has grown on me, and anyone who struggles with emotional issues can take inspiration from the lyric and the message of the chorus.

In my time as a musician, I have had the opportunity to participate in a couple of (protestant) church worship bands, leading church services in "contemporary praise music". And while there are aspects of that experience that I have reservations about, I have observed that, when performed well and with fortunate timing, a piece of music can definitely have a spiritual impact on an audience. Which is to say that, as I stood and swayed and sang along to "we want you to be happy", and was swept up and carried by the band's performance, I felt like I was back in church, in the best possible sense. I think that, without knowing it, Phish wrote and perfomed a hymn.

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Finally, as Trey led the band into the Wedge, the clouds began to part, and I could look up and see real starlight at Starlight.


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