, attached to 2015-09-04

Review by DevinB

DevinB It has already been said -- and quite rightly so, I might add -- that we listeners seem to be at the mercy of our expectations for this show. Yes, this show is starting a run that will cap what has easily been the best tour of this era and, once the dust clears, what I suspect will be seen as one of the best of all time. Yes, this is the much-anticipated first show since the much-talked-about Magnaball festival and featured several songs that had just had the unfortunate luxury of receiving best-of-year readings. Yes, this is the traditional "gag" night at Dick's, which has been subject to much theorizing and brow furrowing throughout the summer and, perhaps, well into the first set of this show... until, of course, it became clear they had abandoned the premise altogether for something more quintessentially unpredictable. But, hey, when did we decide we wanted this band to be predictable?

Let's be honest about this show: it doesn't have a definitive jam that breaks the 20-minute mark, nor does it feature any of the clean segues we have heard on many occasions this summer. It doesn't have a famed five- or six-song set like several other shows this tour, though one look at the final set times will indicate that it didn't necessarily feature less jamming. And, no, it doesn't have an overarching "gag" that we can laugh and high-five about once or twice before resuming our show experience.

But what about the music that is here? What about the finished product?

Well, to my ears, this show featured no less than three excellent first set jams that ventured well into type II territory despite their truncated running times. Ghost in the #2 slot? Wow. A surprise AND and an inspired way to test the waters after a tense but much-needed two-week recovery from the 'ball. I would have preferred a little more from Bathtub Gin, but given that it was a mid-set reading, I think we received a wonderfully dense and climactic jam with a major peak and a clean return to the song's form. After the Magnaball Gin, though, I fear this one will be judged too harshly -- again, a victim of expectation. And finally, how about that 46 Days? As has already aptly been pointed out, this one provides an unusual second jam that ventures well into parts unknown, which is remarkable for ANY set, let alone a first set. Could I have asked for a better Antelope closer? Sure. By all accounts, it was an average reading, but again one that follows a tour-defining version at Magnaball, so it's easy to forget the wealth of interesting moments that preceded it. No, it wasn't a perfect first set, but it would be difficult to call it "average" or "ordinary" in context.

And what about the second set? Well, Wolfman's could have been swapped with 46 Days for a more familiar approach to 3.0 setlist construction, and the jam was nothing to write home about, but the variation here is what makes it notable. Again unexpected and, to be honest, a whole of lot fun. But let's talk for a moment about the next two songs. Unfortunately, when the 2015 dust settles, this fantastic Blaze On and this absolutely inspired Golden Age may end up victims of run-time prejudice, which is a damned shame because they both contain some of the best pound-for-pound type II work the band has turned in all year. First, Blaze On finds and establishes a tight chunky groove that Mike and Fish hold down with an authority that almost makes it sound composed. This is not your typical 3.0 "bliss" segment here, people -- this is something entirely new to my ears. And though I sense a small tug of a ripcord at the end (is it really a ripcord after 15 minutes, though?), I am completely satisfied with the life cycle of this jam. Listen and re-listen. You will see. And that Golden Age? Wow. For my money, maybe one of the best versions ever. Granted, they stumbled their way through the song proper, but that jam was something to behold. It was taught without sounding laborious. Jazz-inflected without sacrificing danceability. Mike and Fish again lay claim to a groove that, to my ears, is something entire unique in the Phish oeuvre, and the flourishes contributed by Trey and Page and absolutely stunning. There is so much packed into this 16-minute masterpiece that it warrants multiple replays. And that perfunctory Roses? Well, from the cheap seats, I didn't see a single person sitting down or half-assing their way through that one. It was an exclamation point on one of the best half-hours I have heard this summer.

So what does that leave us? A Fuego that strikes me as above average, the love-it-or-hate-it Velvet Sea cool-down, and a typically great -- if slightly extended -- Walls of the Cave. In many ways, we have a mirror image of the latter half of so many classic six-song 3.0 sets, but one that came on the heels of so many twists and turns that it was a well-earned return to form. And that's to say nothing of the MAJOR twist we got by way of a crowd-baiting Bike encore that was so utterly ridiculous we all couldn't help but laugh, sing along, and love every minute of it.

Taken as a whole, this show was a wildly unpredictable night with unexpected riches to be mined from unexplored caves. Look past what you know of Phish 3.0, of Summer 2015, and of the four previous Dick's runs. This show kept all of us, whether we are willing to admit it or not, on our toes in a way that Phish hasn't done much in this era. It's not a classic show by any means -- certainly not in the top five of 2015 and perhaps not even in the top 10, but that's more a reflection of the impossibly high bar set and reset so many times already. Give this one another listen, though, and I think you'll see that it is truly another exceptional show in an exceptional year.


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