, attached to 2016-07-01

Review by andrewrose

andrewrose SPAC is a special place. I think everyone kind of started to take it for granted after the band began reliably staging annual multi-night runs on Summer Tour. After a hiatus from that affair last year (with Magnaball essentially taking its place) there was palpable energy in the room. And while the band took a while to get warmed up, once they got started in the second set things got very, very good. Tl;dr you're going to want to check out that Chalk Dust.

Let's set the stage a bit. I hadn't been to a show since Glens Falls in 2013, after being away for most of 2014 and electing to go to Fare Thee Well instead last summer. I have my Portland tickets ready but I hadn't made solid plans to go to SPAC. The last time I was there was the two night stand in 2010 after memorable visits to the venue in 2009 and 2004. It had become so hard to get pavilion seats, and the sound on the lawn there is notoriously bad. But I decided to drive down without a ticket and meet some friends anyway. When I got out of the car in the lot and realized how bad the weather was going to be I was starting to second guess my decision. Torrential rain, tornado warnings; the prospect of being in that on the lawn was not very appealing.

After buying a cheap lawn in the lot I marched over the the box office where I had had some luck getting last minute pavilion seats in 2010. Things have changed since then. They weren't releasing tickets at the window but there was a handful of people pulling up re-releases on their phones and then showing the will call people their confirmation number to collect lower pavilion tickets. My Canadian phone wasn't cutting it and I ended up waiting with a couple other people I met in line from Montreal, hanging around hoping for the best. Finally around 6 after asking and asking the box office sold us two single lower pavilions. Score. Things continued to improve. The weather cleared, and I found other friends whose seats were close to the one I had just procured.

It's a fool's game to have high expectations for first sets in this era. I didn't have any, and I came away pretty happy. The 'got memories' line in Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan seemed to be a subtle nod to being back at SPAC and set a decent tone, but the band was obviously taking a while to warm up. Bowie and Uncle Pen felt like deliberate attempts to get the old fingers going. The song selection was definitely above average, but otherwise not much to write home about. The set ended on a pretty high note however. The crowd vibe in the room was loud and enthusiastic, and after a rousing Golgi that looked like it was going to end the set Trey signalled for one more. Page had a great night and he played an absolutely gorgeous solo to close out the set. The crowd loved it and so did I.

Set Two fed off that energy. It didn't come out of the gates blazing necessarily, though the Sand made an unexpected and welcome opener. Carini is where things started to get really interesting. Though it's not as strong as what followed, there are beautiful delicate moments packed into those 10 or so minutes. Trey started signalling a move to Chalk Dust during the end of the Carini jam that Fish just couldn't quite lock into, so the transition felt a little rough around the edges, but that wouldn't matter soon. The 22 minute jam that follows is top tier Phish, and encouraging for a few reasons. For one, the band seemed intent on exploring some very new, intricate grooves and laid an amazing foundation for the jam in the first of its three segments. After layering this amazing wall of sound Trey proceeded to pull the band to a peak that many have already pointed out echoes the spectacular 7/10/99 version. I don't know if he's been listening to it recently (he alluded to the jam in an interview last year, I believe), but either way, the room exploded. I was leaping up and down like at this point and laughing at how good it was. The jam's final segment saw Trey next to Fish on the marimba lumina and Mike next to Page on the organ. More new-groove material that then landed in Caspian.

By this point I had gotten my money's worth, and the band seemed to feel the same. That's not to say they phoned in the rest of the set; far from it. They were more than warmed up finally, and seemed to want to enjoy ripping through songs they obviously love playing. I really enjoyed the Shine a Light and My Sweet One>Sleeping Monkey sequence, which was classic Phish hilarity (listen for the way they start up Monkey before the closing 'naaaaaame' of MSO, and then proceed to 'finish' the lyrics in Sleeping Monkey).

After a lively Fire closed the set, I leaned over to my friend and said 'the only question now is do they encore with a cover bustout or Character Zero?' 'It won't be Zer--' my friend said, but Trey beat him to it before he could get the words out of his mouth. Oh well, can't win 'em all. Besides, the game had already been won about halfway into the second set.

I'm sure the fun encore will come tonight, but I won't be there to see it. I jumped in my car and drove straight back to Montreal after the show. Here's hoping for a Purple Rain in Portland, though..
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