, attached to 2019-11-30

Review by andrewrose

andrewrose Well this wasn't a very popular take when posted as the recap but I'm going to add it here too anyway for posterity, because after listening to the show again, I stand by it, maybe even more strongly. I think this show is a great example of how much appeal Phish can have for many just by being silly, selecting great songs, and popping off with high energy at the right moments. Not that those can't be valuable take-aways, but if like me you're more satisfied when the band is really tight, communicating clearly, and weaving things together as a cohesive unit, and pursuing unique ideas with patience and purpose, you might find this show more lacking than some others have suggested. For whatever it's worth—which I'll readily admit may be nothing at all—I thought the much maligned show from Toronto earlier this summer was miles ahead of this one as a front to back offering. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


A Big Black Furry Hot Messy Marsupial Thanksgiving Feast

Ok turkeys it’s recap time! For everyone at home keeping score the year is 2019. The date is November 30th, and it also happens to be Thanksgiving weekend. (Here in the USA anyway; back home in Canada where I’m from we do Thanksgiving a month earlier. But don’t worry, we have a long terrible genocidal history with respect to our indigenous population too.) Anyway, a lot to be grateful for tonight, and I’m sure a lot of folks went home happy. I’ll start my recap by offering some gratitude for finally having met @Icculus face-to-face, a solid 25 years after our initial exchange via a B+P of what I believe was the Bomb Factory.

On that note, the band certainly brought out some heavy artillery tonight, but count me among those who hope that “Plasma” reprise is now safely stored away in its holster for the foreseeable future. I thought the show had some powerful moments, and also some surprisingly rough ones, but we’ll get to that…

Phish is coming off an interesting summer, one that saw them playing a ton of new songs, dropping type II micro jams in deft, unexpected places, to varying effect, and at least a few incredible macro ones as well (the 6/19 Birds is my favourite jam of the year fwiw..). I thought the band was pretty tight all summer, and Trey especially sounded soulful, purposeful, and on point, channeling the emotional heft of the Ghosts of the Forest material. So I was surprised tonight to find him as rusty and slow as he was out of the gate and through most of the first frame. Not having heard anything of the previous night and kind of scratching my head at it, I assumed the band would be warmed up for a big rocker tonight on some very old, familiar and storied territory.

The “Turtle in the Clouds” opener felt a bit clunky to me, though I was happy to hear it in person for the first time, and the “Punch You In the Eye” briefly spent some interesting time in spacey unfamiliar territory before a choppy “Landlady” sequence and the second set of dance moves between Mike and Trey in only the second song of the show. The slow(ish?) funky “Llama” seemed like a nod to me to this rust Trey especially seemed to need to shake off, and that followed suit with the slow, predictable chop of “Meat,” which I thought was one of the first set’s few, if brief, bright(ish?) spots. “Old Home Place” gave a nod to the stomping grounds Phish have been playing since they first ventured beyond Vermont way back in the 80s (yes, those 80s, kids), and I’ll admit that I had some lively expectations for my first show in Providence. Funny that for having seen the band so often in the region, even around this time of year, going back to Thanksgiving weekend in Worcester in 1997, and the year after in 98, and many others nearby since, I had never been here. I have to say that tonight the plea of “why did I leave the plough in the fields, and look for a job in the town” resonated, and I could have done without navigating the masses and the sticky beer covered floor, and reckoning with all the damn plastic water bottles at $5 a pop. Or maybe it’s just because I’m reading Civilized to Death by Chris Ryan right now, but I digress...

At this point each song was being introduced by silly banter with Trey mocking the part of the mainstream arena rocker on a nostalgia tour, and Page complementing it with a ‘THX-surround-sound’ vamp (that, like the “Plasma” gag, also started to tire, imo..). But it’s hard to hate on first set staples like “Lawn Boy”—especially when Page walks over to Mike’s side and looks out at the crowd lovingly and says “Mike’s side.”—and Fish picking up the vacuum on “I Didn’t Know.” I have to say though that from here on, with the exception of a couple interesting jaunts in “Gotta Jibboo” and “Stash,” I thought the set was a pretty terrible hot mess. Trey was just not hitting super basic changes, seemed uncharacteristically distracted, goofy, and a step behind. I root for the guy every time but I also gotta call it as I see it, and tonight on many occasions it seemed like the band was playing a ton of composed sections a half-step slower than normal so he could keep up. Old Home Place, Maze, Stash, Golgi, Hood were are significantly messy in either their composed or lyrical sections, and in some cases both. Maybe this doesn't bother you, but it did me.

The second set was a different story. I don’t want to suggest it was a completely night and day affair, as if a different band came back on stage, but it had a lot more emotional weight, energy (at times off the charts), and overall appeal. I didn’t necessarily feel that Trey was ever in that more purposeful, soulful control we saw over the summer, but they cranked out some interesting stuff all the same. Surely on paper it’s impressive and I bet a lot of folks had a swell time. So how it did it measure up in the flesh?

Driving down here I listened to the wonderful and woefully underrated (imo) 11/29/98 “Bathtub Gin,” and thinking about how reliable “Gin” was in that era for big second set anchors, of which I’m fortunate enough to have seen a few. Coming out with it in the one slot to open set two seemed like a statement to me. The last time they opened set two with “Gin” was at the Mann Theatre in Philly on 8/12/15 (which, spoiler alert, was a way better set than this one), and it felt to me like an attempt at a bit of a reset: a slow, old, reliable big gun the band could use to steer this ship back on track, without being too obvious a choice. It definitely had some punch and got taken out for a ride, but felt more to me like blowing off steam than masterful storytelling or band interplay (they’d go back to this energy later to better effect in “Harry Hood”). The pull back around to the “Gin” theme to close the jam felt pretty forced, but hey, I’ll take an 18 minute second set “Bathtub Gin” opener any night, and I’ll be curious to listen back to it for other signs of life.

I’m not much of an “Alaska” fan and it sure seems to follow me around considering how infrequently I see the band in this era, but I’ll admit I really enjoyed the slow, crunchy space that emerged from the end of it, which lingered for some time with Fish especially hitting the toms with an oddly emotional gusto. I was still wondering about Trey at this point, whether he was finally warmed up and feeling good, and out of that space came an incredibly beautiful, if sadder than usual “What’s the Use?” as if to respond to the validity of that question. The band came to what seemed like a longer than normal full stop in the middle, and then Trey pulled out a chillingly gorgeous string of notes that—and I’m not one to often drop this comparison or even think it’s usually apt—really reminded me of Jerry. Nick Paumgarten did a beautiful tribute to Robert Hunter (may his soul travel the heavens and underworld alike in peace!) in the New Yorker just two months ago when he passed, which you should read—not only because Hunter was a poetic giant who planted (or harvested?) so many of the collective symbols and myths this weird community of ours still trades in, and it’s a great tribute, but because of its chilling opening portrait of Jerry doing “Black Peter” at, yup, the Providence Civic Center on 4/1/86. I had the briefest moment of feeling that same dirge from Trey in a way that was both beautiful and haunting, and after a couple dark speculations took a moment to really appreciate and be grateful for the fact that these old guys are still standing, dancing, and playing for us turkeys. (And that I’m still standing for that matter! If they did play “Llama” the way they might have in the 90s, I doubt I’d have been able to keep up…)

The show had suddenly taken a powerful emotional turn, at least for me, and the “Piper” coming out of this space was the perfect choice. I would have gladly welcomed an old school slow build “Piper” here, but this one went up and outwards and stayed in safe, if danceable and energetic territory. “Golden Age” offered more of the same before settling and clunkily and unnecessarily providing an opportunity for another blast of “Plasma.” A pretty solid overall offering so far though in terms of the second frame. The “Hood” that closed the set is a gnarly beast, though there too I felt Trey was distracted and struggling to nail some of the composed sections. That was quickly forgotten as the jam went type II out of the gate, and revisited some of the frenzied energy of the “Gin” that opened the set. Eventually Trey brought things back around to the “Hood” theme, and it sounded like he was going to lead the band into a soft landing of “you can feel good” and call it a day, but the opposite happened. Instead Trey just churned out a really aggressive, frenzied build back to a more typical Hood finale. Again, maybe not with as refined a touch as I on some of those classic “Hood”s, but the energy was through the roof on this finale to the set. And closing it with the THX sound effect was the one gag tonight that did land for me.

Finally, it looks like the band is having some fun with the encores so far this tour, eh? The “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars” made a lot of sense for the energy the band was channeling tonight, and I thought the “Kung” was a poignant cherry on top, whose ‘stand up!’ dare I say even felt briefly political (speaking of run-away golf cart marathons…). “Wombat” and “Possum” sent us home like some strange marsupial Thanksgiving dish, with one baked into the other … and a little too much “Plasma” on top.


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