I'll admit it, I'm a Creek Phreak. Since I made my first trip out to the middle of the corn and soy fields of central Indiana in 1998, Phish at Deer Creek has always been "must see" shows for this dedicated Head. The easy six-hour drive from my house, as well as the plentiful camping that surrounds the venue, makes this tour stop one of the most exciting stops on any tour. It provides the festival atmosphere without providing the festival. To top it off, the last three Phish stands, as well as Trey's show with Medeski sitting in during the summer of 2001, have provided this intrepid show-goer with too many musical memories to count. When the boys announced a three night stand this year, I knew it was on.
I arrived with two cohorts to the sprawling onsite camping that was spread out in an empty field behind the entrance, somewhere around 4:30 p.m. I like the family-run campgrounds that are sprinkled throughout the area, and have had great experiences at a few of them, but this time, with economics a factor and a lot of shows still ahead of me, onsite was the logical choice. We set up camp, and my friends quickly went off in search of tickets for that night's show, which turned out to be quite a simple task. Extra tickets were everywhere, and few people had any luck getting rid of theirs for more than $20. Each of my friends picked up all three tickets for a combined fifty dollars, quite a steal.
We headed in and I left them on the lawn to check out my pavilion seat, which was located on the far left side of the venue. Before I could find my seat, I ran into Chris from Wisconsin, who I had befriended at the 2000 Phil n' Phish stand at the Creek, when we camped next to each other, along with our respective girlfriends. Three years later, the girlfriends were gone, along with our long hair, but we were back in the same place we had hung out three years earlier. The great thing about Phish shows is that this sort of randomness happens all the time.
After some chit chat, the band came out, and we were on our way. I was stoked for my first show of the summer, and I was hoping for a doozy. The opening chords of "Cities" rang out and I knew we were in for it. Tardy Heads could be seen sprinting through the concourse area, filling any empty area that remained in the pavilion and on the lawn. I thought this was a great opening choice, finding that as I head towards the sixty show mark, I appreciate unique song selection as much as on point musicianship. The tour's only "Cities" went over well, and Trey then raised the energy a notch with "Runaway Jim", a short and to the point version complete with Trey messing up lyrics, though the crowd seemed to care very little. The halting chords of "Meat" rang out next, much to the excitement of some around me. I appreciated the busting out of a song not seen since pre-Hiatus, and Mr. Mike Gordon was loud and funky, but this song doesn't do much for me.
The frenetic tempo and slick country sound of "Water in the Sky" picked up the pace a touch, but the venue exploded in its first real peak moment of the evening as the opening lick to "Stash" rang out. Clocking in close to fifteen minutes, this version provided an interesting jam section, and the boys began to stretch their legs for the first time. The jam had murky undertones as Trey tore along, with Mike providing interesting runs and Page alternating between a wash of organ sounds and the hammering rhythm of the grand piano. This all built to a peak before cooling back down into the song's trademark lick.
"My Old Home Place" followed and was a good cool down song for band and audience alike. "Vultures" followed, rung in with Page's descending piano intro, and took off. "Vultures" was once overlooked, but as the band plays it more and more, it has blossomed into a fan favorite. "Birds of a Feather" brought a huge reaction from the crowd and took off. The jam was fast paced and chugged along, audience in tow, for six or seven minutes before slowing and fading into some haunting guitar distortion. Trey reprised some of the song's chords before deciding on the opening riff to "Mike's Song" instead.
The crowd barely reacted the first time, many in the house missing the lick altogether. By the time Fishman's drums and Kuroda's lights kicked in, the kids were rocking,. Many predicted that we were due for this tune somewhere in the Deer Creek run, but few thought it would come this early. This version featured full-on rock star wailings from Trey, something that would develop into the theme for the evening. After the song's crushing climax, the band noodled for a second, seemingly unsure of where to go, before dropping into "I am Hydrogen". This song, to me, is like the eye of the storm. One of Trey's most beautiful guitar melodies sandwiched between two of Phish's most explosive roof shaking numbers. It's perfect.
Some around me complained that they've been playing "Hydrogen" in every "Mike's" this tour. I won't though, thinking back to when "Simple" was the standard segue fare and "Hydrogen" was semi-retired. Fishman's snare drum then abruptly snapped open "Weekapaug" and the band took off, led by Mike, whose thundering bass was loud and clear all night. At one point Cactus stepped up and ripped a series of the most riveting and bone crushing bass licks that kickstarted the jam towards its energy laden climax, leaving mouths agape.
I vacated the pavilion following the set, and headed to the concourse in search of friends and an ice cold drink to cool me down after the blazing set I had just witnessed. Setbreak flew by, at a mere twenty five minutes it was quite a departure from the never-ending setbreaks of tours past. I hustled up to the lawn as the opening of "Suzy Greenberg" rang in the start of the second set. Trey was a step behind on the lyrics, something I'd notice throughout the run, evidence of the long Hiatus and the tough task it must be to re-learn Tom Marshall's twisted catalogue of wordplay after two years off.
"Taste" was next, and I was super thrilled to hear it. I had often said during the Hiatus that one of the things I missed the most about Phish was Page's piano solo in "Taste". This one was a treat, but Trey quickly took over the jam and steered it like a madman hell bent on rock supremacy. After a brief pause, Trey led the band into "46 Days", the first Round Room song to appear that night. This song is a good one, but it just doesn't feel finished to me. With another verse or two, an a little more structure this could be a balls-out rocker. Instead, it is just used as a jumping off point, as there's nothing easier than jamming a song with no end to return to. When the jam lost its buoyancy and begin to drift along aimlessly, losing the attention of some, the lack of energy was immediately rectified by the intense trademark blare of the opening guitar line of "Tweezer". The band turned the intensity up a notch and the audience responded in kind as the resonance of Fishman's building drums made many wail in joyous response. The jam highlighted the funk chops of Mike and Page as the groove rode on the plunking rhythm of Gordon's bass, and was driven by Page's futuristic synthesizer licks. If anyone within earshot wasn't convinced we were being taken on a journey to outer space, they knew for sure when Fish kicked in the opening beat of "2001".
This one always delights, and the spacey dance beat was the perfect thing to grab the audience after the jam-a-thon that was the two preceding tunes. Once "2001" had run its course and its climax degenerated into feedback, the opening chords of "Limb By Limb" rang out, building to its furious apex riding on the interplay between guitar and piano, before giving way to Fishman's infectious drumbeat. Trey then turned up the distortion and crunched out the opening chords to "Good Times/Bad Times". This version featured an extended solo that lit out with lightening quick speed and never lost a beat. With this closer, Phish proved the audience that it had the arena rock credentials to match those of the song's original authors. The encore twosome of "Loving Cup" and "Tweezer Reprise" restated just that as the band used their one last shot to rock the audience, as opposed to sending them out on a slow note. As the audience filtered out into the temperate Indiana night, to party in the lot or crash in their tents, everyone agreed. Yes, it was a beautiful buzz. And we were only getting started.