I was pleased and comforted with the un-orchestrated playing in Chicago. Segmented pieces like Maze were fine, too, but that has been the case through 2009 already.
In the free-forms they kept their energy and didn't lose it in the minutia -- compare 2009 Wolfman's or Boogie Ons (at least the ones I saw on the East Coast) to 2010 Chicago as examples -- where they'd end up in funk slop way too early before any real creativity had occurred prior with the energy just dropping-out and sometimes saved by abrupt tempo up-swings, trying segues, or just plain fade-outs. The melodic elements of Wolfman's, Boogie, Ghost, and Limb x Limb were either ever-present or returned to the flow nicely. To be sure, the Boogie from Chicago was stellar ranking with the Chula Vista '99 and MSG '98, but for different reasons. The Ghost in this show was a relief to my ears as they had struggled with the basics of the song despite some sweet jams out of it in 2009. A team oriented melodic and pleasing Limb x Limb seemed fresh aside from containing first ever(?) vocal jam, which was simply fun and cool. All I seem to crave at shows now is REAL creativity, it doesn't have to be a 12 minute jam, but just something with actual purpose and intensity. I can handle tonal stuff and other things that Trey can get wrapped-up on like in the Caspian where it was nice and not too drawn-out. Show of Life got 'dissed in the lot as all new Phish tunes seemingly do. Though I thought the band really sold it and came on strong to end the 2nd set. You knew it was coming, anyway, after Trey's Winter tour. Oh, and let us not forget another new-ish song, Light, that brought IT to start the 2nd set and could, perhaps, have gone even further.
Mike has really equipped himself with some sick pedals and synthesized effects that seemed to have caused some issues at times for him in 2009, but I think the trick is to use them wisely and pointedly throughout a song as in Boogie.
Page's vocal range has settled-in as I found him sounding somewhat awkward and perhaps uncomfortable in the harmonies as they re-acclimated themselves to their repertoire in 2009. Page is also now setting some loops and playing over them though his mix is still too low at times.
Trey lyrics seem to have more punch to them, too. I'm hoping to get a better understanding about what/how he's interested in with regard to his playing and style.
Fish, perhaps, is the most judicious of the bunch and I feel he sometimes yearns for challenges and can become disinterested, though ever-present. I wish he played more outside of Phish.
I want them to play what THEY want to play, it's better for everyone overall.
What I disliked in Chicago was the Antelope; it is exactly what can go wrong at a show these days. I feel Trey's choice for low whine in his tone makes for a less dexterous and dynamic range for his guitar; either that or he is infatuated with that flat sound where he can easily bail himself out with the wail. Antelope, unfortunately, paid for this infatuation and the seemingly out-of-tune chord bend-a-thon that was enough in Capsian. I'm not sure what to think of missing the reggae section and the ensuing banter on Fishman.
It's great that they've got 2009 under their belt so we can really begin to find out where and how this ship is sailing.