My fourth show, and first of four this tour. I went with my very good friend Emily, PA native and Phish first-timer. On the way to the venue, after we'd gotten off the highway and were nearing Hershey, we drove through an absolute DELUGE of rain, during which I could barely see the road in front of me. Fortunately, within ten minutes we were past it and out beneath sunny skies again. I had Emily put on "Mr. Blue Skies" accordingly.
I couldn't believe where I was when we pulled into the lot. It had been a long seven months since Cincy. After slipping a flask of Seagram's gin into my back pocket (I was dearly hoping for some of the Bathtub variety), we took in the sights and sounds and smells of lot for a while before heading over to the stadium to get in line.
Hershey stadium being GA floor, there were already a few diehards waiting outside the gates. One older, awesome-looking (GD and Phish) vet kept saying he wasn't calling anything except Fluffhead, third song, first set. Strangely particular call, I thought. The gates opened and we stormed the field, settling into a second row behind some other college-age kids, right in front of Cactus. Pre-show chats with other phans were great as always—really one of my favorite parts of the Phish experience.
JIBBOO. Jibboo opener—who was expecting that? No one, because it had never happened before. I thought it worked very well in the opener slot—a mellow dance number suited for a summer show and soaking up the last of the afternoon sun (which was setting behind Page for the first few minutes so that I could barely look at that side of the stage). Plus, I appreciated that openers were again totally unpredictable after my three '09 shows had opened Chalk Dust, Chalk Dust, Wilson. Nice, breezy jam with some beautiful passages near the peak.
CHALK DUST. I love the one-two opening punch of atypical opener, typical opener. Standard 3.0 rocker—nothing crazy, but thoroughly enjoyable. And I do love the song.
FLUFFHEAD. Third song, first set! None of us could believe the vet's call had been correct (and let it be noted, '09 Fluffheads usually closed the first set or were used as second-set centerpieces, so it really was pretty out of the ordinary). This was the first of several show highlights for me—the whole song was executed just about PERFECTLY, allowing me to really appreciate the contours and dynamics of the composition, easily one of Trey's finest. I was totally, totally hooked onto every note. Excellent, passionate reading.
FUNKY BITCH. Wasn't QUITE as stoked as other people in my section for this one, but sure as hell not complaining. Lots of fun, and everyone's blues solos (especially Page's!) were just killer.
JIM. The first song I felt kind of "meh" about hearing, but as Phish reminded me many times throughout June '09, any song could prove unexpectedly awesome/perfect at any time. After dispatching the song proper, the jam got unexpectedly DARK—not quite going type II, but certainly it was anything but a formulaic Jim. It was like the jam DNA of Stash was bleeding through to the jam DNA of Jim—that's the best way I can describe it. A fresh, engaging run through a song I didn't even know I wanted to hear—thanks, Phish.
NICU. Always fun to spend some time with calypso Phish.
HORN. Wasn't expecting it at all. Very cleanly delivered, and kept the setlist interesting.
IT'S ICE. As soon we got the opening arpeggios, I knew this song was EXACTLY what I wanted to hear. Another one of my favorite Trey compositions, along with Fluffhead and SOAM—to me it just sounds like a plunge into, well, icy darkness. In the subterranean netherworld at the center of the song, Page laid down these Bathtub-esque cascades of dissonance that just sent chills down my spine. What's more, the darkness was perfectly reflected in and amplified by the heavy, threatening clouds which had returned overhead (and of course the full force of Kuroda's lights as the night set in). Just perfect. An easy show highlight.
BOUNCING / SPARKLE. I thought of how Charlie Dirksen used to single these two out as hopelessly jam-less songs in old-school phish.net reviews, and laughed that we got both of 'em in a row. I didn't especially mind, though; nothing could turn the set away from the aura of darkness surrounding it in my mind, and even these two songs sounded faintly sinister sandwiched between It's Ice and…
SOAM. Arguably my favorite Phish song. Arguably. I could hear this at every show and not mind. The song was executed perfectly, and the jam was just about everything you could ask… seething, screaming prog-trance-psychedelia out beneath the storm clouds. What else is there to say?
SET ONE RECAP. In case you couldn't tell, I thought this first set was pretty damn cool. Highlights were Fluffhead, It's Ice, and SOAM, plus the unique jam in Runaway Jim. Between 0 and 10, 5 being an average Phish set, I'd call it a 7.5. Generated plenty to talk about at set break.
DROWNED. Even though the clouds above never opened up (probably for the best!), I thought back to the deluge I encountered on the road, and I felt the cover couldn't have been dropped on a better evening (though, of course, it stayed in rotation for the rest of tour). The jam wasn't all that long (the whole song clocks in around 12 minutes), but what's most memorable is how it went WAY OUT WAY FAST. Immediately established the groove-oriented, dance-party tone of the second set, too. A rousing bit of uptempo funk before Trey throws down the riff for…
TWEEZER. Easily a favorite Phish jam, though unfortunately at the show I couldn't enjoy it fully because I was distracted by some overweight middle-aged assholes who had pushed their way into the front under some bullshit pretext and were trying to grind with ladies less than half their age. They were also talking loudly. During Tweezer. Not cool. I said something and that quieted them down a little bit. I was able to return my attention more fully to the stage by the time the song had dissolved into an ambient, loop-driven haze. [The tapes reveal a quality but not groundbreaking Tweezer that would soon be overshadowed by the Hartford and especially Merriweather Tweezers later in the tour. (Still probably better than most '09 Tweezers, Red Rocks and Miami being the most obvious exceptions.)]
TWIST. I really like this song, and was happy to hear it continue the late-'90s vibe of the second set, especially when, to my surprise and delight, Phish got serious about the jam again! This Twist jam was dirty and funky and featured absolutely demented playing from Mike (Mike really went off the deep end throughout this second set). An easy set highlight, and the third solid jam in a row…
PIPER. … soon to be fourth. Truth be told, this Piper wasn't all that exciting, particularly in light of my next Piper at Merriweather. Very much in the vein of most late-'09 Pipers: a bit of fast-paced G-minor funk. But there's really nothing wrong with that, and if they wanted to play Piper AFTER Drowned, Tweezer, and Twist, they were more than welcome to.
FREE. A typical 3.0 Free, but more cleanly delivered than some, and giving Mike time in the spotlight seemed particularly appropriate this set.
VELVET SEA. A fine ballad to hear in this spot. I'm pretty sure everyone knew what was coming by this point…
YEM. … and when it came, it was NO disappointment. To my ears, one of the best YEMs of 3.0, if not the best. Huge, gooey funky jam caps off a big-time dance-party set. Mike was totally the master of this song. Get the tapes and check this shit out—he goes apeshit all over this jam, throwing in some Boogie On-esque vaults up and down the fretboard. On top of it all, the vocal jam was consistently, truly INTERESTING, and kicked off a summer of similarly interesting vocal jams. All in all, YEM was the highlight of the set, and maybe the single-song highlight of the night. Emily agreed, too—the vocal jam blew her mind. You never know what'll hook a first-timer.
SET TWO RECAP. If you like non-stop groove Phish, you'll want to give this set a listen. For this late-'90s-loving phan, a very tasty block of music. Five of the seven songs are legitimately jammed, and, what's more, the weight of jamming falls fairly evenly, especially between the first four. Highlights were Drowned, Twist, YEM, and Mike. Probably another 7.5—at least as good as the first set, but in a very different way.
Encore was Bold as Love, which was a great farewell (till Portsmouth in two days, of course). The encore (famously, by now) did not contain a Tweezer Reprise, which had some people confused/outraged, but I didn't really mind—for god's sake, the 11/17/97 Tweezer isn't Reprised. I minded even less after the hilarity/awesomeness that ensued surrounding this controversial move at Hartford/SPAC. Encore doesn't really rock the show average, so I'm calling the whole show a 7.5, an early highlight of a fairly excellent tour.