I supplemented my craving for great live music with TAB, some trips to the first two Bonnaroos, which were all nice, but NOT the same. When times got real dark, we went to a few string cheese shows. I had to admit I had a problem. I wanted my favorite band back.
I got what I asked for, sorta. I chatted with a lot of phans during this Chicago run who got hooked on Phish post-hiatus. All respect to them, but I went to a half-dozen post-hiatus shows, including Coventry, and musically, was left with a lot of sadness. It wasn't the same. You could sense the stress on the stage. While my friends and I always enjoyed the experience of going to a show, the music, to me, was always a disjointed, disorganized, dis-rehearsed, disappointing. The band seemed to be forcing the issue.
I had officially lost my Jibboo.
When they returned in '09, again, I hoped for the best and went with my guys to the Deer Creek-Alpine run. Had a great time and the band appeared to be enjoying themselves again. The energy on the stage and in the crowd (and at Deer Creek on Friday, the sky too) was all phenomenal. The only thing that confused me was that I was 10 years older than when I went to my first show. And the crowd was so young. As much as I enjoyed seeing some well-crafted, energetic performances, I thought the band had passed me by.
Then comes the three show run at UIC Pavilion.
They didn't play PYITE (the first song i ever heard live, BTW), but that's exactly what the phab phour did in Chicago. I once again got my Jibboo back.
Let me list the things I found amazing about this three show run:
* The band's approach to jamming. Having many conversations with my friends D & J (who've been by my side at every Phish show I've attended), here's how we describe their jamming. Post hiatus, they jammed horizontally. Almost in the style of Bitches Brew, going in crazy places, and bailing on songs quickly to get to that crazy place. Today, they've adopted more of a bluesy, vertical style jam. They continue to explore, but they're more focused, their energy is higher, and their execution is top notch.
* Trey mentioned in an interview with RS recently that they upgraded their audio equipment. I think this has been a huge positive. There's so much more clarity in the sound. When I'm at a show, my ear likes to key in on one instrument for a while then step back and listen to the quartet. My ear found what it wanted a lot easier than any other shows I've attended.
* CK5 - ummm . . . . did they also like triple Kuroda's budget or something? The lights have entered a new stratosphere.
* CK5 pt II - it's like they're giving Chris solos now. I can't say enough positive things about the lights. They're just magical. No chemical enhancement required.
* Mike - I call him out separately only because he'll always be my favorite member of the band. It's Trey's band, but Mike's the glue. He's as great as he ever has been.
* Trey 3.0 - he's got his voice back, he's hitting his notes. There's a focus and energy to Trey that I have never seen until this run. I'm so proud of him.
* Page - it sounds like there are 4 Pages up on stage. He's so quick, so energetic. The keys are just exploding up on stage.
* Fishman - always great.
* The young phans - Going into these shows, I thought the age gap between my generation and the youngest generation of phans would be an annoyance. I was so wrong. I was pumped witnessing the teen and 20-something phans know every song, new and old. The youngins restored my faith in the phab phour.
* All phans - young or old, I've always been proud that Phish phans are always the most polite, kind and peaceful crew you'll ever find in a live music scene.
I've already written a lot, and I haven't even gotten to the 8/15 show yet. I hope that underscores just how much I loved the UIC run. I got re-hooked.
On to the show itself, which was an absolute gem:
Train > Rift > Guelah - so much energy. Trey seemed to lose his place in Guelah, but he closed strong. If there was ever a slip up in any song, the band's recovery was just massive. Huge kudos for that. It didn't used to be that way.
Mule - pretty nice, a bit dis-jointed, but always fun.
JJLC - absolutely brilliant. Well-executed, great energy. An essential song for a 3-show Chi-zilla run. Just terrific.
Babylon Baby - how can you not be excited to be in the room when they debut a song? I'll admit, I didn't appreciate it at the time. Listening to the download, I think this song has staying power. I encourage all phans to give it several listens. I think there's strong potential for this one.
Alumni Blues > Letter ... Page > Alumni Blues - HOLY. SCHNIKES. My first AB, which was cool enough, but the crowd during AB was what turned a great performance into a truly special moment. The digital download does not do justice to intensity of this crowd. You could see it on the band's faces. The applause, the cheering at the end of Set I which wouldn't end. It was the first of many goosebump moments in the UIC run. Truly a special performance of this song.
Set I was so explosive, I'm worried that I'm overlooking Set II. I truly enjoyed it, but the first set certainly overshadowed what I thought was a very nice Dirt (a sweet, underrated track, if you ask me), a real trippy Undermind (loved the variation of this) and a Fire that was, well, on fire.
Then came the encore, or was it a third set? I still don't know.
5. SONG. ENCORE.
My 1st Camel Walk was really nice. When they jumped into Guyute, everyone in my section looked at each other and acknowledged it was a great close to a great show. Then Horses > Silent began (always a treat), and we all looked at each other again. "It's not over?" When Hood started, we were all shaking our heads.
We felt real good about Hood. The crowd had once again, gone completely ballistic.
Words and digital downloads don't do justice to the feeling in that sweaty, nasty, too few restroom arena. It was pure bliss.
Thanks to the best phans in music, a new audio system, upgraded lights, and a band that's been touring for a quarter-century yet is performing with an energy and spark like they were just starting their careers.
8/15/11 was the beginning to a three-night epic run like nothing I've seen.
I've got my Jibboo back and I'm truly, truly happy.