Last year started with a similar feel in Bethel but had its ups and downs by the end of the year. They didn't always go for it every show, and their were definitely paper sets. Minus a few mini-gems you could pretty much know what went down without needing to listen although of course we all did anyway. Master jams seemed to coalesce after a night or two off, and by off I mean thoroughly enjoyable shows that didn't have the diving into the deep jams greedy fans like myself clamor for every time.
BUT, this year...and THIS show. I'm almost at a loss for words here. I found myself singing along with heavy things, that's right heavy things. Thank god I was alone in my car. There is not a single phoned-in version of any song in this show. The placement of the songs fit as if no one had any predetermination about what was going to be played. Just a beautiful and subtle flow with extreme stylistic variations that somehow fit perfectly without seeming like it was pick a song out of hat time. And I'm talking about the first set here.
The tube jam was so ludicrously desired from all that when it finally came those 4 minutes of dripping funk in the jam felt like both an arrival and a statement. Like roses from DCU and halley's in bethel the first set jam was so deliciously good that it locked the band into the effortless zone and we could only witness with joy. It was like watching Jordan in his prime with jaw-dropping inexplicable moves that ended with a swaggering score every time. They could not miss this show.
The key, to my ears, is patience. There was never a moment of uncertainty, where the unknown was to be feared. Instead the unknown played through them, casting the moment into a timeless space where the music hovers somewhere between band and the audience's bodies. Where each note blends into the soup and there seems to be some kind of 5th member conducting but there's only them and us. Sorry to get all mystical here but it seems like through inaction comes the correct actions like a Taoist take on jamming but thats really how I feel about the best phish has to offer. I guess theres a reason they call trey the jedi master.
But you don't have to get all new-aged or eastern philosophy to know exactly what I'm talking about. Its why its so hard to put into words that moment when you just know the shit is going down. You can easily feel the difference between something forced (usually by trey but not always) and something that comes organically through the progression of movements in the jam. A nod to this *might* be trey horsing the horse the next night which was at the very least hilarious.
I guess the easiest way to see this is through the segues. Compare sand>nellie kane or BOAF>GBOTT to any of a myriad of end of set song>backwardsdtnl from last year or whenever and you know what I mean.
BOAF displayed the patience that allows the jam to come to them without trying to find it first. Where the search is part of the glory rather than part of the landscape, to be forgotten in favor of the peak. It reminds me of the patience of 97-98 without the over-patience of 99. Throw in a little 03 deep filter and effect laced storage psychedelia and the best of phish right now is mind-bogglingly good. Again. The rhythm of the song blends into a slight time signature shift into a beat that could have turned plodding in 1.0 or fizzled in 3.0 into the drumless depths of a segue into *we're too deep to come back from this jam* some other song. But instead, the 2nd movement develops along a lick from trey that isn't melodic crack of earlier 1.0 and isn't the rhythmic monster of later 1.0 and isn't the dark of 2.0. Instead its the entirely new rough beast of 3.0 which has really begun to find its own sound. Sticking it through the jam peaks in a non-linear fashion that doesn't have a ton of melody but isn't atonal. It is, however, deeeeply powerful. Like raw and primal beasts let loose each member locks out of nowhere.
Yet, this is only briefly done. One minute 30 seconds tops. A moment that of course I wanted to go on for another 10 minutes. But that would rob it of its power and it is only a reflection, a pastiche of something true yet unnameable and we are on to other ripples of the psyche. And a magnificent blend into train that I did not see coming until the unmistakeable beat fishman drives out. In synchronization, the move makes no sense yet makes perfect sense.
And that, to me, sums up phish at the top of their game. It would be unnecessary for me to keep going with a song by song that was already done better than I could do anyway. I just felt I had to get that out and apologize for the lengthy ramblings.
Dear god, see phish. See them many times. Sell your house. Sell your wife. By any means necessary.