Don’t get me wrong—tonight was good, and at times, great. The first set’s “Gin” (which might be the strongest Phish 3.0 version I’ve seen) and “Antelope” both exuded remarkable energy and execution; the first four songs of the second set: “Disease > Prince Caspian > Twist” and “Roses are Free” combined for an extremely strong opening to the second frame. All were well played and extremely well received by a boisterous South Carolina crowd.
The knock on last night’s show—and the knock against a number of 3.0 songs and shows—was the lack of jamming and the seeming reluctance to open the floodgates of Phish’s improvisational potential. Instead of the “Let’s see how many songs we can play” mentality, I’d like to see the band members re-hone their group interplay skills, transforming the mantra to “Let’s see how many songs we can play well.” Why bother playing “Tube” if it’s going to be truncated to three-and-a-half minutes? And yes, “Weekapaug Groove” should bookend “Mike’s Song”, but a five-minute “Weekapaug” so they can squeeze in played-out jokes like “Mexican Cousin”?
Short can be OK, though, as evidenced by the mid-first set “Backwards Down the Number Line”. Reeling the song in from some of the second-set workouts it received last summer, this “Number Line” was smooth and sturdy from start to finish, clocking in near eight minutes and showcasing tight, focused playing. It was perfect.
At multiple points throughout the second set, however, it was clear that Trey’s patience seems to have dissipated from tenuous to non-existent. I understand and wholeheartedly applaud his enthusiasm—it’s great to see him hopping around and grinning wildly—but when he starts a song before the previous song has even finished, it feels forced and the dissonance grates. This eagerness showed most glaringly when he launched into the “Character Zero” encore before Mike had even strapped his bass on. What’s the rush?
I know I’m complaining a lot here (and I do have some legitimate gripes), but overall Friday’s show was better than many; while the highlights were indeed high, the lowlights weren’t really that bad—I’d still rather witness Phish run through a castrated “Tube” than hear most other bands play just about anything. I’ll take the safe, easy peaks of “Possum”, “Suzy Greenberg” and “Slave” over the best Nickelback show any day of the week. Phish still moves me, and when the band stops moving me, it’s when I’ll retire from seeing shows (which isn't happening anytime soon).
Not to belabor the point, but I feel that the beginning of the second set serves as excellent evidence of what happens when Phish—Trey, really—eases off the throttle. A healthy “Disease” ended with a beautiful, harmonious wash of ambience before leading into “Caspian”. At the point in “Caspian” where the song dips into quiet before the coda kicks in, Trey led the band smoothly into “Twist”, which featured marvelous groupthink interaction.
And so my 60th show is in the books. While it was definitely worth the trip, I’m hoping for a little more patience—and a “Harpua”—tomorrow night. Too much to ask?