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Permalink Posted by dlsphan on , attached to 2012-08-29
dlsphanA brief preface, for those of you who might rather skip to the TL;DR: this was my first live experience with Phish. I've been a fan for nearly 20 years, going back to my college years, but financials, locations, and random happenstance conspired against me hitting a live venue over and over again, until the confluence that ended up with me in OKC on Wednesday night. I've listened to over 500 shows in my lifetime, with a solid 200 in my downloaded taper collection and at least 30 purchased soundboards (nevermind grossly neglecting my retirement in favor of my CD collection). I don't think this makes me an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm comfortable knowing what I like. This can probably be labeled as eclectic, but whatever; I find that Phish is a lot like wine in that regard. I like what I like, other people like what they like, and the only thing people generally will agree upon is when the bottle is corked. I don't feel that was the case last night.

The venue was outstanding. The open floor and the gentle slope down to the stage allowed you to really pick your favorite parking spot. There was plenty of room to dance away, although there might not have been had the house been packed (my understanding is that they expected 9kish to show up, the venue tops out at 12.8k). The vendors and bathrooms were way out of the way, so that they didn't interfere with the experience. I thought the most interesting thing about the place was the juxtaposition between the high tech lighting outfit and gear on a stage that was little more than girders with a weather-beaten facade, complete with cracks and chips and faded paint.

The show started functionally at sunset where the bowl basically kept the direct sunlight out but it was still fairly bright. This made the screens mounted on the side of the stage (which presumably displayed the webcast) impossible to see, but the stage lighting was otherwise good. For some reason, I dig Kill Devil Falls. It's a goofy fun song, without a lot of complexity or even really room to expand outward, but it gets me moving which is what matters. This version was fairly straightforward, with decent energy and got the crowd going.

End of the song and you jump straight into Rift. While beautifully complex, Rift isn't one of my favorite compositional pieces. Still, I thought this version was pretty spot on and played well with intensity. The crowd was pretty high-energy, and you could see the band responding to it. After Rift, Trey remarked that the Zoo Amphitheatre had been on their list to play for a while, and they were really psyched to have the opportunity to play there, The crowd responded well, and they kicked off Wilson, which was mostly a crowd piece with the typical riff to name call and response. Again, nothing crazy, but solid. This led into Backwards Down the Number Line, which is one of my three year old daughter's favorite songs, likely because I told her it had to do with birthdays. The crowd used this time to chat it up, but I had fun with it. The Moma Dance which followed was nice, funky and extremely danceable.

This led into Divided Sky, which was definitely on my list of pieces I wanted to see live. This version had a nice compositional section. Following the pause, I thought the jam muddled a bit in comparison to the best-ofs I have filed away, but hey, I got my Divided Sky. It still soared at the end. A brief pause and then startup into Wolfman's Brother, which had the crowd singing and enjoying themselves. It really jammed out well, but it was surprisingly short, and I wonder if they were feeling the need to rein in some to meet the stop time. It dropped well into Axilla (which I wish had been pt. II, which I like lyrically better) and that raged into 46 Days, which also blossomed. Ya Mar was nice enough, but I admittedly took the time to make a quick restroom break, so the flow of that was kinda lost to me.

Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan came on next, but truthfully the most memorable thing about that was my brother pointing out that the moon was rising above the stage, creating a really wonderful snapshot moment. Fumbling with my camera for much of the song trying to land a good shot with the stage lighting and the moon took my focus away from the music, but I thought this song as a backdrop to the celestial imagery was somehow appropriate. The guys then closed the set with Run Like an Antelope, another song on my bucket list. This version was fun, but felt a bit rushed at times, including dropping right into the frenetic top gear of the jam section from what Id considered to be a solid middle. Again, I wonder how much the hard stop had to do with that, with what they otherwise wanted to bring in the 2nd set. 1st set ended up clocking at like 85 minutes, so theyd been feeding off the crowd for a while.

The 2nd set opened strong. Down with Disease rocked hard without getting noodlely, and Birds of a Feather was extremely hot. Then we hit one of the three highlight spaces for me, which was the My Friend, My Friend into Rock & Roll. These versions absolutely raged, a complete sonic assault in both pieces, and the entire crowd was moving hard at this point. The band definitely fed off the surplus in the air and created economical rocking jams for both.

This led into Twist, and I think the band had a lot of trouble taming this version after the opening third of the set. They were clearly trying to come down, but the song and the energy in the air had a lot of anxiety in it, such that the jam outro had trouble finding a level to ground itself and a level to which it aspired. But they came down enough for my second highlight of the night: If I Could. When describing Phish to non-Phans, I usually highlight that one of their strengths is that they do pretty very well. The OKC version of this was beautiful, with rolling hills in place of peaks and valleys, and finally tamed the energy that was desperately tearing at the cracks of songs wanting to be jammed out. A lot of people will disagree, but I almost always think this is a good thing.

Light then was almost a 2nd set reset, and was a strong opener to the acceleration towards the finish line. This immediately jumped into Harry Hood, yet another song on my bucket list. They truncated the opening playfulness in favor of diving into the compositional part, which I think also got a little truncated. I think they were starting to feel the time crunch and cutting corners where they could. This version soared a little too quickly for my taste, but was played well. They jumped right into Character Zero, and some has been made of Trey flubbing the beginning of the song. There was some crowd interplay here which started the whole mess, followed by Trey playfully trying to dig back into the piece organically, instead of a straight drop. He was having a lot of fun with it, and I thought it was hilarious, so for the haters who want to use this as signs of the Phishpocalypse, you can tinfoil hat elsewhere. This version rocked but wasnt really allowed to jam out.

A brief band conversation as they hit the outro, and they jump into Suzy Greenberg, yet another in the bucket for me (it was at this point I realized that Id possibly only realize completion of said bucket at a multi-day affair, and even then probably wouldnt hit everything). This version smoked, and Page was going so hard that Trey (digging it extremely) was surprised when they (led by Fishman I think) dropped into the outgoing verse. At this point, I could feel that the band was aware that the clock was ticking and they wanted to leave room for the encore.

The encore break was barely time to breathe, and after a little more Zoo banter, they hit Slave to the Traffic Light. This is one of my favorite songs, because it often highlights the prettiness that the band can achieve alongside a soaring peak of energy that they are capable of producing. I really liked this version. Im not sure Id say its top 3 for me, but this version flew wonderfully, and was my final highlight of the night. They close out the set with Loving Cup, jamming out right to the noise ordinance dead stop. We walked out with the fullish moon above our heads and drenched with satisfaction.

So the TL;DR is that Im rating the show a 4. It wasnt epic, but had some really great moments. And I was there, so thats like worth a half star by itself. The highlights for me were in the 2nd set and encore. I hit like 4 songs off my theoretical perfect setlist, and now Im thirsty for more.
Score: 3

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