The first set was as close to one long continuous composition as I have ever heard Phish play. Unlike most second sets which achieve that effect, this set was cohesive through a combination of impeccable song choice/placement and perfect execution. It's one of those sets that looks weird on paper but just works, with each song getting extra mustard.
They came out firing on all cylinders from the gate with a tight A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing, definitely a crowd favorite and a rarity (my first). It was like the opening of a dream with its floaty lyrics and Trey played an intense, thoughtful solo to really drive it home. This is one of those passages that defies the standard blues-rock phrasing convention for more directed melodies, and was imbued with purpose. This would turn out to be emblematic of the entire show and is the first clear break from last night: not a wasted note. Where last night found Phish, especially Trey, searching for meaning, tonight they would eloquently explain a clear revelation in music form.
Next, we have what I call the Phish Rolling Stones pastiche Kill Devil Falls. I would be lying if I said this is a tune I look for in a great show, but this version was perfectly placed and played, again, with intensity and purpose. It was infused with a heavy groove (it was clear at this point that the four guys were hooking up on this night), and then built to a couple nice peaks before dropping into BOTT.
Back On The Train brought the funk, as it does these days, when Page started his masterclass on the clav. My crew was on Page side, as always, and we reveled in his staccato grooviness along with 20,000 other people. This isn't a must-hear-version, but it was very tight and super-funky for a while before they steered it to a concluding bridge into another great choice, Rift.
The title track from an album that tells a flowing story would foreshadow the structure of this sequence of songs where each naturally followed the previous and set up the subsequent track. BOTT > Rift, Meat > It's Ice > Guelah Papyrus, Divided Sky might be my favorite contiguous sequence of Phish I have ever witnessed; There was a structure and connectivity between these compositions that felt so natural and obvious. The whole thing centered around a recurring theme of rising and falling modulations highlighted by the centerpiece It's Ice and capped in majesty by a Divided Sky that was air-lifted directly from the '90s. I am getting ahead of myself, though, so let's walk through this sequence:
Rift is always a good litmus test of the band's prowess, as it is quite difficult and has intricate interplay. Tonight's version was Mary Poppins, finding the band navigating the tune not only with confidence and clarity but also with style and finesse.
Next, the drop into Meat. At first, I thought this was just a tongue-in-cheek reference to the venue, but it became so much more than that as they delivered a flawless version with the tightest hits possible. This is another difficult composition, but in a very different way than Rift in the sense that it is all about band dynamics and getting all four guys aligned on the same rhythm. The crowd was grooving and slinking on this one like we were back in the think of last night's Wolfman's and it felt like they could keep nailing those hits forever. This version even loosens up a bit and has a slightly jammy quality to it.
I don't know if Meat has ever been paired with It's Ice before, but it seemed so natural. In fact, this trilogy of Meat > Ice > Papyrus was probably my favorite part of the first set due to its compositional cohesion and brilliant execution. The sequence almost fused into one song, where It's Ice is the bridge between the first and second movements. This was my first Ice, and it did not disappoint: this was Ice w/ Mustard. When they hit the middle section, they dropped into a languid, minimalist jam that was really given space to breathe by Trey while Page sprinkled droplets of piano into the soft ether formed by Fish and Mike. After the exact right amount of space, Trey re-entered the jam and signaled a built-up. The other guys followed and they all patiently built to an understated yet powerful peak together. This was one of those jams where you forget what song they are playing until they drop back into Ice like its no big deal, sticking the landing like pros. They then wrapped up the song with aplomb and let the ending drift directly into Guelah Papyrus.
Papyrus felt like a sped-up meat, like an older brother with more worldly experience and complexity but the same DNA. They nailed this one with as much precision as the previous five tunes and I could tell at this point that the whole band was aware of the extent to which they were hooked up (smiles and laughs all around). I think these previous few songs are some of the hardest to place within a set in a way that makes sense and this is another great example of the difference between the two nights - where last night each song felt out of place and islanded, tonight each song dissolved into the larger milieu.
As the final chord of Papyrus rang out, Trey, with no hesitation (contrast with the transition into Light from last night), started the opening chords to Divided Sky. The set had been locked into this funky, modulation-driven, complex-time theme for 30 minutes at this point, and Divided Sky was the perfect call as a vehicle to build to the set's first great peak. Peak it did, my friends, but again I am getting ahead of myself. After a minor flub in the very beginning of the soft "Sky" melody (I only mention this because it was literally the first hiccup of any kind I noticed in the entire set up to this point), they executed the rest of the intro before the pause with extra emotion and intensity. I think the realization that this was the last show of the tour was starting to hit home for the boys and Trey, especially, started pouring his heart out into the notes. When they reached the pause, thunderous applause slowly morphed into a thunderous "We love Dick's" chant. This was hilarious and legitimately intense at the same time and signaled another huge contrast from the previous night: the audience was completely enraptured by this performance and we were going to let Phish know in the best way we knew how - by chanting about our love for dicks. I am sure this chant will show up on the recording, so this is one of the performances from this run that you could hear on a mix tape and know immediately what show it was from.
Anyway, then they dropped back into Sky and started the jam section. Now, I listened to a bunch of shows from '95 through '99 over the last couple weeks before this run because I wanted to be able to get an accurate comparison to '13. People have been saying this tour finds Phish playing at their best in a long time, possibly ever, so I was hoping to get a sense of the accuracy of that statement. If you want evidence of these claims, look no further than this Divided Sky. I swear if you boost the hell out of the mids on Trey's guitar, this Sky would sound straight out of a show from '98. Spin the track if you disbelieve, but needless to say the entire crowd went completely nuts as they peaked the hell out of this song over and over again before again sticking the landing.
Funky Bitch followed and gave Page a chance to go nuts on the organ. Go nuts he did, friends, and I have never been happier to be Page side as we rocked out to his complete fire. I have seen some great Funky Bitch Page solos in my day, and this is easily among the best (check 8/22/2012 for another great one). Trey does some great work on this one as well, and the whole band continued to act like a single multi-headed, multi-armed beast in terms of precision of timing and groove.
Cavern was next and seemed like a natural closer to the amazing sequence we just witnessed. In fact, BOTT ----> Cavern almost feels like a complete Set unto itself, embedded within a larger framework bookended by ASIHTOS and Bowie.
Stealing Time followed, and it seemed like they still had gobs of energy to unload after a short break following the Sky bliss. This is another track I would recommend spinning, as, like the rest of the set, it has extra mustard and some unique aspects that result in a top-shelf take.
I assumed the set was over right here, but Time dissolved into a familiar drum line that signaled Maze or Bowie. Trey, Page, and Mike grew the drum line into a dark, scary jam-space, cementing this as a Bowie for sure and reminding me of some classic Bowies from the past that have jams embedded in the drum roll before the opening stanza (see Chicago '94). This Bowie was thoughtful and they let the jam run its course through some interesting places before finally building to a standard-great Bowie peak.
Thus ended probably the best first set I have seen (8/2/2013 is also in the conversation). The only noticeable flaws, to me, were the minor flub in the beginning of Sky and the very minor critique that Bowie felt a bit tacked-on, but otherwise this was a perfect set and held the promise of a monster Set II.
These days, Carini has become one of the most awe-inspiring Phish jamming vehicles with many stellar versions showing up through this and the last couple tours. Look no further than 8/31/2012 for an incredible Carini and marvel at the pedigree that this song is developing. All told, tonight's may be the most impressive version of 3.0 and is must-hear phish of the highest order. Without respinning, I would have a lot of trouble creating a play-by-play of this jam, but I don't feel it that necessary since I am going to say simply this: download this show and hear this jam! You will not be disappointed. I was about to say this was a 20+ minute version, but I just checked the LivePhish timing and it is just under 13 minutes. The amount of ground they covered in those 13 minutes is staggering and really must be heard to be believed.
In another example of stark contrast from last night, Trey shares a quick word with Fish, makes a flapping motion with his hand, and the two of them drop directly into the hard opening of Birds Of A Feather with Page and Mike not missing a beat in the most impressive segue of the evening. This was one of those great shifts where they let a jam dissolve into ambience before turning on a dime into a tight composed section in a way that feels completely planned and natural. If I didn't see Trey communicate Birds to Fish, I would have assumed they had discussed this pairing backstage.
Birds Of A Feather was extremely short and precise: probably not a top-shelf version, but, like The Dude, perfect for its time and place. It kicked the energy back up, brought the fire to a jam that had dissolved into psychadelia, and then was over in symmetry to how it began.
Trey softly started the opening to Golden Age at this point, almost creating a fade-in effect like the song was doctored in post like on an album. This song was a clear message to the fans and the band: this is top-quality Phish connecting like they have never connected before. You may prefer the virtuoso-fireworks of the past, but they are listening and communicating with each other up there in a way that could only come from 30 years of playing together. This song continued what would become a trend of the second set - cramming a huge amount of ideas into a short amount of space. Again, no wandering and sandbagging like last night; it was all flow tonight with no note wasted.
Unfortunately, Trey got impatient near the end of this one and awkwardly forced the band into Prince Caspian. I feel the need to clarify: I love Caspian. I love the incredible versions from '99, like the one from Japan, and I love the ones from 3.0, like the one from Dick's '12. That said, this type of behavior from Trey, where he punts an incredible jam by shoving Caspian down the collective throats of the other three guys and the entire audience is what gives the track a bad name. It is entirely possible to find a way into Caspian naturally, though like Light it is among the more difficult, but for some reason this song tends to be on the business end of many a ripcord. I think this is just a song that Trey really likes to play, so he gets excited and feels a Caspian-like urge that must be scratched. In any case, this was the first real break in the flow in the entire show so I think we can give it a pass. That said, this sort of thing is what separates a great show from a legendary show.
The actual substance of this Caspian was very interesting. Trey went into tap-dance mode, and I think the quality of the end result is definitely up for debate, but whatever you think about it it is definitely a unique take on the song from Trey. His solo is effervescent and creative, searching yet inspired. I am very interested in hearing this one audio-only, as I was somewhat distracted (as a guitar player) by the mechanics of his work here. If you are a fan of Caspian, this one warrants a spin if only as a curiosity though you may find it resonates.
Since they were on such a weird version of Caspian, Trey faded out from his strange lines into the soft opening chords of Piper without going into the standard peak. This was a welcome maneuver and delighted the crowd, saving (I believe) the energy of the venue where it was starting to peter out a bit after the rocky segue and following weirdness. Speaking of weird, check out this Piper! I forgot what song they were playing multiple times as this one went type II and never looked back. This is another one where they covered a huge amount of ground in 11 minutes (apparently - I would have guessed 15 before checking the timing) and is very hard to explain. This is another must-spin, especially if you enjoy their intent-listening and theme-driven jamming.
Boogie On Reggae Woman dropped out of a lull in the jam and felt reasonably smooth if not as natural as 10 of the other amazing segues thus-far. This version was solid and turned the energy of the crowd from one of silent rapture back into a total dancefest. Trey had another conference with Fish and I knew they were about to drop into something...
Saw It Again! I had been chasing this song since I heard the incredible version from Guyutica (seriously, go check that if you haven't heard it). This version did not disappoint, is a clear fan-favorite, and included insane wailing of "Saw it again!" from Fish during the climax.
In a move that surprised actual no one, Mike's song started up following the conclusion of a great five-song-sequence. This was a standard Mike's Song with a solid build and a solid peak. As always these days, the most interesting part of Mike's Song is the contents of the sandwich, and tonight it would be...
Legalize It! Again, contrast this with Yarmouth Road from last night: where Road just destroyed the energy of the room, Legalize It converted the raging energy from the peak of Mike's into a swanky full-on reggae dance party. This version, a Phish debut, was absolutely nailed with Page displaying fine lyrical form as the front man. I guess he could only think of so many nicknames for pot, though, and we got a whiff on the final lyric as he looked for help first from the rest of the band (and got none) and then from the audience. I am guessing this doesn't come through on the tape, but there was a cacophony of nicknames for our favorite plant spewing forth from the crowd as Page turned the microphone towards the arena. Why write your own reggae tune when you could just play Legalize It instead?
Weekapaug dropped out of the end of Legalize It and was a standard-short version. The band was just hooked up tonight, though, so all of these songs that I am referring to as "standard" are still very solid and contain a lot of great band interplay.
Show Of Life was the choice for the closing ballad slot, a song that I enjoy quite a bit. I know there are some haters out there, but I must ask "why?" This song has great lyrics and is clearly a personal message from the band. "It's been perfectly planned. It's completely insane. It's a revolving cast but it's the same old game." says a lot about Phish shows and life in general. This version also had that extra mustard and I would highly recommend it to both fans of the song and fans of emotive Trey soloing, as he really took this one to the bank. You could tell he needed to pour his heart out into a softer solo for one final time before the tour ended.
Suzy closed things out and was another standard but well-played version. People in the audience busted out the confetti, some of which caught a breeze and wafted over the stage. The interaction between the floating confetti and the multicolored lights made for some very trippy visuals as this Suzy raged the crowd into submission. Phish brought this one to a peak before Trey expressed their love for the weekend, the whole summer tour, and his genuine gratitude towards the audience.
The canonical Phish closer, Character Zero, brought the fire to the encore slot and left everyone satisfied and thoroughly-rocked.
This was one of my favorite shows ever and definitely the best show I saw this summer (I was at the Gorge through Bill Graham). I would highly-recommend downloading this show and listening to it in its entirety, especially the first set which was nothing short of inspiring. This was a completely different band than I saw last night: they were all on the same page and could basically do no wrong with perfect song selection and unreal set flow with great segues and well-executed hard transitions. Truly, this is a Golden Age of Phish. Miss fall tour shows at your own risk!
Songs to spin:
A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing
Meat > It's Ice > Guelah Papyrus
Show Of Life