Let me just say that Merriweather has historically sucked. The '98 show was a blast, but traffic had us tied up for 2 1/2 hours before we found a better way to go. The '99 show was a mediocre show, and we waited in traffic forever again! This year, we just blew past the traffic, got off the highway like 2 miles down and found our way there in about 20 minutes. Perfect. The vibe at the show was weird. You'd think it was sketchy since a bunch of cops were nabbing glass/shirt/veggie burrito vendors, but we just passed that scene and found a great hang out where the temperature was just right. We hung out for a few hours before we headed in, met some folks we knew, and found our seats. I got my little Blackberry two-way pager ready to zip along the setlist instantly to ultra-dedicated phish-dorks like me all across the internet at gadiel.com and phans.com.
Set 1: Guyute may signify big things to some, but to me it's standard fare nowadays. Funny, in retrospect, that this opened the show, since it was the only minute I wasn't absolutely thrilled at what I was watching! The break right before the 'spooky part' was really long, like almost two minutes, kinda neat. Back on the Train isn't my favorite either, but this was a solid version that really was fun. It was played last year at Merriweather, and this version took the cake. Gin was a treat. It didn't deviate too far from the general theme, but it got the crowd up a notch. Limb by Limb, another repeat from last year, was very well played as well. I can't seem to get sick of this song. Every time, I think it's fantastic. Up next was a clean version of Moma that was truly as plain as Moma can be, but it was well placed, and thus, I was still reeling from the Gin and Limb. Lawn Boy was a relaxing loungy break from the funk. Then, after a minute-long conference, they settled on Fluffhead, which for some reason, I had assured my buddies would show up tonight. Fluffhead is a treat, plain and simple. So it was with absolute joy that I tapped out the beat to Bundle of Joy and screamed "Fat Bulk Expanse Mass Lump Block Clod!" I love that song, and there's no way to communicate to someone who has never seen Phish the love you feel during "The Arrival" when the whole crowd songs "FLUFFHEAD!" at the end. That could have been the end of the set, but instead, out comes The Curtain. This is one of my favorite songs too. A really dead-on version followed. I can acknowledge that I'm a Phish freak...for years, one of my 'top-ten Phish wishes' has been to see The Curtain With. So as the regular version would down and slowed down instead of ending suddenly, I felt my entire body shiver. I knew I was about to see the the Curtain WITH that amazing jam I love so much. Ah, the sweet Rift-y part, then that Reba-esque jam...it's enough to make one cry. I was absolutely speechless. Sure the set was over, I sat down and almost spaced out for a fast rock-n-roll version of Chalkdust. The setlist may not reflect it, but I was sure that Trey got messed up. He missed a cue during the chorus, so they stretched it out a few measures. Then he looked lost and spent the rest of the song staring at Mike and Page waiting for a cue. Interesting that though he may have been lost, the song still was rip roaring awesome! First set clocked in at almost 100 minutes, totally 100% rockin. This set beat the last two years of Merriweather combined.
Setbreak: I went to the bathroom, bumped into a friend, took my seat, set 2 started. It was perfect. (Actually, it was a short setbreak, but who's counting?)
Set 2 opened with Rock n' Roll, which is a great song. I loved the NYE version, but this was more concise and really kept the vibe right where they left off. Had they broken out Circus, Roggae, or anything too slow here, they might have killed the super-drive they already had kicked off. They were truly in high gear. Fish's 4/4 hi-hat beats suggested Theme about 30 seconds before there was any other trace of it, and this Theme was a good one. There were some weak spots, but they were forgivable mistakes given the precedent of the evening at that point. I heard Dog Log coming, but Fish was playing a beat that was almost identical to the beat from Frankie Says. This Dog Log is really cool, it has a funky wavy kinda beat kicking in the background. It is a must hear. Sounded like everyone, especially those on stage, were having a blast at that point. From the roaring applause of Dog Log came Mango, which is another favorite of mine. God, this setlist is like gold! This Mango ranks among the top five I've ever heard on tape or elsewhere! So much fun! The jam degenerated into a dark, drummy bass filled jam that lasted awhile. Maybe 10-12 minutes. It is definitely worth hearing. Soon, the familiar "bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum" beginning of Free emerged. Free featured excellent and intricate playing by Trey, and a glowstick war during the bridge section, and some well played jamming. The set ended early, most likely due to curfew issues.
The encore was Contact, which the crowd sang in the most dedicated manner. Bravo, Paul, for making this sound so perfect! A funk-rich middle section tasted very sweet on the palate, and it wrapped up on a note that wouldn't have done the show justice. We needed, and Phish sensed, it needed to be cranked up a notch one more time. Out comes a totally nuts version of Rocky Top which blew everyone away. Yes, Rocky Top is a common song, but this one was perfect placement. It summed up the show for me -- total energy!
GET THESE TAPES.