The fulcrum of our pre-show activities for this tour opener was a bubbling pot of Crawfish Monica, which is now available by mail order; they send you all the frozen goodies and you heat it up yourself (preferably while lubricating yourself with a Hurricane or two). Get it while it’s still legal, kiddies.
The crowd at the Forum arrived late, and the pre-show energy was unusually subdued; many of us wondered aloud whether Phish would come back well-rehearsed, or slinging the same unpredictable slop that characterized the Hampton run a month and a half earlier. We settled into a couple killer seats on Mike’s side and waited an eternal forty-five minutes for our answer, which was... well, some of both.
Fishman charged with authority into “My Sweet One,” getting the first nod to Valentine’s Day out of the way early and invalidating the “Roses Are Free” opener call that Gary and I had made earlier in the afternoon. “Cover of a Rolling Stone” was an appropriately fun way for the fellas to knock themselves down a peg, which they always do with style and grace. These first two tunes felt pretty much like soundcheck.
“Chalk Dust” had gotten a nice workout at Hampton, and they tried to bend the mold a little with this one, too. They didn't quite bury the needle, but they did manage to get the crowd cooking. Apparently, Brad laid out lyrics for Trey for “Fee.” I didn’t notice this, but did quite enjoy the song; the outro jam was unique and weird and boded well. “Taste” was clearly intended to redeem the NYE disaster, and proved to be an especially sweet version of a song that has pretty much stagnated after ‘97, in my opinion.
“Bathtub Gin” was the first real declaration of the set. It featured a patient and probing jam, a satisfying climax, and some preposterously jazzy work from Fishman (whose maturation on drums reminds me of a dizzyingly fine red wine). “Heavy Things,” it bears mentioning, was stretched out longer than normal, which did not exactly thrill me, but there you go. “Golgi” was a rocking but fairly standard ending to a very solid set.
The second half opened quite strongly with a straightforward but smoldering “Possum” that compared favorably to the smoking Hampton version. The “Walls of the Cave” that followed invited some comparisons to mid-70s Dead, and that's certainly fair; it had a country inflection at times, and wandered far afield (at one point, Chris Kuroda was obviously leading the jam, to great effect). The “Carini” that rose from the ashes of “Walls” was kind of a lumbering mess, but not altogether unpleasing. “All of These Dreams” I can take or leave.
My first “Oh Kee Pah” was a tense affair. I was afraid it was going to fall apart Jenga-style, but they nailed it, and dropped neatly (if not predictably) into a wonderful, angular, peculiar “Bag.” This jam was inspired by the weird energy that SCD (“Stage Crashing Douchebag”) brought to the stage, and finally just evaporated into nothing. Beautifully done. Unfortunately, “Prince Caspian” was somewhat unremarkable, and Trey left the stage holding his wrist as if in pain.
If he were, you’d never know it by the smoking “Loving Cup” encore. Phish opened the show by poking fun at the idea of love, and had earned itself a shot at the genuine article by the end.
Bullseye... and on to Vegas!