I’m sure I wasn’t the only one speculating that Back in the USSR would make for a rather fitting and fantastic opener. Between the White Album history, the lyrical relevance (“Been away so long I hardly knew the place /Gee, it's good to be back home”), and a little Russian politics for good measure, they kind of had to, didn’t they? And I’m glad they did. The energy in the Civic Center was electric and old school from the start, and that opener just lit the place up.
This energy permeated most of the show, one that boasts a number of highlights worthy of your attention. If you’re looking for the cliff notes, please go straight to the Twist. It was a beauty. But otherwise, you’d be well served to dine on the whole show, and indeed most of the first set. Stealing Time feels perfect in the number two slot, carrying the throwback / ‘memories’ them. And Water in the Sky counters it perfectly. Listen to the looseness in Page’s play (was he MVP on this night?), and the drive and focus of Fish’s. The band is hanging in that sweet spot of being simultaneously tight and loose. Not every experiment worked on this night (I still need to listen back to the Split Open and Melt, which should have been something phenomenal but might have just taken a wrong turn), but there’s a lot that did connect, in some unexpected places. The Water in the Sky solo is a beaut. The Undermind is funky and makes it known that Page is feeling good and taking names. Trey then swells it up into familiar rock-Ocelot-out crowd-pleasing territory (similar things would happen in the Seven Below).
I really liked this Bowie, the first of the tour, and it was welcome in the middle of the first set. It was one of those initially patient beasts that opens up and threatens to split with the minor and soar into type II. They hit some very, very nice moments, somewhat akin to the grossly overlooked version from Toronto in the summer (hear it!). You got the sense that they could have easily just shot out in the ether at this point, but that Trey wanted to save it for later. In any case it was a tense and tight affair. Nice. Golgi keeps us in old-school territory (another Halloween 94 alumnus) before Gumbo delivers another first-set gem. Page just dominates so much that they band has no choice but to go into full-on break-it-down mode, and the whole tail end of the jam is him on the clav with light Fish accompaniment and one or two Trey funk wahs. This is a short but very savory Gumbo, folks; give it a taste.
Yarmouth Road is a slow build. The new Mike song doesn’t exactly up the energy, but once Trey is soloing towards the end, the reggae vibe in the room is suddenly sunny and hey, hey, hey, good vibes, everyone. Good. Vibes. And they were on this band. The band is obviously having a good time and enjoying themselves, and each other.
Camel Walk is another welcome treat, and a stand out version as far as Camel Walks go. That loose and tight thing again. Mike’s all over it. And since when is Horn a rarity? Played only once before in 2013 in Alpharetta, this first-set staple has always sounded great indoors on fall tour. And man it’s nice to be indoors on fall tour. More very soulful, clean playing from Trey.
The first set keeps on giving. A well above-average Limb by Limb features the band experimenting with the vocal outro and slides satisfyingly into I Didn’t Know. Good memories of this song for me personally going back to Worcester in fall 97. Trey doesn’t so much introduce Henrietta as he raises the question, “well for nineteen years you guys have been thinking the same question as I have. Is he gonna do it?! Is he gonna do it again?! Nineteen years older!” “I can if you want,” Fish replies. “I don’t think you want that.” “No.” “No.” No, thankfully we were spared that bust-out.
The Melt to close the set is a mixed bag in my book. Gets dark and messy and Treyt never really finds his footing. No matter though. The set was already a keeper.
Set two might not come through on paper (or ultimately upon listening) the way third night Hampton does, but not many shows do these days. That said, the trend of inspired, soulful playing in unexpected places did continue. Case-in -point is this absolutely gorgeous Velvet Sea. Anyone who’s a sucker for some of those beauty 93 solos in Fast Enough For You, where the band can’t help but sprinkle perfect flourishes around Trey’s make-you-gently-weep notes will love this one. Yeah, you should listen to this Velvet Sea. And what’s more they earned the ballad coming off what’s surely one of the better jams I’ve been witness too these last five years since the band’s return, and maybe among some of the better ones in the fourteen prior to that. Composed-sounding-pure-joy style stuff.
The Rock & Roll>Seven Below doesn’t quite deliver on the type II level you’d hope for such a pairing to start the second set, but it’s not a mess either. Some nice space to end the Rock & Roll, and the Seven Below knows when to wrap up its in the box rock out. This Hood is likely to be overlooked due to the Twist, and some other excellent versions played of late, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a great version that almost combines approaches from different eras, with the initial part of the jam flirting with Worcester 2010 vibes, and the finale very much a ‘94 peak after peak throwback (not quite a 10/23/94, mind you!).
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, like the opener, was really the only choice for the encore. It was one of those nights that the sense of the band’s history, community, energy, the whole deal, are front and center. Trey delivered ones of his classic ‘depths of our heart,’ ‘hey, there are a lot of people in this room who have been along for the whole 30 years, or going back to Halloween,’ speeches, and of course we’re all like, ‘love you too, man.’ Great show.