IT has been said that one should know one's audience before addressing them. After you have said your piece, ideally, your audience will appreciate your words -- assuming you still have an audience at all. But when offering up $0.02 on a rock concert, particularly one attended by tens of thousands of people, many of whom were seeing or hearing the band for the first time, your words will disappoint someone. Phish, fortunately, did not disappoint many last night. They rocked Golden Gate Park in a way that few (now legendary) bands have ever done. In deference to the variety of perspectives of fans who witnessed Phish’s two-set headlining show at the Outside Lands Festival, though, I offer you three "recaps."
FOR THE NOOB:
While the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park may have been overcast last night, your point of view was clear and bright. And I thank you, because if it were not for you, Phish history would have ended a very long time ago.
Your vibe was INFECTIOUS, permeating the Polo Fields with warmth, despite the chilly August San Francisco night. My guess is that you heard at least several songs you had always wanted to hear Phish play, and you could not have been more overjoyed to finally see them LIVE. Cover songs, perhaps, like Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia,” or Ween’s “Roses are Free,” or Phish originals like “Mound,” “Axilla” and a second-set-closing “Chalk Dust Torture.” Though I have not been a noob in many years, I’m still one when it comes to a song like “Steam,” which was played last night for only the third time since Phish debuted it in early June at Blossom Music Center in Ohio. A sultry and somewhat funky number, all the fog (“steam”) unleashed from the stage during it gave Phish’s amazing lighting designer, Chris Kuroda, quite a canvas.
If you enjoyed last night’s version of “Steam,” or any other song Phish played last night, please buy the LivePhish download, and indirectly support the nonprofit Mockingbird Foundation whose volunteers manage this site. Or, check out versions Phish has performed live in the past, such as via The Spreadsheet. I bet you’ll find other versions of those songs that will impress you at least as much. (Check out the song histories and jam charts on this site for guidance to so-called "top versions.") But, regardless, you know that only your opinion about the music matters. I thank you for reading this far, and be sure to disregard what I say below, with extreme prejudice.
FOR THE VET:
So, quite a change in scene from Tahoe, eh? A tiny venue in a god-awful small gambling town surrounded by some of the most spectacularly beautiful landscape in the world, under clear blue – and clear starry night – skies, to an overcast park thronged by tens of thousands in the middle of the city by the bay. Yeah, I know, Golden Gate Park ain’t Tahoe (or the Gorge!), but it also ain’t shabby. We are incredibly blessed that Phish is playing venues like this – and playing at all.
While last night’s scene may not have improved from Tahoe, the music arguably did, in part, assuming you like to dance. Last night’s first set seemed more consistently danceable overall than the Bowl and Tahoe first sets. “Tweezer” (albeit short) peaked quite well, for example, and “Mound” was the slowest tune of the set -- and it’s unfair to call it slow. Sure, last night’s “Funky Bitch,” repeated from Tahoe, arguably was not as punchy as the Tahoe version, but it is hard not to be smitten by last night’s first set, which featured the first time since April 3, 1991, at the Britt Ballroom of Southern Oregon State College, that “Tweezer” and “Mike’s Groove” were played in the first set. "Mike’s Groove” closed that Britt Ballroom set just as it did last night (assuming this ancient setlist is even accurate). While “Tweezer” and “Mike’s Groove” have been performed together in second sets on numerous occasions, they were only played together in a handful of first sets of pre-1992 shows (such as 6/9/90 Georgia Theater). Accordingly, while nothing in last night’s first set is “must hear,” or anywhere close to it, the set nevertheless rocked from “Kill Devil Falls” through “Weekapaug Groove,” and those present were glad glad glad that it did.
Last night’s second set, though mostly well-played, does not hold up musically to the best second sets on the “Second Leg” to date. (For those keeping score, the last five or so minutes of Gorge1’s “Rock and Roll,” as it masterfully segues into “Meatstick,” still contains Phish’s most thrilling, must-hear improvisation of August.) The second set last night rocked out, to be sure, involving very little exploratory, risky, “type II” improvisation, such as that in Tahoe1’s “Light,” which is customary for that song, as it is basically more of a jam segment than a song in any event. The transition from “Rock and Roll” into “Steam” was brilliant, and there was plenty of fierce action from the full band consistently throughout the set. But such passionate playing from Phish, as in the “Piper -> Roses, Julius” trio, is par for the course. It is what typically great Phish shows are all about. The “Life on Mars?” call, presumably a tip of the hat to the recent discovery of flowing water on mars, was no upper decker, but demonstrably eviscerated energy from the crowd. My favorite part of this Bowie cover is Trey’s line in the final ten or so seconds, and Trey botched it. Also, honestly, Phish has so many wonderful original ballads that I had wanted to hear one of them. Many folks present, including me, weren’t in a “Life on Mars?” mood, despite the “big deal” it involves.
In sum, Trey’s trilling at the end of “Fluffhead” was particularly fierce, and a set highlight, as was the sublime segue into “Steam,” and the above-average “BDTNL” (outstanding Trey solo), but otherwise there were no noteworthy versions of anything performed. (The “2001,” for example, was poor, even when compared to the perfunctory Tahoe version.) All that said, last night’s “Greatest Hits” character made it an ABSOLUTE BLAST to attend, and I hope Phish get the opportunity to headline Outside Lands again in the future. $0.02.
FOR THE JADED VET:
You’re not as jaded as you think if you read this far. Lots of repeats from Monday’s Hollywood Bowl show in particular, and probably at best an “average-great” 5/10 rating on the Scott Jordan Concert Review Poll scale (what with no “top versions,” yet a stellar setlist). But, can you still have any fun, now? If so, see you at the UIC Pav, if not in Denver as well. And bring those tapes you still owe me from Hartford 1997.
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