Checking in from the afterglow zone around Long Beach, still marveling and laughing at all that went down on Wednesday. Given the fuel-injected power of recent tour openers, nobody was expecting Phish to phone shit in, but I’m pretty sure nobody expected things to get quite that wonderfully weird, either.
Taking in the first set with Justin Bieber and his entourage? Can’t say that’s an everyday occurrence for me. Nor was the ghostly introspection of “Rock & Roll,” or the rocking party vibe of “Ghost.” Bottom line? You never know what you’ll get when Phish comes to Southern California!
In contrast, Phish and the Bay Area go together the way the Grateful Dead and New York City did for so long: predictably, like peanut butter and chocolate. Since the Warfield gigs in April of 1992, Phish has demonstrated its love for Bay Area fans by crafting dependably smart sets and delivering them with fire, and those fans have demonstrated their love for Phish by knowing their shit and getting down accordingly. Yes, it’s true: San Francisco crowds flap their gums too fucking much. But they’re also smart, seasoned music people, with ears that are even bigger than their mouths.
Oh, yeah, the quality of their venues don’t hurt, either. This is Phish’s first appearance at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and I’m more than a touch envious that we’re not there quite yet. But let’s jettison the jealousy, fire up the webcast, and see what’s in store.
It’s 8:15, and the lights are down, Beliebers!
One of my four gratuitous leg two wishes in the Chris Glushko blog piece last week was a jammed-out “AC/DC Bag,” but I guess that sometimes it’s unburdening to set hopes and expectations aside sooner rather than later. A straightforward and short “Bag,” though certainly quite tight, and both the band and the webcast sound fantastic right out of the chute.
“Moma Dance” occupies its almost-customary second song slot, followed quickly by a spirited “Possum,” and then a long huddle. “Corinna,” a once-rare chestnut that seems to enjoy a more prominent presence these days, comes across really well but won’t end up in the sacred scrolls.
After another huddle: “Sand.” Personally, I think Fishman has wrestled somewhat with the groove on this one for over three years. Or maybe he’s just experimenting and I’m hearing it wrong. Whichever the case, this version announces itself in your entire white butt, with the rhythm section giving us the greasy business. It builds quickly and deliberately to an incendiary peak... and then it’s gone before you know it.
Better to have loved and lost, they say, than to never have loved. And I love this.
“Halley’s Comet” is another tune that I’d love to see jammed out properly again soon, but I don’t think Trey is feeling it, and he dispatches this particular pipe dream with an abrupt switch-back into the rote coupling of “Funky Bitch” and “Sample in a Jar.” The Ween masterpiece “Roses Are Free” catches the band flirting with the idea of improv for a few measures, but a longer walkabout is not in the cards. By this point, late era Grateful Dead comparisons are inviting themselves – mostly because this first set has yet to wander from its 4/4, blues-based motif in any noticeable way.
The evening’s first highwire composition rears its head in the form of “My Friend, My Friend.” And I guess this version might merit additional comment if not for what comes next: the first set one “Slave to the Traffic Light” in over two years. At the risk of damning with faint praise, this sparkling “Slave” is clearly deserving of its cleanup slot, as it’s the best part of the set – and maybe even the show – by a good measure.
Thus far, things are playing out much like Wednesday night in Long Beach – a serviceable first set capped with an upbeat finish. We’ll see if Set Two matches up.
Enjoy intermission, kids!
The third quarter sparks up tentatively with “Down with Disease.” Roughly five minutes into the “DWD” jam, Fish and Page drop out to let Mike and Trey suggest a direction. Foot-pedal hijinks ensue, and multiple grooves are initiated. Trey presses the reset button with a minor chord that nobody on stage seems quite ready for, and all best intentions are quickly abandoned.
A half-decent “Birds of a Feather” pulls up shy of release ...but, hello, “Tweezer!” Less than six minutes into this “Tweezer,” having grazed past “Manteca” quotes and other harmonic permutations, we find ourselves in the midst of the kind of agitated group chat that’s often pretentiously labeled as a “Storage” jam these days – despite the fact that this style of improv actually pre-dates the actual “Storage Jam” by about two years. It’s not a “Storage” jam, Moon Doggie. Dig? It’s just a nice jam.
[Still, it’s awfully nice – and yes, that does appear to be a brand new clavinet that Page is playing... with a whammy bar.]
This eminently satisfying “Tweezer” segues a bit awkwardly into a concise and fiery “Twist” that serves the function of completing “Tweezer’s” thought. The “Wading in the Velvet Sea” that comes next never quite finds an equilibrium or an orbit, but it could be argued in a pinch that it serves as an apropos break between the third and fourth quarters.
Now a first set “Chalk Dust Torture” infiltrates the second set, followed by a lovely “Joy.” The ensuing “Run Like an Antelope” reaches for some sort of epiphany but ultimately disintegrates in its clammy final chorus. The closing “Shine a Light” might work better were it switched out for the first set’s powerful “Slave” closer, but feels anticlimactic here.
The “First Tube” encore reinvigorates everything as Trey offers some new rhythms during the first instrumental verse, and I find myself geeked out on what Page is up to on B-3 during the second verse. But before I can get too lost in it all, the Fat Lady sings.
At the risk of sounding bitter for not being there tonight, I’ll conclude with the observation that while there’s no place on earth I’d rather be than wherever Phish is playing, tonight’s show failed to build on the momentum established in Long Beach, and there is much headroom left for Saturday and Sunday!
See you in a few short hours, San Francisco – can’t wait to see what you have to offer!
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