Sunday 07/21/2013 by pzerbo


Before we get to Saturday’s action from Phish’s gig at Northerly Island in Chicago, let’s briefly consider, “well, how did we get here?” The “here” is a three-set show, a structure typically reserved only for Phish festivals, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve performances. The “how” was Friday’s show that was abruptly halted eleven minutes into the second set during “Prince Caspian,” due to the approach of potentially severe thunderstorms. The venue was immediately evacuated, and soon thereafter it was announced the show was cancelled.

The upwards of 30,000 attendees exited the venue as swiftly and safely as the venue’s island logistics allowed. Fans were chill – to everyone that was a part of not making headlines, great job! On the level-headed end of the spectrum, fans acknowledged that while it was obviously a bummer, shit happens. Lightning strikes are powerful, majestic, yet often deadly events. Trey did in fact famously take a more carefree approach when on 7/22/93 in Stowe, VT, in response to the staff talking about canceling the show due to the danger of electrocution during a show that took place in a total downpour, “Fuck that. Put the plug up my ass and count out Llama!” In this spot, however, public safety and a sober assessment of very real risk rightly won the day.

Conversely, other comments reflected a more negative tone, offering an armchair hybrid meteorologist / concert promoting / FEMA analysis, likely derived from very little experience in any of those areas. The band was slow to respond with official information, and fans – some with legitimate gripes, others playing the role of the entitled, whiny child – filled that void, quickly and loudly.

Reasonable questions can and have been asked: if your venue is such that a severe thunderstorm is going to dead-stop your gig, is that venue the best option? Severe thunderstorms in Chicago in the summer are not at all unusual events. Is Northerly Island, with no permanent structures available to provide for fan safety, suitable for mass gatherings of this type? That answer is far above my volunteer pay-grade, but the question is reasonable. Whatever the case, given the circumstances that were in place and not the circumstances some may have wished to be in place, the cancellation was the prudent call for the safety of everyone involved. The people who manage, promote and staff Phish shows are as good at what they do as anyone in the music business. Nobody wants to call off a gig. Nobody. The only thing worse than calling off a gig is not calling it off, and anyone – band, crew, staff, fans – walking away from an event that is about joy and happiness injured, or worse.

When Phish did speak up Saturday afternoon, they did so with force, unleashing an immediate wave of joy among fans across Chicagoland, and those observing from afar. How we have your back, by Phish: a three-set show Saturday with an earlier start and extended curfew; partial refunds to Friday ticket holders; and a coupon for a later webcast from LivePhish for those on couch tour. Not a lot of complaining was heard after that... and for good reason.

Expectations can be powerful determinants in the experience of any individual, in music, in love, in life. Expectations in the fan community ran from giddy optimism to irrational exuberance. The mutual love affair between Phish and their fans is dedicated, long-term and stable. In any long-term relationship, shit happens – we have ups, we have downs; we grow, we change. But what’s the best thing about the “down” times in any good relationship? Make-up sex, in this case of the musical variety. Yesterday is over, all we have and all that is real is the present moment. So, let’s get it on!

The earlier start time was announced as 7pm SHARP local time and the band came on stage at 7:15, close enough for rock. “Prince Caspian” started where Friday’s show left off – though the song was restarted from the beginning – offering only the third-ever “Caspian” show opener (12/2/95 and 12/30/95). This was a happy accident as absent the pressure of a more traditional late-show slot, this relaxed and comfortable version seems to work well. Then another wrinkle in the setlist was applied with a rare first-set “Twist” (last first set “Twist” 2/18/03, Denver), the earliest in a show “Twist” has ever been performed. “Twist” always hints of “Oye Coma Va” but this version featured a full-on tease. The first “Ha Ha Ha” of 2013 (6/20/12 Portsmouth, 41 shows) adds a little variety, but more importantly sets up the joke... “Ha Ha Ha” > “Possum.” Joke’s on us!

The rest of the first set is enjoyable enough, and well within the mean for first sets performed on the current tour. Which is one way to say that in a tour that has contained an embarrassment of musical riches, with notable exceptions – SPAC2Melt”, SPAC3, and MPP2 – those gems trend strongly to take place in the second set. “Cities” titillates but isn’t allowed to roam free, Page takes center stage for "Lawn Boy,” then “I Didn’t Know” makes its first 2013 appearance. “Rift” was a battle for Trey, and then the ever-popular “Destiny Unbound” allows Mike to drive for a spell. “My Friend My, My Friend” also proved to be a challenge, so Trey upshifted the tempo for “Kill Devil Falls” and “Cavern.” “David Bowie” is absolutely the right call in a spot that may have needed a boost, and it delivers some sweet redemption. Mid-jam, Fish started quoting the XTC classic “Melt the Guns,” a song that is not known to have ever been teased, and was last performed in full on 4/29/87, a mere 1533 shows ago, well before many of the show’s attendees were born!

Second set opens a few minutes after nine local with “Back on the Train.” “BOTT” is if anything versatile – it can open a set, fill a few uneventful minutes mid-set, or explode as a jam vehicle. Placed in a big spot here, it shuffles but keeps within the song’s confines. An early set “Mike’s Song” ignited hopes for the long-sought second jam, which were ultimately dashed but not before a solid eight minutes of type-I jamming. The “meat” of the Mike’s Groove sandwich has if anything gone rogue – where “Hydrogen” or “Simple” were once virtual locks, these days it can literally be anything. “Theme from the Bottom” makes its first-ever appearance out of “Mike’s.” The early part of the song had trouble finding solid ground, but then Trey cut loose for the first time in the evening with a precise, attacking, machine-gun lead that seemed even at the moment like it might really spark the set. “Theme” was brought to a conclusion and was followed by a cool little bridge jam that would set the stage for a slick segue into “Weekapaug.” You know the band is firing on all cylinders when they get out of a song structure quickly, and they dispensed with the “‘Paug” vocals with Page taking control, as he so often has this tour, followed by some killer call-and-response runs between Mike and Trey. Then Fish adds in his shift and the race is on – even from the couch, if you aren’t burning some calories here it may be time to reconsider your approach.

Golden Age” saw Trey humorously biff the lyrics, despite aid of the prompter, a point soon forgotten if they crush the jam... which they proceeded to do. Demonstrating not only masterful setlist construction, but creating a thematic arc with two distinct downshifts in theme and tempo in the “Golden Age” jam – from a bright, happy and upbeat start and ending with a quiet, sparse jam that set the stage for “Waves,” was simply brilliant. “Waves” itself wasn’t an all-time version but that only proves that the hybrid of “song-oriented jamming” sets really does work. Twenty minute “epic” jams are awesome and can and often do anchor your show, but they aren’t a requirement (or anything close) when creating a delightful, jam-filled set of Phish music.

Sure, they could have gone deeper into this “Waves,” but the ensuing “Piper” was in many ways the climax to this journey of reconciliation. While many fans prefer the foreplay of the slow-build “Piper” intro, the band was unable to hold back any longer. Much as with the “Weekapaug” it was time for quick business, and while the song only times out at ten minutes, this is a “lost in the moment” ecstasy that you just don’t question. This collective release saw Page on the talkbox offering a bit of Frampton-esque madness to this sonic explosion, that was then driven home by some stop-start jamming and a crunchy lock established between Mike and Fish with Trey riding the wave while leaving the whammy in the ‘off’ position. Tension... and release! A sublime “Slave” takes us into the second intermission all smiles. If perhaps the make-up sex set needed it’s own make-up sex set, this set evolved into something special and from the “Theme”-on maintained an upward-trajectory, providing great satisfaction among the wet but always thirsty audience. Sweet satisfaction.

A steady rain that persisted through the second set had ended by the 10:31 third-set start time. Maintaining the upward trajectory through a third frame is more difficult as the years pass, but Phish knows that you can’t have makeup sex without the “Meatstick.” “Birds of a Feather” shifts into a higher gear, but is grounded before real take-off. “Strange Design” offers a breather, but when that was followed by “Ocelot” you could feel a collective deflation, with not subtle flashbacks to 12/31/11’s “Third Set Alaska.” If you asked 1,000 fans to create a fantasy setlist, the number that would have contained a third-set “Ocelot” would be mighty slim. But to be fair, much like the weather, you play the hand that you are dealt, and this was harder-driving and played more to the moment when it was actually played. Best “Ocelot” Ever? :-)

But just when the set needed a boost, they went to their fastball, go-to jam vehicle of the last four years, and “Light” immediately offers renewed hope for the set. This playful jam saw Trey leading toward a “Dave’s Energy Guide” and unlike so many kinda-almost teases, this one went full band and full throttle. Fish dropped out for a delightful few moments before the jam veered off with strong hints of a segue into “Timber (Jerry)” that fell short of a tease, but were unmistakable in tempo. The outro jam was sublime and set the stage for “Harry Hood.” For this fan, any show that has a late-set “Slave” AND a late-set “Hood” = $. Page steps up again on the talkbox, and while the chorus was “loose” the jam did its job, making people happy. “Good Times Bad Times” always rocks, but both this and the last version at MPP1 were absolutely spot-on, slamming great efforts. “Shine a Light” sets the mood for the end of a great night of music where everyone got their money’s worth, and so much more.

So, thanks, Phish – band members, management, crew – as well as the local authorities, and all the fans that turned lemons of Friday into the sweetest of lemonade of Saturday. It was great for us!

"Obstacles are stepping stones, That guide us to our goals" – Anastasio, Marshall

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, comment by makisupaman
makisupaman "Twenty minute 'epic' jams are awesome and can and often do anchor your show, but they aren’t a requirement (or anything close) when creating a delightful, jam-filled set of Phish music."

This. Thoughtful and thorough review @pzerbo. As usual, .NET reviews prove the most reliable and consistent. I can only imagine what's in store for tonight.
, comment by Alumni
Alumni The best thing of all would be to get a set with both perfect flow and extended improvisation.

But I stopped *****ing about that a long time ago. I'm happy to get either/or.

And if I had to choose, I'd rather get a tight, well-flowing set than a set with a couple nice jams punctuated by a handfull of pi** breaks (what can I say? I don't like to hit the "skip" button when I'm driving).

7/20 II was a great example of the former. I can't say I'll be listening to set I or III very much, but set II is definitely joining the rotation.

, comment by mahimahi
mahimahi I love that they keep giving something for everyone. This tour is a great 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, journey. Mahalo for the review, cannot wait for tonight.
, comment by streetskooler
streetskooler couch toured last night. great show, hoping for some fire tonight
, comment by mattyk
mattyk "...other comments reflected a more negative tone, offering an armchair hybrid meteorologist / concert promoting / FEMA analysis, likely derived from very little experience in any of those areas."

Ha! Love the rip on Minor! Guy only likes one kinda show, it's so silly, and to put unreasonable/unrealistic expectations on the band's handling of a situation that is out of their control is ridiculous. I treat his reviews like Fox News, I check in to see what the crazies are saying. He also dropped a "nigga please" in responding to comments today and some comments that can easily be interpreted as sexist the other day. Way to keep it classy.

Nice balanced review as per usual on .net
, comment by PhreePhish
PhreePhish Second set last night was a freakin' beast!

Can't wait for tonight (if my ankle holds out)!
, comment by projmersch
projmersch Thank you @pzerbo for the best review of the night- and best written!

Spot on.
, comment by Dankalonious
Dankalonious Second set was killer...waves lost the momentum just a bit, but otherwise it was awesome. Golden Age, Piper, and Slave all delivered big time. Mikes Groove was solid too, really liked the placement of Theme, and the -> out of it was top notch.

They let the air out of the bag a little with the Strange Design/Ocelot sequence but Light> Hood> GTBT redeemed it pretty well.

Can't say it was the best show I've seen them play, other than on volume alone (first three set show!), but I got to cross a few songs off my list, and it was well played throughout. Can't wait for tonight, they are gonna tear it down!
, comment by BOBinonthesurface
BOBinonthesurface Bliss, chaos, beauty. Love phish.
, comment by oldmannozgood
oldmannozgood Not that impressed with the new Chicago venue - raise the stage or grade the lawn, please! Plus, it's a pain in the ass to get to (I'm exceptionally biased, living only 15 minutes from beautiful Alpine Valley!)

That being said - What a great show! Good review too; only disagreement was the negativity on Ocelot. I thought it was a great transition, but then I really do love that cat. Taking a line from the encore - "make every song your favorite tune" - I'm just sayin...

3 sets + a bedtime prayer to send us home! What could be better?!?!?!? The good Lord did bless us...with PHISH!
, comment by whatstheuse324
whatstheuse324 Page's "Maze" solo in the middle of Piper was my personal highlight of the night. I'm calling for an over-the-top Ghost tonight. The time is right.
, comment by whrdina
whrdina Can I just take a minute to imagine a world where every company acts like Phish Inc? Where, when something goes wrong, steps are immediately taken to rectify and actually DO something to make it better. Where the customers/fans are not just treated like numbers on a spreadsheet. Can you imagine a world where insurance companies acted like Phish? If not, why not? Does you think the band is poor? Nope. They're rich- and they got there playing fair and sharing. Doesn't happen enough anymore. Why do we love this band? THIS is why we love this band. Oh yeah, and because they rock.
, comment by ledzepmaster
ledzepmaster It's not a teleprompter, it's a song bank.
, comment by jackl
jackl @ledzepmaster said:
It's not a teleprompter, it's a song bank.
What's a "song bank"?

According to the FAQmany believe it's a teleprompter device designed for live music (unlike the typical double podium mirror style used by public speakers like Presidents for decades) known as a "Wolfgang telemonitor", which looks from the front of house like a wedge monitor and is believed to display both setlists and lyrics of new/rare songs from the rotation, and in the latter instance, the scrolling speed, can be controlled by a foot pedal.

(And, as Jerry Seinfeld said, not that there's anything wrong with that, remembering all the lyrics of several hundred songs is very difficult and sometimes a lead singer needs a crutch just in case).
, comment by Uakari
Uakari Does Phish use teleprompters?
, comment by Just_Ivy
Just_Ivy Excellent recap, @pzerbo.

I just listened to the 2nd set of this show again. My impression from the stream was that it was well put-together but that the segues were a little rough, particularly the Theme -> Weekapaug Groove. In actuality, the transitions from song to song were very smooth.

I think that this 2nd set is a good example of what Phish does best when they're "on" - compact jams delivered with precision that provide conduits between songs that feel "natural". Above all, what I like most about this kind of set is the impression that the placement of each individual song is thought-out to the extent that it seems like nothing else could possibly fit as well in each song's respective slot. They've been very successful at this at several times so far this summer. As the liquid Piper jam melts into Slave to close the set, I'm overwhelmed by this feeling of "Of course they're playing Slave!" as if it was impossible for them to play anything else at that particular moment.

I'm not one who needs 20+ minute jams to feel musically satisfied and prefer to consider an entire set versus a single jam as the "minimum listening unit" to determine the merits of a given show. So for fans like me who like concise jams and sets with good flow, seamless segues, and "logical" song placement, it's a very good time to be a Phish fan.
, comment by theothr1
theothr1 In contrast to a relatively popular Phish blogger (who shall remain nameless but rhymes with Sister Whiner), whose review of last night's show was mired in vomit-inducing, whiny entitlement, THIS review and assessment is mature, logical and right on the money...all Phish owed phriday's phans (sorry, I couldn't help it) was a partial refund and NOTHING MORE...and for that moron, or any other, to complain about saturday's song selection and/or level of playing is nothing but nauseating selfishness to the Nth degree...but I know I can always count on PZerb to be the voice of reason....especially in a situation such as this...after last night, as a community, we should have only three words to utter: THANK YOU, PHISH!!!!
, comment by fluffhead02
fluffhead02 Spot on review and thank you!! I loved both nights of Chicagos music thoroughly and I'm glad to be gearing up for tonight's as well!
FACTSAREUSELESS absolutely brilliant review. I mean brilliant. Awesome use of metaphor throughout and I thought everything you did while experiencing the show at home. My frustration with the ripcord (throughout the night, whether Birds, Waves, Mike's, BOTT, et al) was quickly and effectively tempered by the fierceness, intensity and overwhelming power of the jams in the songs themselves. Little bits of Type 2 sprinkled nicely into sparkling, orgasmic type 1.

I too was deflated when Ocelot started, but then I thought, "let's give this a chance now, Trey kills this song" OMG I thought my head would explode as the song peaked, then peaked some more, then went past that...I was bouncing up and down in my living room waking up the whole house.

The best of the show though, as someone said above, was Piper and Slave. The Piper jam was so dirty/nasty and hole-ripping powerful that I felt undressed and violated. I actually started weeping openly during the beauty of Slave, which was absolutely NAILED. I haven't wept during a show since Bathtub Gin into Sleep at Nassau on 2/28/03. There I was crying like a baby as the boys worked through the crescendo of Slave. What a set of music.

Agree with everything else you said about it too. Thanks so much.
, comment by SkyTrainWand
SkyTrainWand Man, this has gotta be the most spot-on review of N2 I've seen thus far. Awesome job pzerbo!

There was definitely a LOT of interplay between all the band members last night, and that is always a good thing. Surprisingly enough (or not?), Ocelot and KDF were highlights for me. Piper was super-tasty, and so was the Hood! Tons of other stuff but nothing that hasn't already been mentioned.

Again, great review. Looking forward to reading more! Tonight's show is going well so far.


, comment by marooned27
marooned27 Sweet 3-set couchtour show last night! Thank you @pzerbo for a killer review that let me re-live it again, that's some damn phine journalism!!!
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray Nice review. I really enjoyed MFMF and Possum from the first set, the whole second set, and Ocelot onwards.

Three solid frames. Thank you Phish for the wonderful gesture.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert "Ha! Love the rip on Minor! Guy only likes one kinda show"

Not to be the guy defending Minor..

But he did seem to be the first person who banged (bung? that cant be right) the gong about this 2nd set kind of set being a new way forward for Phish. Where they use short dense pieces of improv to connect songs instead of basing sets around a centerpiece jam.

He can be a hypocrite, but so can the rest of us. I might like Heavy Things and Farmhouse and what Phish is doing with them enough to think they're perfect dead center set II but a lot of other people might think complaining about them ruining the flow of a set is such a given that they can comfortably step out of their "it's all good" guise and whine a little.
I love Caspian. A lot of people who criticize others for their negativity seem to have no problem complaining about Caspian. As if its 1995 and they are playing the 3 minute Caspian what seems like every show. In general, it seems accepted to indulge anyone who just apes the complaints of 1991 reviews and whines about Bouncing. In the last week there was a review saying that Bouncing not having a jam is a prank. As if Phish's repitoire isn't made of more songs with no improv than songs with improv. And even hilariously further! Apparently as if its Phish's only song with no improv!

I've gotten way off track and created at least 3 straw men. I'm halfway to a gang.

People have their preferences. And they change. Most people's complaints about Miner tend towards the "OMG dude stop fluffing everything" but when he is negative the detractors flip it and act as if his negativity is unfounded. How can somebody win? Some people's persona or writing just angers/ annoys other people and they'll always view that person through that lens.

To me, pointing out that Gumbo doesn't have a jam or Mikes doesnt have it's 2nd jam is bizarre. At some point after 100s of shows and dozens of versions it's not worth mentioning anymore, no? Halleys has cracked 10 minutes 18/100 times and 4 times post Coventry. Maybe 12 apreciably jammed Tubes ever? 4 Roses jams ever? The lack of jam in that song is getting called out in 90% of reviews. Count it.

But if they played Farmhouse or Steep and didnt have a short atypical jam segment like they have the past few times they were played, it's a virtual lock that nobody would mention that in a review. That's my pet peeve. Others have their own. Someone might think Possum shows more improvisational heft than Mikes or Boogie On or a dozen other songs that pop up almost as often. Others have consigned Possum to the 91 Bouncing 97 Mu Soul Zone where bitching about it is a sign of fellowship (now if only Number Line or Possum had a few segues into it as good as 12/30/97 and 7/22/97 -> My Soul!)

I think I've lost the thread here.
, comment by MzRprz
MzRprz I was on couch tour for the 2nd night and loved every minute of it! Great second day! (BTW - love the title of this blog!)
, comment by WiscoCush
WiscoCush I've been re-hearing these shows for the first time since I had the good fortune to be in attendance. During night two's Piper jam, about 5 minutes in, Page riffs on YEM for a good couple minutes... didn't catch that in the moment :-)
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