Ahh, West Coast Couch Tour! This fits my current schedule pretty well, unlike most of my adopted East Coast brethren who work normal people hours. There is also a nostalgia factor for me, since BGCA 3 last year was my first recapping experience for Phish.net. I enjoy writing these, but I thought I was done until the fall, so I was excited to get one more crack at it before the break. Now, let’s go to the show!
Just as it did in 2012, “Crowd Control” begins the final night of the San Francisco run. This song seems to have found its natural place in the leadoff spot, as the last seven appearances have been show openers. A majestic “Divided Sky” then sweeps in to fill the auditorium with billowing clouds and visions of the blue beyond. A very tight version with perfectly placed accents from Fish and especially Mike, this “Divided Sky” has the patience and introspection that have made the classic song a new favorite of mine. Errand Woolfe then stalks in to rail against “Wilson” and to make sure everyone can still have fun before exiting the stage in a cloud of “Foam.” With the band sudsing up for the first time since SPAC3 last year, one might expect this “Foam” to get sloppy, but it’s almost squeaky clean and another great choice for the first set. The old-school Phish feel continues as Mike finds his opening note and starts “Halley’s Comet.” One of the great things about “Halley’s,” beyond its infectious tune and goofy fun, is its ability to pair up and launch a wide variety of other songs. Here it unexpectedly but deftly drops into an uptempo “My Soul,” which receives a quick reading but keeps the energy up with blues power and a few extra “my’s.”
“Ya Mar” is always a lot of fun and here provides extra giggles for everybody, band included. We get a “Trey’s grandpa” reference, some “woo!” breaks, a “London Bridge” tease,and a one-stringed guitar solo, all packed into eight minutes. The Chairman then takes the spotlight and provides a breather with “Army of One,” as Trey uses multiple strings and watery effects to complement Page’s moving lyrics. “Taste” swirls to the stage next, and in my opinion mixes a little bit of sweet and sour. It starts off well, and Page pounds away with gusto, but Trey’s solo gradually drifts into a brand of dissonance that I personally don’t find enjoyable. Having nibbled at “Taste,” “Gumbo” is next on the menu, just a small bowl, but satisfying nonetheless. “Train Song” is a simply gorgeous Mike tune and an exciting bustout with a gap of 120 shows. Unfortunately, this rendition, a touch shaky to begin with, gets largely derailed mid-journey and is hurried back into the station. But “Train Song” is well suited for fall tours and indoor shows, so let’s hope it’s only months and not years before we see it whistle by again. A pause to deal with amp problems precedes the set closing “Pebbles and Marbles,” which begins on rocky footing but then rolls along very nicely. I enjoy this song a lot, though this version seems to get truncated, perhaps due to the aforementioned technical difficulties. It’s an awkward ending but an otherwise excellent first set with a lot to offer in terms of execution and unique song selection.
“Energy” seemed like an obvious choice to open the second set. Not only does the upbeat vibe of the song fit perfectly in the rotation right now, it has also already demonstrated value as fuel for Phish’s Tesseract Jamsportation Device (patent pending). After spending a few minutes revelling in the world as electricity, “Energy” veers off into regions unknown. It gets an injection of plinko, gathers speed, flirts with a “Birds of a Feather” jam, and ultimately locates “Runaway Jim” in a second set slot where he’s rarely found these days. This “Jim” quickly runs off again, and we find ourselves chasing him through the cosmos with sonic comets streaking by. Around the 9:00 mark we start to feel a gravitational tug, and soon we’re in orbit around a quadruple star system of straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a lot of heat in this segment, but we only stay until around 12:45, when we’re again thrown away from stability and into interstellar space. The remaining three and a half minutes of this jam becomes increasingly ominous and culminates in the terrifying appearance of an expertly placed “Carini.” Trey and Fish really have a good time here, shouting “Lump Head!” and other Carini-isms. Yet just as “Carini” makes a turn from villainous to celebratory, the jam quickly disappears, is replaced with a strong version of “The Wedge,” and this runaway jam comes back home.
After the type-II excursion that started the set, you might expect that “Light,” with its history of exploration, would follow the same course. Instead, this version stays mostly within the song’s framework. That’s not a criticism, though; it’s an explosively powerful jam that Trey grabs and wields like a weapon. Jams do not have to get weird to be awesome. But weird is good, too, and after returning to briefly to the main “Light” theme and winding things down, Trey starts scratching and looping, everyone joins in, and it does indeed get quite WEIRD. It’s another fantastically creepy segment followed by another perfectly situated sinister tune, “David Bowie.” This summer has been a real revival for “Bowie,” and I think that’s one of the headlines of 2013. While this version may not be my favorite of the tour, it’s another confident showing for this monster song. We’re due for a breather, and “Silent in the Morning” fills that role well, even bereft of its trusty mount. “Meatstick” next allows us a chance to limber back up and practice our Japanese, and “Quinn the Eskimo” lets us rock out and perhaps give an indirect nod to Jerry. With these preparations made, the time has come for “You Enjoy Myself,” a most satisfying way to end a second set. This version gives us some “Meatstick” teases, another chance to “woo!” as prompted by the breaks in the jam, and then gets rather plinkofied. It seems like Trey might be aiming for a silent jam, but instead he decides it’s time to get down with his bad self while Cactus and Fish do their thing. As the vocal jam closes the set, I would be remiss if I did not mention how incredible Kuroda’s new setup looked throughout the webcast. Judging from this first indoor stop of the year, this fall should be filled with visual magnificence as well as musical bliss. No standard encore would seem fitting for such a fantastic show, so instead we are treated to the first “Sanity” since last year’s Deer Creek 2 (a 45 show gap, and 5th Junta song of the night), and the first “Bold As Love” since 2012’s Portsmouth 2 (a 50 show gap). A great way to take a bow.
I don't want to look past tonight's potentially epic throwdown, but since this is my chance to reflect before facing the three long weeks until Dick's, please indulge me. It’s hard to believe that August is upon us and summer tour now mostly behind us, but there is so much still to look forward to. In addition to the Hollywood Bowl, Dick’s, Fall Tour, Halloween and New Year’s Eve, we’re drawing ever closer to a new album. I feel as if the coming breaks in touring, while always hard from a fan standpoint, could be great for Phish. They’ve built tremendous energy in the last month, and if they get the chance to focus that together in the studio and come out with new material soon...well, just look out. The anticipation is almost like set break, when you’re exhilarated but need to recharge, and giddy as you wonder what’s coming next. It’s been a great summer so far, but it’s quite possible we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
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