Phish hit the stage for their third night at the Bill Graham Civic Arena about the same time World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner strode to the mound for the last of his mostly flawless twenty-one innings pitched. Though it took the band a little longer, both parties ended the night the same way, earning a save (to go along with two previous wins) on the strength of another solid performance and some late game heroics when the pressure got turned up.
Copyright Phish: From The Road
As jubilant Giants fans hung on Bumgarner’s every pitch in the viewing area outside the arena, Phish delivered a measured and workmanlike “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan” as their first offering. It was by no means a heater, tailing low and outside for a ball. “The Moma Dance” which followed opens with a distinct inflection of “Shakedown Street,” and the band waited patiently while those interested gazed and glimpsed the delivery of six straight high fastballs to induce a harmless pop fly from Salvador Perez (the only Royal to score on Bumgarner during the series) and end the game. Tipped off by the seemingly unwarranted roar in the midst of the first verse, Trey worked an instrumental version of Queen’s “We are the Champions” into the “Moma” chorus in celebration of the Giants’ victory. We were finally back to the business of Phish.
Now “Free” from distraction, both the band and audience alike could focus their attention on what we had assembled to do in the first place....flip cars over and burn shit, naturally...a perfectly reasonable response. But you don’t just rush into that particular human drama kind of thing, you have to build towards an outburst of that scale gradually. After floating languidly in the blimp for a few minutes, Phish picked up their pace a few notches and hopped “Back on the Train” to cover a few hundred miles of twists and turns in rock-strewn hill country in a hair under nine minutes. Hopping off the train, we tumbled down the hill beneath the trestle, popped through a hedge and took a stroll down “Yarmouth Road” to hang with the bees and the buzz in the honeycomb. The hive was a little sticky, mostly sweet, no royal jelly, but definitely buzzing with life.
The second “Strange Design” of the fall and third of the year (thereby matching the song’s number of performances for the previous three years), invites a few more companions along for the ride. The subsequent “Taste” was lacking in any kind of strong flavor, pretty bland salsa all things considered...giving way to a more upbeat but equally standard version of “The Wedge” that concluded with a “Let’s go Giants!” chant from the crowd, some respectful banter from Page, Trey outing Page for streaming Mets games on his organ during shows, and a backhanded dedication of “The Line” toward all losers in sports. (It was a great run, KC!). For any Royals fans in attendance, this song assuredly did nothing to elevate their spirits. It was certainly not the case for the set-closing “Wolfman’s Brother” that followed, however. This one is all kinds of funky, got a little brooding and dissonant at times, but teed up the second set quite well with a much needed dose of energy.
Copyright Phish: From The Road
Phish returned from intermission with “First Tube” for only the second time in the song’s history (see 9/20/00 Riverbend), invigorating the crowd with another blast of acceleration from the cyclotron. We were off to hunt with the big dogs for the remainder of the show. In celebration of the first anniversary of the Reading “Down with Disease” Phish took this one out for an effects-laden spin that once again trod through “Echoes” space (the seagull’s wail) on its way to an uplifting outro jam that left the song unfinished and my ears wanting just a little bit more of that stuff. The ensuing “Theme from the Bottom” was pretty shallow when compared to the abyssal depths plumbed by the previous version (10/22/14 Santa Barbara Bowl) and served only as the submersible vessel that would transport us to our inspection of the mid-ocean ridge and the relatively rare second set “Split Open and Melt” that was to follow. The jam in this version is alternately warped, stretched, compressed, and dilated as the usually incandescent lava blob ascends from the ocean floor to a less than satisfying conclusion. On a scale of one to Yellowstone, this one had a VEI of less than zero...pretty gentle and not explosive at all. “Heavy Things” was buoyant and lively and briskly carried us with the joy of the lord out of the darkness and into the “Light” of salvation. The jam travels from airy and serene to an undulating electrostatic murkiness that bespeaks an unwritten amalgam that I’d call “The Other One of These Days” were I given to such endeavors. An always rocking “Possum” emerges from the underbrush and the second set draws to a high-spirited close... leaving the encore song selection to make or break this show’s position in the final standings.
Considering the long road to Las Vegas that lay before many in attendance, the choice of “Contact” to open the extra inning was quite perfect. Trey’s humorous quote from Meghan Trainor’s hit “All About That Bass” is an equally great nod to her obvious (yet accidental?) adaptation of the “Contact” melody and the original tune’s all-about-that-bass-playing songwriter. “Meatstick” opened with some atypical organ grinding from Page but was an otherwise unremarkable sausage. The “Character Zero” which concluded the fourth three-song encore of the fall provided the extra mustard that was needed to send us out into the night on our smoldering tear gas infused mission toward Sin City with a desire for more. Which of course begs the question always asked at the conclusion of the show before Halloween...what do you think is going to happen when the lights go down at the MGM Grand Garden Arena?
Recent interviews have suggested that Phish is happy to have escaped the corner they had painted themselves into with the traditional Halloween costume cover album. Having donned their “Wingsuit” and taken that leap of faith into the unknown last year, the band is now free to start a new tradition. Though they have indicated that their opening night of the three-night residency on the strip will be a three round donnybrook, there have been no real clues towards what trick or treat may be “Waiting All Night” for our arrival. There has been an edge of uncertainty in the shows that have lead up to this final stand in the sand. As with all the feasts of Samhain that have preceded, the colors of what is to come have been bleeding backwards into the rest of the fall tour. As we get closer to “The End,” the “Vibration of Life” that emanates from the short-term future grows stronger but still remains excruciatingly indecipherable. Last year The Boys bravely took their leap into the unknown, and trusted their fans to be there to catch them. This year the tables are turned. We are the ones who really don’t know what to expect. We just have to trust that whatever Phish has planned for us...they will be there to catch us as we complete our fall. No matter what happens on Friday, be grateful on Saturday, and remember that you should never miss a Sunday show...especially when it falls on November 2nd and tickets are on the ground.
Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish
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