PZ: The only “never miss a” Sunday show of Phish’s fall tour fell on its last day. Given the gradually ascending upward trajectory of this tour, the final day of the Halloween stint was sure to provide plenty of tricks and treats. The frantic energy of the Halloween holiday weekend was tempered slightly on Sunday; in stark contrast to the first two nights, ticket availability went from major pain in the ass to tickets on the ground faster than you can say “need to catch a flight home for work/kids/life.”
A classic old-school opening combo “Runaway Jim” and “Foam” kicked off the gig, starting the set with an early 90’s vibe; a common show opening couplet from ‘92-94. The first “Mexican Cousin” since 6/19/12 (Portsmouth VA, 110 show gap) followed, offering swaying homage to the most ubiquitous of Vegas imbibing traditions, and their aftermath. Our trip may indeed be short, but Phish’s history is long: Round Room’s “Mexican Cousin” debuted after the first hiatus, but it wasn’t an exaggeration when Trey noted it as ”an old one, but a good one.” “Ocelot” continues to solidify its role as an anchor type-I first set jam vehicle, then Trey negotiated the pitfalls of Mike’s “Sugar Shack” in more than respectable fashion.
Photo by @hersch
2014 witnessed Undermind’s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” enter consistent, regular rotation for the first time; more than a third of all performances of “ASIHTOS” have taken place in 2014, to the general delight of fans. (Listen for subtle Star Wars theme teasing in this “ASIHTOS”). Page’s lovely “Halfway to the Moon” develops a pleasant short jam before giving way to “Bathtub Gin.” This 14+ minute “Gin” is great with a patient deep pocket developed by Page, Mike and Fish. A textbook example of “average great,” the wide open door to true “Gin” greatness was left wanting as Trey was seemingly content to lay back in the pocket instead of using it as a launching point for a dramatic peak.
Photo by @tweeprise
When the band launched into “Free,” one might have been forgiven for thinking that the band was just running out the clock on the set, but they clearly had better ideas. “Free” is a fine tune brimming with fun and positive energy on an average day. But when “Free” morphed into a hybrid with “Martian Monster” quotes, the crowd was going wild! Your spaceship is about to take off! Because of the incredible speed of your rocket, your trip is short. Based on the literally ecstatic crowd reception, you have to think that elements of Friday’s Haunted House set will find a welcome home in the repertoire. What a release! “Walls of the Cave” closes out a solid first set.
LMo: sunday night was a perfect finale for this short trip some of us embarked upon this fall tour. as the saying goes... never miss a sunday night show. this is vegas and all bets are off. we can all enjoy ourselves and our final night together for what seems like will be a very long time. i can't possibly dissect the best among so many incredible moments. i recall that i danced the night away with a real sense of connection with the music. everything felt just right.
Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road
the first set again had the intensity and drive of a second set, when the band seems absolutely calibrated for musical excellence and communication. my personal first set highlights include ocelot which was so danceable and most fun, all hippity hoppity like. i noted in song i heard the ocean sing that page takes lead near the conclusion of the song and took things away with spectacular keys and a sweet transition into halfway to the moon. this part of set one was all about page. i was mesmerized with the piano section.
the gin - free - walls of the cave rocked my world and i was out of space and time, carried through time with the phish. this is a recording i cant wait to hear again and again.
Photo by @alliedise
PZ: The fact that patient, exploratory type-II versions of “Chalk Dust Torture” seem to routinely roll the stage with assembly line regularity in 2014 – The Mann, Randall’s, Portsmouth, Dick’s – is yet another indicator of how spoiled we really are these days. One so-called “knock” on recent set-opening anchors is that while they set sail for a long journey, that they are often without a decided peak; they maintain a consistent high level of floating grooves but never hit the release. This version fits that mold, effortlessly meandering through several distinctive thematic sections without a decided crest; personally I’m thrilled riding that wave all day long, save the release for later! After coming to a natural gliding conclusion, “Piper” assumes control and offers a spectacular counterpoint to the “CDT” jamming with Trey taking a more decisive if rhythmic and balanced lead. Standing alongside SPAC and Portsmouth as the crown jewels of the 2014 “Pipers” this version capped a brilliant half hour of improv, delivering a clutch third quarter.
The middle section of the set was excellent if routine (“average great”) with more or less stock versions of “Theme From the Bottom,” “Wombat” and “David Bowie.” The only real misstep of the whole show was the inexplicably bad call of “The Line,” but even that would be forgiven quickly given the extraordinary strength of the concluding “You Enjoy Myself.” For anyone with any lingering questions regarding the band’s ability to dip into the silly end of the pool, look no further than this “YEM.” This version had it all – tight composed sections, a legit jam section, and although Trey passed on his solo in favor in favor of feeling the moment through dance, there was more weirdness to come as Trey picked up his megaphone and began using the siren on it as he ran around the stage. Mike joined him, and Trey held the megaphone up to Mike's bass. Mike then began playing his fight bell with drum sticks while Trey went to the drums and played along with Fishman. Finally, Mike and Page joined in, so that all four were playing on Fish's kit, before returning to the traditional vocal jam ending. After Page thanked the audience and crew, Mike teased "The Load-Out." The first ever “Moma Dance” encore proved that Trey still knows how to troll a JadedVet™, then the curtain fell on this outstanding tour in brilliant fashion with “Slave to the Traffic Light.” See you in Miami!
Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road
LMo: set two was also spectacular. my personal highlights include a very very tight perfect wombat with good fits and starts and breaks. the timing felt tight as a drum. the wombat is a rocker. the yem is my favorite live experience with yem and that is saying a lot because i always love this song. this version felt a little different somehow. it was deep and funky and again, the timing of transitions was spot on. the light effects are always a pleasure to visually melt into as i enjoy the different phases of the composition.
did the music in this fall tour start off a little disjointed? i don’t know. whatever happened, the phish had it all happening and on point in vegas. "all is well that ends well... and so it goes.”
Photo by LMo
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That said, everything else is exactly what you'd want out of a Phish show - a combination of the big release dance party tour-ending shows tend to be, and a thrilling improvisational feast Sunday shows tend to be. The YEM, in particular, has already planted a standard as a YEM that (like 12/31/10 and maybe a few others) hearken back to its glory days. A wonderful, wonderful show.
Just a disclaimer here, I don't think the jamming if taken out of the context of the YEM, is even close to rivaling some of the top stuff we've heard from the past few years. That said (at least for me), the fact that this YEM exists is right up there in importance with the watershed breakthroughs of Dick's 12 and last fall's run. There was a clear sense of turning the corner.
How could an averagely-awesome jam come close to any of those far better sounding moments? It seems to me that Phish in 3.0 has pretty self-consciously been purposely denying themselves any sense of being derivative to what they once were. Part of the consequence of so rigorously moving forward is that the vehicles of 1.0 (though they were already moving away from this in 2.0) with the exception of Tweezer and Disease were just cut off from ANY attempt to jam (and I mean type II here). Quite frankly, I'm not even sure why they still played Mike's or YEM.
But isn't self-consciously denying being derivative in itself simply a negative movement away from the past? If they are purposely trying to deny past avenues, in a way they are still defined as-against the past. I know I feel it when I hear a Mike's, even in the first set, or a now-rare YEM closer, even though I don't want to, I inevitably hope against all odds that THIS will be the one. The one that goes big. And knowing the feel of those glorious jams from back in the day, I can't help but compare 3.0 to 1.0 and 2.0, the very thing they are trying to move away from. Consciously not jamming the big jam vehicles seems to me to be caring about the past in a way that hampers truly transcending the past.
The seeds of this transcendence are strewn through Bowie, Stash, Weekapaug, and dear-god Hood, where the band does not deny any pathos for rational or self-conscoius reasons, but simply accepts the movement of the whole. The more this kind of thing takes them beyond themselves, the more comfortable they are in opening up to an identity that is not self-ascribed but simply where the music takes them. This is an open-ended process where their identity is not closed off (be it because of the past or through conscious choices) but necessarily remains open. The hints of the future are felt in the snapshot of the present, but we can only really see the context in retrospect. The shows, the jams, the feeling cannot simply be contained as facts or knowledge in our minds because the razor's edge of the present constantly starts this process anew.
I don't want to contradict myself here and suggest that I know exactly what the present identity of Phish is, and I'd suggest anyone with those kinds of glib answers is depending solely on a retrospective comparison or idealizing in a worshiphood cult of arational response. The past is static and can only be a point of reference that gives context to the present. If we look at the present state of Phish, the obvious clues of transcending the past as a referent do not tell us what the future will bring, but rather only that Phish is open to the future by being fully engaged in the present.
Taking off the guardrails of their identity, forgetting about having to consciously deny ever being derivative, means that we have finally gotten over the 1.0 shadow. I really do think the last step in this process (again, not denying the openness of the present here) is shucking off the "we don't do that anymore" mindset. Doing this is not about giving the fans what they want so we can all live the glory days again, but instead is about not letting those very glory days tell us what we can do anymore. The constant demand for comparison (though obviously still a possibility) does not compel us anymore because Phish is just going to play Phish's music.
That's why I think this YEM tells us more than its jam.
Nice write-up PZ and LM -- this review captures exactly what I felt about Sunday's show, though I *really* liked Wombat (perhaps more than PZ did). That said, it was my first Wombat heard, and attendance bias is the real deal.
If you look at the Beatles for instance. How their music sounded when they started and the evolution that took place after they used drugs.
I'm not saying phish couldn't go there with out drugs because there's many different factors that contribute to their style and a jam within a tune. And I don't believe drugs were ever the foundation for them or anyone. But when used properly they did catapult their music into some of the most incredible moments many of us have witnessed and herd in our lives. Thankfully they're healthy today and can still share their great music with us!
As for songs, Free was special, with two different peaks of pure bedlam. Hope it comes through on recording. Chalkdust, Piper and YEM all got deep and moist.
Love the evolution of their sound over the past year. We are a lucky lot.
I fixed that sign a bit
But yea spot on review. Amazing Weekend!