On Saturday night Phish concluded their season at Miami's American Airlines Arena. Let's cut right to the action...
Saturday’s first set opened with a classic five-song sequence that could have been lifted from a 1994 setlist playbook. “Maze” serves as a power-packed kickoff – along with 9/4/11 Dick’s only the second “Maze” show opener since 1995 – with Page and Trey trading confident and peppy leads. A compact but spirited “AC/DC Bag” set the stage for a sublime “Divided Sky” that anchored the set. “Cavern” kept the energy spiked, though with an odd digi-noise leftover plaguing the song’s beginning, one that would recur several times throughout the gig (feature or bug?). “Scent of a Mule” featured a (comically ‘off’) “Smoke on the Water” tease from Trey and a true Mike bass solo before the song’s “duel” portion, but was otherwise uneventful. First sets have been the achilles heel of modern Phish gigs, but this opening segment delivered solid goods.
Photo © Scott Harris
The band shifts to more current material with the new-to-Phish TAB classic, “Plasma,” Fuego’s “Devotion to a Dream, and “Water in the Sky,” that offered opportunity for the obligatory south Florida cheer in response to the “filter out the Everglades” line. “Split Open and Melt” sticks the band’s foot in the improvisational door, with Trey’s digi-noise popping again which kicks the song off with a trippy darkness that they pursued vigorously in the jam. Trey’s playing early in the jam is melancholy, sweet and poetic, soaring softly, a honey rather than vinegar enticement even within the dark confines of the song. Page forms the perfect envelope of support for Trey to explore, the pocket is subtle but super effective. The jam’s climax does get a little dirty and chaotic before pulling in the reigns and taking the set home with “Character Zero.” Low though the bar may have been, front to back that is your Miami run’s best first set, and by a non-trivial margin.
Photo © Phish
“Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan” made its first ever appearance in the second set opening slot, but would only serve as a brief launching pad to the greatness that would follow in the “Down with Disease.” Trey and Page lead the fresh, bright, sunny jam early, letting the song’s structural confines melt away ever so gradually. Fish and Mike locked down in a manner that wasn’t always so evident earlier in the run and provided frictionless loft for Trey’s soaring ascent. At the 10:30 mark we’ve totally dispensed with “DwD” as a song, with the first and most dramatic of several major plot twists. Page laid down a riff that the whole band picks up on immediately, a thick, funky, ass-shaking groove that was so coherent in the moment of expression that one would be forgiven for thinking that moment of magic was in fact composed. “Improvisation that sounds composed” is a phrase often used when describing the essence of peak Phish music, but this passage was so stunning and on-point that if it wasn’t composed, it should be, for a future song!
Photo © Scott Harris
My personal jaw-drop moment of this inspiring “Disease” was at ~16:30, when the jam could so easily have glided to a satisfactory conclusion; but Jon Fishman was having none of that, with a driving, rumbling insistence that nothing is over until we say it is, paving the way to the greatest of rewards. As the jam rounds the clock past the twentieth minute Fishman is in absolute beast mode as the hose is in the full ON position, with Trey riding a wave with a “Manteca”-infused sustain that filled the biggest moment and allowed true collective release, then playfully oozing bliss for the balance of the jam, with a final dose of aggressive weirdness from Trey and Page and an affirmational series of rings from Mike’s fight bell. This “Disease” was twenty-six minutes of dazzling artistry that we will be listening to for the rest of our lives.
Rather than reaching for a breather at the end of such a satisfying-if-mind-bending jam, “Light” takes the handoff and blasts off with the full momentum of the “Disease” as its tailwind. The jam is so chunky that it defies even the most sedentary to not get off their ass and move. This jam is a super active conversation, where all voices yearn for the listener’s attention as one, a textbook example of being “locked in,” offering enough complexity and challenge to hyperactive attentive listeners, while also being fire-under-seat danceable and broadly accessible, this “Light” was simply brilliant. A flawless “full arrow” -> to “Sneakin’ Sally” was the money move at the inflection point of the set, this wave was gaining steam and would not relent or yield. “Sneakin’ Sally” always titillates and delivers in the big moments, but this version ditched its traditional casing and went for a totally bonus if very un-“Sally”-like sonic excursion after the vocal jam.
Photo © Phish
When “Sand” finally washed on stage it was clear this would be a “no-breather” set that would hang ten until the final note. A short tour’s worth of highlights already in the bag from this set alone, Trey approaches this “Sand” with an active persistence, the freshness of the ideas radiating one after another, as if he traded in the glider that has been his aerial transport for so much of this past summer for a stunt plane ready to perform death-defying feats that will shock and amaze! “Harry Hood” starts with Trey in a super playful mood, one that would persist through the balance of the gig. Trey offered a “Happy Birthday” tease, apparently to someone on or near the rail, and threw in a few Pete Townshend windmills for good measure. This “Hood” is delightful, and while it doesn’t go nearly as deep as many of the abundant selection of great versions of 2014, it didn’t need to, as the greatness of this set was long before cemented. A classic closing combo of “Suzy Greenberg” (with a brief “They Attack!” quote from “The Birds”) and the “Good Times Bad Times” encore ended the show much as it began, letting the engines out on the greatest improvisational rock band alive for one last celebratory release before we go our separate ways until next summer.
This show exudes brilliance, with the jam-packed second set immediately in a top tier of 2014-15 sets alongside 7/13/14 Randall’s, 7/27/14 MPP2, and 10/31/14 II Vegas. The show ends the season with an emphatic exclamation, leaving the best memories to linger as we wait for the days to get longer. This show has it all and represents the core of why so many of us are Phish fans. Treasure the memory and let it propel you all to health and happiness in the new year. Hug your friends, hang on to the smiles, until we meet again in summer 2015!
Photo © Andrea Nusinov.
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