On Tuesday night Phish’s performed their first gig at the 14,000-capacity Austin 360 Amphitheater. It was their twenty-third show in Texas, with the first on 10/25/90 at The Showbar in Houston, and most recently on 10/8/10 at the Austin City Limits festival. Great performances litter the Texas roster, including the famed Bomb Factory show on 5/7/94 and the two-step at the Starplex Amphitheater in Dallas on 7/25/97 and Austin’s South Park Meadows on 7/26/97. Nobody was expecting cool breezes for this late July Texas show, and the 8:34pm start time saw the band and fans doing their best to manage a sweltering 95°F.
Photo © Austin 360 Ampitheater
Phish’s fans are rightly noted for being devoted, obsessive, and, at times, overly critical of the band’s performances. In the “3.0” era, much fan angst has been focused on the quality of performances in the first set. This critique boils down to songs being played in an interchangeable, uninspired and often sloppy manner. The mantra that “anything can happen at a Phish show” is belied by many modern day first set performances, where the only real variation is the degree songs they’ve been playing for ten, twenty, even thirty years are botched. Sometimes this stock criticism is unfair, reactionary, and entitled. Other times, it is spot on… it’s like a different band is the warm-up act, but with the same lineup as Phish. The first set from Austin falls squarely in the latter category; it was far below average, even for the modest standards of a modern Phish first set.
“Party Time” opened the festivities in a casual, almost serene manner. “Free” brought the tempo up a little but was marred by Trey having difficulty recalling the song’s pesky details, followed by a “Halley’s Comet” that seemed to wilt under the oppressive heat. Even “Wolfman’s Brother” – often the bright spot in otherwise listless first sets – couldn’t harness any heat. “Possum” was respectable, and if one was forced to pick a first set highlight this would be as good as any. A sequence of short standards included “Lawn Boy,” “Bouncing Around the Room” (a difficult song for Trey despite its seeming simplicity was punctuated at the end by him stepping on a wrong pedal, scrEECH!) and “Water in the Sky.”
Photo © Austin 360 Ampitheater
“Dirt” was a minor bust-out, having been last played on 10/25/13 in Worcester, a 58-show gap that was the longest in the song's eighteen-year history. After “Devotion to a Dream” they offered Mike’s “Sugar Shack,” a mystifying call given Trey's historic difficulties with the song and the fact he was genuinely struggling on guitar, with predictable results. “Run Like an Antelope” has saved plenty of lackluster sets in its day, but there would be no heroics on this night until after the break. All that said, no big deal, right? Everyone has a bad day at the office; precious few, however, turn those around as fast, decisively, and often as Phish.
Photo © @tweeprise
After a relatively short break, they did exactly that, busting out of the gates with a fiery “46 Days.” The vibe established in this “46 Days” was night-and-day from the first set, the band displaying fresh and powerful confidence. The show being webcast, desks started flipping across America when they slipped into “The Dogs” from last Halloween’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House set. Another smooth segue back into “46 Days” witnessed the second half of the sandwich taking a decidedly more open, flowing and airy approach, setting the stage for “Piper.” While not quite containing the “slow build” of old, the intro was slow-ish, before building into an up-tempo early pace. The early stages of the “Piper” jam is vintage Fishman, drive-pounding Phish’s engine room, with Trey gliding above, before taking charge with his bandmates in close supportive pursuit. After a bit of a tempo downshift, Trey briefly hinted at “Lizards” before settling on “Ghost.” “Ghost” featured more great Fishman fills coming out of the “composed” section. “Ghost” was awesome – patient, sailing into a bright major key, with a tempo kick into the bliss zone and hints of “Runaway Jim” toward the end. If you are looking for the highlight reel CliffNotes for this gig, the opening half-hour of the second set is money.
Photo © @tweeprise
The new Anastasio/Marshall ballad “Shade” – with its opening a dead ringer for the Dead’s “Standing on the Moon” – made its second appearance, after its debut at the tour opener in Bend. While unusually placed between two slower songs, don’t sleep on the excellent “Gotta Jibboo” that featured Trey offering much more focused leads than are often found in this groove-based vehicle. “Waiting All Night” was performed in back-to-back shows, squandering much hope for fourth quarter momentum. The apparently self-referential “Blaze On” will likely be a fixture in the rotation; Trey clearly loves performing this song. A vocal segment of the fanbase clamours for Dead songs to enter Phish’s rotation, and in "Blaze On" you get three for the price of one (“Not Fade Away,” “Liberty” and “Women Are Smarter”)! “Wading In the Velvet Sea” gave Page another turn in the spotlight before giving way to “David Bowie.” “Bowie” offered a truncated intro, a reasonably solid composed section, and solid jam sequence with CK5 unloading the kitchen sink of psychedelia on his favorite song.
Photo © @tweeprise
“Suzy Greenberg” took us down the home stretch, with Trey finding another vehicle for the deployment of his Mutron pedal (the ‘77 “Dancing in the Street” effect). A Neurologist in Austin!? Austin scooped up the Forum’s hanging “Tweezer Reprise,” and a “Loving Cup” encore closed the books on this first leg of the 2015 Texas Two-Step.
Wednesday’s gig takes us up north on I-35 and brings us back indoors to the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie; tickets are still available if you find yourself in the area, and the show will also be webcast via LivePhish. We’ll be back here with more coverage tomorrow.
LE poster by Conor Nolan. Edition of 675. 18x24
Phish Summer 2015 – Setlists & Recaps
07/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 1
07/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 2
07/24/15 Setlist – Recap, Recap2 – Shoreline
07/25/15 Setlist – Recap – LA Forum
07/28/15 Setlist – Recap – Austin
07/29/15 Setlist – Recap – Grand Prarie
07/31/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 1
08/01/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 2
08/02/15 Setlist – Recap – Tuscaloosa
08/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Nashville
08/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Kansas City
08/07/15 Setlist – Recap – Blossom
08/08/15 Setlist – Recap – Alpine 1
08/09/15 Setlist – Recap – Apline 2
08/11/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 1
08/12/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 2
08/14/15 Setlist – Recap – Raleigh
08/15/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 1
08/16/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 2
08/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 1
08/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 2
08/23/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 3
09/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 1
09/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 2
09/06/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 3
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