Phish concluded their two-night stand at Philadelphia’s Mann Center for the Performing Arts with yet another peak performance in a summer tour that has surpassed nearly all expectations. Let’s not mince words. This show had everything you wanted: late tour debuts, first set jams, and a five-song, second set improvisational tour de force that “type-II” aficionados will be dissecting for years to come.
As last summer’s pair of Mann shows demonstrated, few things have the potential to weigh down a show more than a sweltering northeast shed during the dog days of summer. Mercifully, the atmospheric conditions were nearly perfect for this mid-August evening on Fairmount Park’s Belmont Plateau, setting the stage for fully engaged and energized band and crowd.
Photo © Scott Harris
The tour debut of “AC/DC Bag” – the 300th lifetime performance – had everyone dancing hard right out of the gate. Usually a tour staple, this Gamehendge classic was long overdue after its biggest gap (sixteen) since Vegas 2000. The “Free” that followed kept the crowd rocking. Trey immediately called an audible at the top of the jam, transitioning the band seamlessly into more “Martian Monster” shenanigans before resolving back into “Free.” “Martian Monster” has been a versatile weapon in this summer’s arsenal, but its pairing with the “Free” jam (which also occurred on 11/2/14 in Vegas) seems so natural and obvious given their similar tempos and crunchy power chords on the first and second beats. Spirited versions of “Ya Mar” and “Sample in a Jar” followed, maintaining the high energy level.
Photo © @tweeprise
A couple moments of seeming indecision led to the 2015 debut of the Talking Heads’ cover “Cities” (gap: nineteen). Clocking in at about twelve minutes, this version was like no other in recent memory. Following the final chorus, which typically leads to a short outro jam and soft denouement, the band abruptly pivoted into a staccato funk jam that veered hard into type-II territory before fading into ambiance. A typically (for this tour) solid version of “Stash” followed, with its usually patient build-up leading to its patented explosive ending. Another extended on-stage huddle led to the fourth “Birds of a Feather” of the tour complete with the “They Attack!” sample at the beginning. This “Birds” was of a standard first set variety with Trey’s thematic solos hewing closely to the melody of the song’s chorus. Yet another huddle led to a much needed cool down with a perfectly placed version of “The Line.”
“It’s Ice” was next, unleashing yet another staccato funk jam with Clavinet and Mu-Tron that sounded right at home in any 1970’s cop movie soundtrack. A raucous “Character Zero” brought down the house to finish the set. This was no perfunctory set closer, as Trey abandoned his microphone and turned to face the drum riser, egging Fishman on with highly animated power chord vamping. The song soon reached peak intensity with Trey literally bouncing all over the stage with a look of sheer exuberance on his face.
Photo © Jake Silco
Can we talk? I haven’t seen Trey play with such a consistently high level of enthusiasm, confidence, intensity, virtuosity and joy in quite some time. He is fully present and engaged in the music in a way that is palpable to all in attendance, making it seem effortless even when he’s working hard to find the groove and elevate the jams. It feels like a renaissance of Trey, and I personally feel privileged to witness it in real time.
Last night’s second set was no exception, as Phish delivered a stunning five-song masterwork that wove numerous improvisational themes through an eclectic mix of classics and new material. “Bathtub Gin” (13:07) opened the second set for only the second time since Hampton 1998. This version cruised through a fiery but straightforward “type-I” jam until climaxing with a barrage of machine-gun Mu-Tron that foreshadowed the next song, “No Men In No Man’s Land.” “NMINML” (12:07) still seems to be looking for its proper home in the Phish repertoire, as the band has been kicking the new song’s tires in various locations in both sets. This version cooled down a little bit in the middle before picking up steam again and finishing strong before dissolving into “Twist” (22:42 LP timing, though a shade under 20:00 real-time).
Photo © @Feliciafied
Along with “Chalk Dust Torture,” “Twist” has become one of Phish’s most prominent jam vehicles in recent years, and you never know what you’re going to get when the song pops up deep in the second set. This version of “Twist” quickly went ambient, moody and minimalist, with Trey playing delicate leads through several layers of effects against the backdrop of Page’s soft electronic piano fills, Mike’s envelope filtered bass, and Fishman’s rolling rhythms. This was a patient jam and, while it felt like they were actively searching for a launching point at times, it comes across as effortless and sensual on relisten. At about 14:00 minutes in, Trey switched on the Mu-Tron again and Mike responded with the fight bell, signaling a progression into a much more upbeat, blissful peak before finishing “Twist.”
Yet another cluster of huddles followed. The cheers of anticipation waned, and out of the silence it came: the long awaited “Scents and Subtle Sounds” (15:21), complete with the original introduction that seemed to have been abandoned but for a cameo appearance at SuperBall IX. It seems obvious in hindsight that the band has been wrestling with the “Scents” intro for some time, so it was promising when they began working through the segment during several sound checks this tour (including before the first Mann Center show). The persistence and hard work paid off in spades last night, as they nailed the introduction and took a brief self-congratulatory breath before launching into the meat of the song. Harkening back to the legendary Camden 2003 version, this “Scents” had it all. The jam was gorgeous, a ten minute journey of tension and release that started softly with gentle themes on the chorus, and building slowly with layers of rock riffs before pulling back slightly, only to finish strong and confidently before ending with the final chorus.
Photo © Jake Silco
After a short pause, the only question was what kind of sendoff we would receive. The easy money was on “You Enjoy Myself,” which had not been played since the Starlight Theatre show. But a performance like this one clearly called for the higher peaks that only “Harry Hood” (13:36) can deliver. This classic version had solid and straightforward slow-build jamming that finished strong and capped the night off perfectly.
Before the bows, Trey thanked the audience and admonished us to live in the moment with this year’s favorite catchphrase, “Your trip is short.” A triumphant “Loving Cup” (6:27) sent everyone home smiling after hugging it out with Phish for a solid 76 minutes.
Next up, Raleigh.
Photo © @tweeprise
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
L-R: Adam Scheinberg, Mockingbird Foundation Vice President and Director of Technology; Artist AJ Masthay; Marco Walsh, Mockingbird Foundation President; Jack Lebowitz, Mockingbird Foundation Secretary & General Counsel at Wednesday's PhanArt Presents: A World Café Live One poster show. Visit The Mockingbird Foundation's site to learn more about our charitable efforts benefiting music education for children, and read more about The Phish Companion print series in support of our upcoming book,The Phish Companion Vol. 3, due out this fall.
AJ Masthay signs his posters created for The Phish Companion Vol. 3 print series at Wednesday's's PhanArt Presents: A World Café Live One poster show.
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