Thursday 06/23/2016 by phishnet


Today's recap was written by guest blogger and user Pete Burgess (@AlbanyYEM)

Tour openers have a certain transformative effect. There are no patterns established yet, no momentum gained or lost, and no acclimation to the normalcy of Phish being on tour. In this rebirth, there is a lightness in letting oneself go from the standards of what has come before and the norms of what one might expect, or perhaps sometimes even feel that one is owed. The joy is in the strangeness. It is a powerful feeling to be swept back into a self that is a little more naïve, a little freer from self-imposed restrictions, and a little more open to that simple joy.

Photo by Rene Huemer via Phish From the Road © Phish

These are my thoughts on the experience of being at this show, but of course a review needs to delve into more than just that aspect. But it is worth bearing in mind as we go through tour with our own analytical tendencies. That said, this was probably the strangest Phish show I’ve been to. From a critical perspective, that strangeness was both positive and negative. The oddness actually worked nicely in this unusual yet slightly understated first set. I have to confess that I did not identify "Pigtail" whatsoever, but the “I’m conscious again” refrain certainly fits the theme of awakening to the possibilities of the new tour.

"Wolfman’s Brother" works very nicely in the two-slot, and is a very welcome funk possibility in lieu of "Moma Dance." The jam was laid back, with Trey on sustain mostly, hinting at a sense of soaring beyond the bounds of the classic crescendo. Then Trey hits on a repeating-note rhythmic lick during the solo that sends us back towards the familiar "Wolfman’s" territory. "Daniel Saw the Stone" through "Undermind" was a nice run of song choices that somehow seemed to blend together to make sense.

Photo by Derek Gregory.

"Dear Prudence" was a mind-numbing shock. Those familiar with JGB might have gotten a bit more context from this already insane bustout (first time played since The White Album, 10/31/94). The Beatles may have written this song, but Jerry Garcia owns it. One of the best showcases for pure emotion, both vocally and through his guitar playing. It always struck me that it was for this reason that Phish had never returned to it, as perhaps it was too identified with Jerry. Maybe I read too much into it, but it was nonetheless a little bit sweeter for it in my own experience.

"Stash" again had the understated restraint in its opening jam, but this time it signaled a very nice dynamic flow towards crescendo. Things get slightly louder and slightly faster as we go, until before we know it Trey is riding the sustained peaks of tonic notes. Then dipping back down for more melodic tension and releasing. Each “gear” is slightly louder and faster with great dynamic control, but the actual crescendo didn’t quite reach the peak it was capable of. This was still a very enjoyable type-I "Stash" and really shows how important dynamics are for these build tunes. The rest of the set was enjoyable, with "Halfway to the Moon" getting a bit of extra mustard and "Walls of the Cave" hitting its always-enjoyable peak. This strange mix of songs somehow fit together to create a refreshingly unique first set.

Photo by Rene Huemer via Phish From the Road © Phish

I have to admit that the second set’s strangeness, from a purely analytic review point of view, didn’t somehow fit together. The first sharp turn came from out of the haze of the absolutely-will-always-precede-"Disease" fog and straight into… "Mike’s Song." This was very welcome for me personally as I sometimes feel that I’ve seen every second set opening "Disease" ever played. I love "Mike’s." Find me the worst version ever played and I will happily lap it up. But to be more objective, it was pretty standard fare. Things started to look like they would get strange (of the good variety) when Trey started chording after the standard solo, which seemed to offer the whiff of the possibility of moving outside the type-I "Mike’s" box. But Trey returns to single-note solo sustains and we are back in familiar territory. It’s funny to think of "I Am Hydrogen" as unexpected out of "Mike’s" but at this point I think that’s fair to say. It was its usual lovely self—weightless flight through the ethereal after the fuzzy dirt of "Mike’s."

"Weekapaug Groove" kicks in with Mike funking it up briefly to the delight of all. Trey starts things off with a lovely and patient dance in the lower regions of the 'Doc. It’s the kind of beginning that says, "we have you here all night, the second set has just begun, and you will damn well love every second of the journey before the peak." Trey’s type-I playing throughout the night was extremely poignant with inventive melodic lines of unusual phrasing and unexpected sustains. His best stuff came in this "Weekapaug." It means that he is finding themes to play to remind us that the song isn’t just one long guitar solo. The peak, though, again does not reach full maturity. This was something of a recurring theme throughout the night. The jams were short.

It was at this point that (as the assumed "objective reviewer") I have to say that set flow became a problem. Well sure, the "Mike’sGroove" was nice so I suppose "Bouncin'" isn’t the end of all hope for humanity. "Ghost" starts up and the air becomes palpable as it nibbles at the first type-II of 2016 proper. The actual song portion was spiced up a bit with some screaming chords. I should know the name of the effect but I don’t. Even more oddly, a "Little Drummer Boy" tease is fit into the breakdown reminding me of "Santa Clause Is Coming to Town" from the 7/31/97 "YEM." It just works. It’s awesome, somehow. Trey’s tone absolutely growls here a la some kind of gnarly 2.0 "46 Days."

Photo by @swervinben

Things get spacy and flirt with the major key shift before Trey moves back into some standard "Ghost" riffing. This moves into tension-release style jamming with some extremely fluid type-I guitar. Odd again, Trey goes back into the "Ghost" theme to actually wrap things up in a slow dying-out fashion a bit like ancient "Tweezers." "The Line" starts up. I had to laugh at the show because it seemed silly how much this would annoy people. But upon relisten, perhaps not the most flowing choice. The problem is that when "The Line" is over it comes to a dead stop and getting the set moving again is like starting up a freight train.

"Simple" was its usual beautiful self, but instead of dripping and dancing ambience it had a bit more of a rhythmic edge. Trey is really playing hard on the downbeat, making it a bit more danceable and an interesting take on the song portion. Again, Trey has some really nice work in here with a particularly lovely chording, which is certainly unusual to hear in "Simple." Trey and Page lock into a repeating theme that almost sounds like a "Digital Delay Loop Jam," but I think at least at first it was Trey playing straight-up. Mike steps forward to add his own melody very nicely and things bleed ambient. If things were going type-II, this was the moment, but it was not to be. Instead, they flowed into another crazy bustout in a very smooth segue. This was a very unusual choice, but once the Ba-Ba- Ba-Ba’s started up, "I Found a Reason" seemed to fit the counterpoint of "Simple" perfectly.

But what was a beautiful choice to round out "Simple" again left a long portion of dead air to follow. "No Men In No Man's Land" followed and absolutely shredded. The "Billy Breathes" that stepped up afterwards was, I’m afraid, pretty badly botched. It was at this point that it was clear the set was a yo-yo. Raging and/or jamming song followed by a slow and/or straightforward song. It was extremely choppy. Again I say this in the persnickety reviewer voice, but it was almost like playing Phish on shuffle.

After they thought about the set at setbreak, I think they actually made a joke of this aspect of the set by playing a ridiculously slllooooowww version of "Water in the Sky." Not just the normal "slow version," but the slowest you can play the slow version. And a raging "Character Zero" to end. It was as if Phish said, "Yes, we are aware of this. Let’s poke fun at it." Overall, I have to say this show did not have any out of the box jamming, had a few flubs, and had severe setlist construction problems. Will I be returning to listen to it often? Probably not. Then why did I love every second of it? Phish does not have anything left to prove. There is no more anxiety of the band teetering on the brink of the days of former glory, with the dreaded anticipation that maybe, somehow, they won’t turn that corner and ever recapture fully the magic. Well, the glory is now. And seeing the band these days does not hinge on the twenty minute second set opener. There is subtle beauty and inventiveness in little turns of phrase in "Simple," completely in the box, the blistering sixteenth and (perhaps even) thirty-second notes of "NMINML," and the swaggering patience in the sustain of "Weekapaug." Part of the strange magic of the tour opener is letting oneself be amazed by these things. Part of the joy of Phish now is the confidence to let the jamming beasts stew organically and arise in their own good time.

Photo by Derek Gregory.

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, comment by ucpete
ucpete Did you pee during "Gin"? ;)

I kid of course. Nice recap, Pete, and a totally fair assessment. I didn't think the flubs were too egregious though, and was pleasantly surprised at how well executed things were despite the handful of bust-outs (which sometimes have large amounts of rust). If they can take this level of execution into the jams, and thus simply play fewer songs, I think the setlist flow will come. Overall a fun show, a "glad to be back" ordeal, and I think ultimately it bodes well for the rest of tour.
, comment by thebuzzman
thebuzzman lol. Yeah, what happened to you during Gin?
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod Great recap @AlbanyYEM! I think we mostly agree. The bustouts are a great sign that they're trying to inject some life into the first set. I'd rather they did it with things like the MagnaGin, but juke box first sets are fun too.

From a jamming perspective, there's not much here. But that's OK... the tour opener gets a pass on that front.
, comment by whatstheuse324
whatstheuse324 Nice recap @AlbanyYEM. What did everyone think about the new lights?
, comment by Mrkitty
Mrkitty I do wanna make a point about something that was left out here. The lights. From my rail spot dead center I thought they looked cool when the show started. My view is right under them of course and so I'm sure the perspective from back a bit is better. However, as the show went on I started to think to myself "Do I like these?" I'm sure CK is going to figure these out as the tour goes on, but I can speak for most everyone around me when I say "I just don't know..."
, comment by J_D_G
J_D_G Nicely done, @AlbanyYEM!
, comment by Phish4soul
Phish4soul I wasn't there, but I eagerly awaited my friend to drop digital trimmings from the night. Without speaking to its veracity, this review was certainly the result of much zeal and creativity... *smile*

I think that sometimes a major driving force with Our Band... Are the WORDS to the songs. If you critically look at the lyrical perspective of this show, it was ver thoughtful and not disjointed at all, only appearing that way on the surface... Much like life!

The encore confirmed the circumspect and wholesome yin yang experience this show was meant to impart to us. What a great group of guys! *humble salute*
, comment by Phish4soul
Phish4soul @Phish4soul said:
I wasn't there, but I eagerly awaited my friend to drop digital trimmings from the night. Without speaking to its veracity, this review was certainly the result of much zeal and creativity... *smile*

I think that sometimes a major driving force with Our Band... Are the WORDS to the songs. If you critically look at the lyrical perspective of this show, it was very thoughtful and not disjointed at all, only appearing that way on the surface... Much like life!

The encore confirmed the circumspect and wholesome yin yang experience this show was meant to impart to us. What a great group of guys! *humble salute*
, comment by frankstallone
frankstallone Trey has so much trouble with dates/years on stage

I can't wait for his 4th of July Harpua narration about the birth of America back in... was it 1771 or 1772?
, comment by melt_the_tek9
melt_the_tek9 I've been looking at the songs for each set, saying "this kind of song, then that kind, then this kind, then that" all day, and reading this fun review (I especially appreciate reviews that talk about the ways songs are played in terms of the chords/notes/tempos/etc) made me realize that as a tour opener, they literally played almost every kind of song they have. I can't use the word "jukebox" because it's a stereotypical, understood label, but from the super weird space intro to the notes Trey plays as Mike starts singing "Mike's" instead of the usual chords, this show seems fresh, different, and cool. And I think the floating "screen" things Kuroda has this tour remind me of something from the original Space Invaders ;)

Thanks for this review OP!
, comment by InsectEffect
InsectEffect First show followed by first recap of tour --- summer has hereby officially begun.

Excellent work @AlbanyYEM!
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray Nice writeup, @AlbanyYEM.

I definitely laughed as well when The Line started, knowing how many people it would piss off.

Simple was my highlight version of the show. OTOH, I would like a lot more set ones that had the track diversity of this one, but I'm pretty sure we will soon return to the daily fare of Moma/Funky Bitch/Theme/Sample/Julius/Possum#Line/Rift-flavored set ones. <sigh>
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM Thanks everybody. It was awesome to be asked. As for the Gin, it was nice but nothing beyond what you would get in a first set. At a certain point it felt redundant to go into the details of every single type I jam. No peeing at phish for me it all gets sweated out. As for the lights, I thought about mentioning them but it didn't seem to fit in anywhere with the rest of the review. It was honestly a bit off-putting at first. The screen projections are certainly not high def wizardry and so were not really insanely impressive. I suppose for that reason it added to light show a bit without taking much away. I think I remember clocks at some point but for the most part they just formed designs. Not as much of a game changer as you might think.
, comment by JSchoenack
JSchoenack What a weird review. Total oxymoron. Let's just all be glad they never went on permanent hiatus and still are enjoying them live.
FACTSAREUSELESS Extremely well-written review. I especially appreciated the highlighting of the little joys found within the structure of songs that weren't jammed.

These guys are a lot like an old jazz band that has been playing together for like...uh...30 years maybe? I don't know. The older they get the better they cook.

So happy for you that you got a chance to do this and you knocked it out of the park.
, comment by hdorne
hdorne Billy Breathes was botched? I didn't think so. I thought it sounded really well-rehearsed and gorgeous. Same with Round Room. Both of those songs have some tricky changes, and it sounded to me like they practiced them extensively before playing them live. I think it bodes well for the tour. 4/3/98's Billy Breathes and 2/28/03's Round Room were far more botched than last night. Just sayin.
, comment by Forbins1978
Forbins1978 Spot on!
, comment by thedeviousgelatin
thedeviousgelatin I definitely hear where you're coming regarding much of the above, particularly The Line, a tune I cannot help but loathe. I found the Pigtail opener pretty weak as well.

But to push back:

- Dear Prudence may be 'owned' by JGB amongst those of us who dig Jerry & the GD, but the suggestion that this perspective is either widely held or influenced Phish's decision to shelve it seems outlandish to me. Regardless, I was thrilled to see it played and think they did a pretty good job.

- To pass over the two bluegrass tunes in Set 1 also seems strange, as not only is it always great to hear them, but they indicate an interest in fast, precise tunes (esp Uncle Pen) that I heartily welcome. Also, and this applies to Dear Prudence and I Found a Reason as well, it is great to see Phish playing cover tunes again, isn't it?

- Round Room was pretty well nailed, save perhaps the ending. To have a difficult tune like this one, almost never played yet played here so well, is not only great in itself but implies the band is digging in to both their catalogue and practice - which is encouraging.

- Finally, I'm really curious about which parts of Billy Breathes you thought were botched, as it sounded pretty spot on to me. This tune has what is undoubtedly my favorite composed Trey guitar solo, and it is a gorgeous tune I'm always happy to hear, so I found this heartening as well.

I agree with you ENTIRELY about the vanilla and largely directionless jamming. But that's pretty standard for a tour opener so for me, that makes the song choices all the more important, especially as portents of what is to come. And for those reasons, I thought this was a good gig and a very good omen for the tour ahead.

Thanks for the review!
, comment by toddwcorey
toddwcorey I believe (based on the above photos) that those are "video walls", not video projection. It's a fairly new technology that's gaining a lot of popularity. The resolution is still pretty low, but it will undoubtedly improve. Look at the bottom picture of Trey and you can see the individual pixels on the video screens. There is no projection, it's like a huge and scalable video monitor. Panels can be added to create any size you want, and the whole thing is run from a laptop.
, comment by rjsalem
rjsalem I was really feeling where Ghost was heading, and then it just kind of ended, only to be replaced by Line. Kind of a buzzkill in the moment. Good show overall, though, definitely had the feel of a tour opener.
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