By Craig Hillwig
Phish closed out their three-night run at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with their 20th show at this historic outdoor venue. There are few places as lovely as downtown Saratoga Springs on a summer weekend, with its eclectic mix of boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, and seedy looking motor lodges. And when Phish is in town, the hilarious intermingling of fans with the wedding parties, family reunions and church gatherings that typically frequent this tony Upstate New York vacation spot always makes me wonder why on earth they would ever invite us back.
Ample sunshine and comfortable breezes set the stage for a lazy Sunday, as we rallied for a New Orleans style brunch at Hattie’s with old friends and new. The perfect weather also made for a vibrant lot scene, with fans in high (and, unlike Friday, dry) spirits. We pulled with ease into the Gideon Putnam lot, where more old friends greeted us with open arms and open coolers. Tailgating under the shade of the tall trees, our anticipation grew as regaled each other with lore of legendary Sunday shows of yesteryear. And then came the show.
I’m not going to say it was a bad show, but it certainly was not a good show. Okay, it was a bad show. In some spots, excruciatingly bad.
We all have bad shows. The band is entitled to them, and — much like a marriage is “for better or worse” — we are obliged by our fandom to accept the bad shows along with the good and the great. And like all “Phishwives,” we should feel entitled to complain about our musical “spouse” on the Internet and be willing to endure the inevitable flames in response.
Things started off well enough with the opening triad of “The Wedge,” “Heavy Things” and “Tube,” and we didn’t really mind all that much that they were repeats from earlier in the tour. But Phish stumbled through much of the rest of the set, sometimes badly so, with numerous cringe-worthy moments in the more challenging and composed sections of “Sugar Shack,” “Sparkle,” and “It’s Ice.” One bright spot was “Guelah Papyrus,” in which the band deftly executed the “Asse Festival” section and offered some hope of smooth sailing ahead. But for the most part, this was the “worse” that we’d vowed to endure.
If the “Soul Shakedown Party” set two opener seemed like an apology of sorts, then the “Moma Dance” that followed was the make-up sex. After the final chorus, the band shifted tempo and stayed with a funk theme for several minutes before turning on a dime into type-II territory. From there, Trey led the band through several different themes and mode changes. Some will say it was the best version ever and I would not bet against them. Nor would I have blamed you for hoping that the “Twist” would follow suit and open up more improvisation, but this peppy and crisp version stayed strictly type-I.
From that point on, the afterglow quickly subsided as set two followed the trend of song-heavy fourth quarters. Sure, it was a lot less flubby than the first set, but following the “Joy” > “Breath and Burning” sequence, we grabbed our pillow and decided to sleep on the couch.
And like a lot of married couples, we got up this morning and decided that the “better” still outweighs the “worse.”
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