IT does not happen often: a Phish set with "bustouts" so plentiful that as each one begins, the excited utterances of fans intensify, fostering a revelry of Dionysian proportions. Although it was only a month ago that Phish performed a show with many bustouts (6/22/2016), shows like this are still rare. And when in the course of such phishy events it becomes necessary to SCREAM FEVERISHLY, in a room ablaze with vibration, at yet another song you never believed you’d see Phish play, you realize you are at THAT show. Phish reminded each one of us in attendance last night at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco why we fell in love with them, and why we continue to see them whenever life permits.
Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish, used with permission
But that said, last night’s show was not without its musical shortcomings, and it is, in a sense, an exemplar of the “you just had to be there” phenomenon.
Opening-up a show with “Demand” for the first time since the Vogue Theater in ‘94, Phish immediately befuddled vet and noob alike. No one saw it coming (it hadn’t even been played since 12/31/09), and the band established early-on that we must never forget that we should expect the unexpected. While not perfectly executed, like “The Curtain With” that delightfully and soulfully followed, its frailty was forgivable and easily excused given its technical difficulty. And, more importantly, along of course with the “With” jam of “Curtain,” it proved to be a wonderful way to introduce the rest of the set, which (we now know) would unfold with bustout after bustout after bustout.
“Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues” raised the roof. Having not been played in 114 shows, it was a real treat to get it, and to get it again for those of us who were at the BGCA 114 shows ago. It was an even-more-animated-than-normal version, and the “Fuck Your Face” that surprisingly came next, seeming to thrill most in attendance, further propelled the crowd’s enthusiasm.
After a timid but entertaining cover of The Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry,” the first since Hampton in ‘98 496 shows ago, Trey remarked that the band had just finished their new album, and gave a shout-out to Bob Ezrin, for whom the bouncy, happy, poppy “Sing Monica” was performed. Given the surprises that had already occurred in the set, some initially appeared to be ambivalent about “McGrupp,” but most of us were delighted to hear it, and managed to enjoy it, even though it likely hadn’t been rehearsed (Trey had difficulty with bits of its tricky composed sections).
Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish, used with permission
The Phish original instrumental “The Very Long Fuse” came next, once again surprising us, as it had only been performed once before, last summer at Alpine, about ten months after its debut on Halloween in the improvised, all-hallowed “Haunted House” costume set. The frivolously charming monstrosity “BBFCFM” included Trey playing on his back (see photo above), and Fish at one point saying “one, two, buckle my shoe,” a quote from the count-off before the song “America Drinks” on Frank Zappa’s Absolutely Free album.
The “Walk Away” > “Sanity” -> “David Bowie” to close the set was a blast. First sets have rarely ended with such a mix of classic rock and hilarity. “Bowie’s” intro is silly, with vocalizations trailing into it out of “Sanity’s” wake. But the jam is, for the most part, expertly led by Trey, reminding one of other strong, though certainly not game-changing, performances of the song in the last decade. Trey employs his pitch shifter to be sure, but does so tastefully and melodically, reaching a clean peak in this short-but-tight version.
Setbreak was abuzz. The “vibe” at a Phish show is, of course, usually marvelous. But when a first set is replete with bustouts and everyone in attendance has likely just seen something either for the first time, or at least for the first time in awhile, the vibe is truly stunning. Just look at this show’s gap chart. Thousands of visibly-giddy fans chatted away wide-eyed and vibrantly, possibly creating one of the loudest setbreaks in Phish history. There was the feeling that, in the set yet to come, each of us present had a good chance of catching "IT," and that "IT" could happen at any moment.
“No Men In No Man’s Land” (aka “NMINML”) opened the second set. The funkiest of the new-ish batch of songs from the last year, Trey yet again employed his Trutron pedal and envelope filter to dramatic effect, reminiscent, for example, of Jerry in late 1970’s versions of “Dancin’ in the Streets.” “NMINML” featured a big guitar solo, followed by a relatively brief, dreamy, open jam that fizzooled-out steadily before “Mike’s Song” kicked in. “Mike’s” jam was artfully colored both by Trey’s filthy, disgusting, echoplextactic tone, and Page’s ferocious and sustained assault on the clavinet. It was a proud return of the first jam of “Mike’s Song,” albeit a short one.
In response to a huge banner that had hung from the center balcony’s front row from the show's beginning, “Fee” was next, and would be the final bustout of the evening. The 208th unique song of this year, it had last been played at MPP, opening a memorable show there two years ago on July 27, 2014. Although Trey didn’t cleanly play the composed intro of “Seven Below,” it was improvisationally quite pleasant, though shorter than many other top versions of the song.
While one might think that the choice of “Waiting All Night” at this point in the second set was beyond rude of Trey, that would be mistaken. It is a beautiful song, which had it sprang-forth instrumentally during a lengthy improvisation, would be forever revered as a gloriously uplifting, blissful, “must hear” groove. (Coincidentally, “WAN” is also the perfect amount of time for a break to the bathroom, for anyone in need of such relief, especially during the middle of the second set.)
The “Jibboo” that transitioned the set from the third to the fourth quarter was crisp and peppy and mellifluous to be sure, perhaps even worthy of consideration among the top Phish versions (as opposed to TAB versions) of the song. And the new original song, “Miss You,” that followed (only its second performance to date) was very moving, particularly because it was written by Trey purportedly with his sister Kristy in mind. Kristy Anastasio Manning died from neuroendocrine cancer in April 2009 (shortly after the band’s Hampton return) at only 46 years of age. Whatever you may have heard (or think) about the song’s musical merit, if you deeply miss a loved one and think of them while listening to this song’s lyrics and gentle melody, it may choke you up.
Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish, used with permission
When “Weekapaug” triumphantly started, many no doubt wondered what we’d be treated to this time. While there have certainly been versions performed in the last decade that are worth a listen (including several last year), it has generally not been as consistently fierce as it had been in previous eras. In last night’s ten-minute take, after some passionate playing typical of previous versions, Trey put down his Languedoc and moved to the marimba lumina behind Fish, hammering away as he did early last year in Miami. Mike eventually set down his bass and moved to a keyboard behind and beside Page for a duet of sorts. In a sense, there were “dueling duets” for awhile, with Trey and Fish essentially on percussion, and Page and Mike on keys. The version ended with a bass bomb that rattled the room, though Mike was still beside Page and at a keyboard, and it was not clear who or what created the effect (presumably a button or key in Page’s rig somewhere)[Editor's Note: It was apparently Trey on Marimba Lumina.]. In any event, it was a musically bizarre version, but in a good way given the limited improvisation “Weekapaug” has witnessed since 2004.
The set concluded with a loose “Oh Kee Pah,” and customarily-spirited performances of “Suzy” and “Julius.” This may appear to be perfunctory. But those of us in attendance continued to be delighted by this show, hoping for the best in the encore. While it is of course typical for everyone to be genuinely amped before the band begins the encore, in light of the prior bustouts, speculation about what we’d soon hear seemed even more rampant and fervent than usual. After all, we’d been repeatedly reminded to expect the unexpected.
Thus, when “Velvet Sea” began, there was an audible, collective groan (even gasps) from the audience, which while possibly disturbing from the band’s perspective, was nevertheless hilarious. The placement of such a serene song in the first encore position seemed incredible, given all that had come before in the show, and especially in light of this song’s very heavy history (watch, e.g., its performances at Big Cypress and Coventry). Notwithstanding its setlist placement and the apparent indifference of many fans, “Velvet Sea” was a nice, relaxing version, before “Character Zero” rocked the concert to a close, with most in attendance belting-out the chorus, hands in the air, souls soaring.
The band heads south to play The Forum in Inglewood, and then Chula Vista. There’s still plenty of time for Phish to kill it some more this tour. Don’t miss LOCKN’ (especially since Fish and Page will be sitting-in with Phil) or Dick’s. And, please, remember to enjoy yourself! -$0.02.
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