[Editor's Note: Please welcome professional musician Hunter Sholar, user @Guyute1976, who offers this recap of last night’s show. -CD]
I can’t start writing this blog post without giving a little background about myself and how I became a Phish fan. I’m a late bloomer with this band. I went to Northwestern University and was a Horn Performance Major, and I was surrounded by so many talented musicians with eclectic musical tastes. Some of my closest friends, including Drew Hitz (who many of you know), were diehard Phanatics, but during my undergrad years (1995-1999), I didn’t relate to them, somehow. Nope, I waited until the band had broken up, and then fell hook, line and sinker for them in the summer of 2005, and saw my first show on 3/8/2009 at the Hampton Coliseum. I missed the live pre-Phish 3.0 era, but thanks to their immense catalog of live shows, I’ve had plenty of time to do my research and play catch-up.
Wednesday 10/19/2016 marked my 29th show, and it was significant on so many levels – I’ll get to that in a minute. Since seeing my first show, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Trey. I’m a member of The Nashville Symphony Orchestra, where I play the Horn, and I actually met him after one of my symphony concerts at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center a few years ago, just a few blocks away from Ascend Amphitheater. Our mutual friend, Don Hart (composer/arranger who orchestrates Trey’s orchestral music), brought him in while the band was in town recording Wingsuit. Why is this significant, you might ask? Don and his family were attending the Ascend shows, and this was perhaps part of the reason our guys really stepped it up both nights.
Heading into the Amphitheater, none of us were sure if this would be deemed “the Night after the Weir Show,” or if it would stand on its own. Phish started off with a tranquil “Theme From The Bottom,” easing us in nicely and setting the tone for the first set, but proceeded to break out the funk with a rockin’ “Camel Walk.” Right out of the gate, the band sounded crystal clear.
Based solely on acoustics, Ascend is actually my current favorite outdoor venue. Since it opened in the summer of 2015, I’ve played Nashville Symphony Concerts there (most significantly with Boyz II Men and Styx), but I hadn’t been out front until this two-night run. One of our NSO rehearsals was used to let the sound engineers get the stage acoustics “dialed in” for our purposes. The venue features state-of-the-art acoustics on stage that can be adapted for any group. They can set it to a concert hall setting so we have the appropriate reverb we would experience in a concert hall. This is important because it takes away the dryness of being outside and enables the musicians to “listen across the stage,” maximizing communication. Through the years, Phish has demonstrated a remarkable ability to communicate in this manner (including an innate telepathy for playing music together). This is what classical musicians are trained to do. In essence, Phish is the quintessential chamber music group, similar to a string quartet firing on all cylinders playing Shostakovich. It’s obvious the band loves playing at this venue, and the acoustics on stage only enhance this.
After strutting their stuff, the band switched gears to the twelve-bar blues tune “My Soul,” and their vocals were honed-in better than I had heard them in quite a while. After an appropriate pause, the band opened up one of their new doors by way of the mammoth “Petrichor.” I have intentionally not listened to the new album yet, waiting to hear these songs in person. This song is an interesting, stand-alone tune, similar to “Time Turns Elastic.” On first listen, the flow is somewhat jagged because there are a lot of unexpected turns and surprises, but it sounded very well-rehearsed, and its episodic format drew me in, as it piqued my interest. I like the different movements of the piece, and that the texture thickens as the song transpires. I look forward to getting to know this one and hearing its evolution; it's always exciting to hear a song in its infancy.
From here, the band rocked through a formulaic “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan,” and then on into the very pleasing “My Sweet One,” a perfect bluegrass tune for Nashville. The highlight of the first set, though, was completely unexpected. We all knew that “Tweezer” was on the table, since it hadn’t been played on this leg of the tour - and we all know how much excitement the anticipation of the Phan-favorite tune is - so it made the grinding “Tweezer” tease (in the appropriate key, I might add) in “Waking Up Dead” all the more special. Goose bumps. And again, the vocals sounded great, Gordon’s voice resonating nicely. “Halfway To The Moon” featured Page’s vocals as pure as I’ve heard, and then “Running Out Of Time,” the ever-funky “Tube,” and finally, “Shine A Light.” Trey’s voice and guitar soared here to round-out the first set.
After the set break, Gordon noodled on the Theme Song from the movie “The Godfather” before the band started "Golden Age.” This version featured a funky groove that sounded like an “Also Sprach Zarathustra” jam, both of which are in the key of C-Major. As the TV On The Radio song was winding down with the Richard Strauss groove, Trey dove headfirst a minor third down into what we all wanted to hear – “Tweezer”! I had talked to Don Hart before the show, and he was really hoping to hear this song live. He and Drew Hitz spoke to Trey at the soundcheck, and Drew made the request. Don added that he was struck by hearing a recording of the 1.2.2016 “Tweezer,” and the rest is history - this one was for Don. The band turned the funk up, and as the song approached the double-digit minute mark, they settled again in the key of C-Major. The jam mellowed somewhat, got tastier and tastier and then heated up before winding down for an appropriate applause. What a great “Tweezer” it was.
After “Tweezer,” the band pulled the funk card out again and laid into “No Men In No Man’s Land.” I really like this tune, and so far, it’s my favorite of the Big Boat songs in the live setting. “Plasma” was relaxed, turning away from the upbeat funk, continuing the impressive flow in this valley among the peaks. The song featured a grind towards the end, with Gordon and Fish driving the way. “Harry Hood” was another highlight of the set; talented Chris Kuroda is the best light guy in the business. He painted our way during this fantastic jam, using the more traditional spotlights and less of the newer light panels. It was a glorious rendition. I can’t praise the sound guys enough on the balance, specifically in relation to Mike Gordon’s levels. The balance was superb.
Closing out the set was “Suzy Greenberg,” which was a nice release and send-off before the encores. When they walked off stage, the time was 10:25 pm, suggesting perhaps a longer-than-normal encore set. They came out to start the lengthy “Walls Of The Cave.” Page’s precision on the piano set the tone for this ever-building tune, which gained momentum to the end and into “Tweezer Reprise.” This song is arguably one of the most intense moments in all of their repertoire. We had a sense that maybe this one was registering on the local Richter Scale readings, and joked about how we would have been able to feel it at our house just five miles away had we been there.
All in all, it was a great two-night run. I’d like to thank the band for their continuing inspiration through their music, Drew Hitz for twisting my arm into writing this, and Drew and Don for that “Tweezer.” For those who weren’t here, you might want to make a point to catch their next show at this venue – I have a feeling they’ll be coming back here to do what they do best. -Hunter
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