[Editor's Note: For this recap, please welcome 20 year vet and longtime .netter and RMPer Chris Cagle (@OrangeSox), who offers this recap of last night's show -- AK]
A week ago, while Phish premiered “Petrichor” before the audience in Charleston, one of .net's finest, @ucpete, performed his first marriage ceremony, betrothing @telaree and me, having graciously answered a call made here in the .net forum for an officiant of a wedding in a redwood fairy ring in Marin County, California. In his wonderful presentation to our families, he necessarily mentioned the band and of course .net, reflecting the important role they've played in our union. After all, it was a jaunt to Deer Creek in 2012 that solidified our relationship, since maintained by a half dozen subsequent trips to see the band together, including the soggy, underrated run here in 2013. So it was only natural that we would make a return trip to Alpharetta and call it our honeymoon.
We want to publicly and deeply thank Pete for supporting two people he had never actually met before he encountered us at the edge of Roy’s Redwoods. He put a triple exclamation point on the greatest adventure we've shared and made such a positive impression on our behalf before our families, leaving not a single dry eye in the ring. Though we may have begun that day as “ strangers” whose lives only intersected in the space created here by Mockingbird Foundation, I now count Pete among the men I consider good friends, and I can't wait to cross his path again. Thanks so much, Pete!
And, by necessary extension, we have huge gratitude for everyone that makes .net the amazing online community it remains after all these years. It always bears repeating that all of the hours given to this site and to the Foundation that enables it come from volunteers who are fans first and foremost. Furthermore, the work these people do exceeds the Herculean task of tabulating, reviewing, and presenting the exciting universe created by Phish. If there are a million words collected within, each is matched by a dollar that the Foundation has given to needy music programs across the country. We are honored to be a part of such a righteous group of people!
Much of what makes Phish concerts such important experiences in our lives revolves around the relationships they foster. After 20 years of chasing them all over the States, it’s clear to me that it's not just about music. But, the music holds us together, fashioning the Big Boat we all take from one place to another. Phish began the second of the three weekends of this Fall Tour last night in Alpharetta, building solidly on the strong showings that they’ve made at each of the previous five stops so far.
Beforehand, no one seemed disappointed that after a false start of Fall and the couple of weeks of continued Summer weather the South has endured, the temperatures finally broke downward yesterday following the dissipation of any chance of rain for the weekend, lending the tour weather fit for its Fall nomenclature. The lots were bumping as soon as the 5 o'clock hour rolled around, and after a couple of hours of lollygagging as the sun dropped, the throngs slowly flowing through the gates, all the positive energy transferred to under the leaf shaped roof of Phish’s favorite venue in the metro ATL since their return to touring in 2009.
When Fishman dropped into the rolling beginning of “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” perhaps a nod to the recent Hurricane Matthew that struck the southern East Coast last month, the crowd erupted into a welcoming roar that would be strongly sustained for the next nearly four hours. The crowd was all-in from the first moment and didn't let up. Pulling the first Gamehendge song into the Fall Tour's rotation, “AC/DC Bag” never disappoints, and the show was now on the road. Without a pause, the second “Back on the Train” of the tour followed, maintaining the swaggering energy and excitement.
A concise but nasty “Blaze On” earned the first fist pump of the night from your reviewer. Utilizing a darker palette than one would expect in this slot, the band set the tone for the night. Over a solid blues vamp, Trey bubbled slow low guitar howls circling the song's theme, showing the band's comfort with this song that increasingly becomes less a new song and more of a stalwart with every performance.
Giving up the reins at the mic for the first time of the night, Trey turned it over to Mike for the first “Sugar Shack” so far and seemed to have a much easier time with the tough parts in the song than we're accustomed, offering a great chance to enjoy the song after some previously maligned versions.
Page gets the call next, and begins “Things People Do” unaccompanied much like it sounds on the demo released on the new album before the band steps in to flesh it out. Offering a nice breather similar to the way bluegrass covers have been used over the years, the song’s humorous lyrics speak to the truth of the difficulty of being among our fellow man. It was nice for me to hear this one live for the first time. When “Birds of a Feather” began, I was reminded of very strong versions from the Summer, but this one was kept in the cage while still resetting the energy to full throttle.
Like many of us, Trey discussed the absence of “Mercury” from Big Boat with some regret in the recent articles published in the Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone. The process by which “The Ez” became the selector has earned some funny commentary from the comically inclined around here, and it's nice to know that the band recognizes the shortcomings of the model even while it obviously facilitated a very creative moment for the band. This version of “Mercury” found Trey struggling a little through the song's first interlude, which held it back some through the second verse. Trey found his footing, though, and the song carried on through its remaining movements with strength, fully earning my appreciation as being another great song written deep into Phish's career, surely one of the most amazing hallmarks of these nearly 33 years.
I was hoping for “Let's Go” tonight even before reading the aforementioned Rolling Stone article, but stringing together these two cuts left on the table from the recording of Big Boat offered a typically self-aware reference to the article. I'm sure this new Mike song will have its detractors, but as usual I find myself in agreement with Mike and Trey. It would have been a solid inclusion to the album, offering a cathartic and exciting outlet against the album’s foreboding assessment of our times.
Next up, after a brief absence from setlists, accompanied by strong cool winds from the northwest, “Alaska” seems to have returned to the rotation, and it jibed very well with the set’s bluesy undertones. Not to mention, judging from my vantage point at the top of the lawn, it gave a lot of fans a chance to make it to the toilets before the rush at setbreak. Folks that miss the solo on this song though, despite its simplicity, are definitely missing out. It gives Trey an opportunity to explore territory he seems to really enjoy.
Keeping the end of set tuned to new material, “More” got the honor of set closer here. I expected to hear this tonight, and since Bob Weir took on “Miss You,” it remains the last song on the new album yet to grow on me. I won't say that happened last night, but I haven't given up on it yet. It felt similar in this slot to Nashville’s “Shine a Light,” which is an interesting way to end a first set. I admit to prefer the barn burning type of set closers, but this set deserves mention for its continued playfulness regarding song selection, another in keeping first sets fun and interesting, which has been one of the best aspects of 2016 so far.
With the conclusion of “More” and quick bows, a short setbreak began. During the setbreak discussions, I remarked that I found the lights more static than before . I won't dwell on this point too much, but the new system with LED screens seem to remain a work in progress. Chris Kuroda does not seem to have hit his stride yet, balancing his kinetic style with the cans alongside the slow bleed of the LEDs. Clearly, they're intensely pleasurable to watch, but they seem to best serve as complements to his rhythmic swirls of color as opposed to spectacles unto themselves, which tends to be their main usage.
Just as we started to complain a little about the chill, the house lights dropped. Mike’s building feedback immediately called “Down with Disease,” and it felt like everyone knew we were in for a big one. Continuing its dominance of my stats, I have learned to embrace my propensity to catch “Diseases.” Within the first ten minutes, this version began to range so by its halfway point, we were out to sea. Excluding the “Twist” from the set that got Weir’d in Nashville, this one contends with the “Harry Hood” from Nashville as best jam of the tour so far, at least to my ears. The portion in the few minutes before the band coaxed a few Woo’s from the chilly crowd and Trey moved toward the Marimba Lumina especially deserve a relisten, as the band locks in together around a subdued and tense mode punctuated by looping guitar burbles and clav stabs. On top of that, this “Disease” features what may be one of the best representations of the jams enabled by the Marimba Lumina to date, with Trey foregoing percussion sounds for an effect that sounds like it could come from Page's setup.
With Trey returned to his usual in front of his stacks, “Carini” catapults out of the remnants from the Disease fluidly, pulling the energy from the depths right back to the surface. I was most struck by the different tone of Trey's guitar during Carini, which those wiser than me equate to a new setup in his rig for this tour. The “Carini” moved from the dark source at the heart of the song to a bright and blissful portion around its midpoint that set up “Winterqueen” to find its perfect placement here. When they construct a set this well, it becomes hard to find faults in the moment. Phish had fully pulled everyone into their Big Boat by now.
The call for “Ghost” next could not have been better. While this version did not prove to be quite the beast this song has been in recent versions, the entire place hung on every note, living completely in each twist and turn as the song circled a huge peak never quite fully crested before the band returned to its theme, barely keeping this one from attaining the coveted Unfinished Asterisk.
“Possum” and the first “Slave to the Traffic Light” of the tour closed this one in an exciting old-school fashion that left no regrets about the set. The second six song set two in a row, even if clocking in a little truncated, established a palpable joy around the awareness that we we were only halfway done, ebullient against the chilly breeze because we would all be here to do it again with still so much potential left on the table for tomorrow.
That we would all happily drink in the “Loving Cup” encore should come as no surprise. Meanwhile, these newlyweds plan to continue their honeymoon by drinking mead champagne we smuggled back from California from our proverbial Loving Cup. And we toast to all of you, happy and thankful to be along for the ride. See you other lucky .netters here in Alpharetta at the meet-up!
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