Tuesday 10/25/2016 by phishnet


[Please welcome guest recapper Rob Mitchum, @PhishCrit. -CD]

For most of 3.0, my working theory for understanding Phish has been one of retracing the steps of their history. There’s even a solid nerdy ph- pun for it: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” the biological hypothesis that developing embryos recreate the evolution of their ancestors. To be a little less pretentious, the idea is that Phish, since their 2009 comeback, had to reenact their 90s climb from cult bar band to giant-venue superstars, like a stroke patient re-learning how to speak. The awkward part was having to go through this rehabilitation in full public view, playing from the start in the arenas, amphitheatres, and festival fields they’d left behind when they called it quits.

Nevertheless, heroically, they got there somewhere between the Tahoe Tweezer and Magnaball, reclaiming their prior role as the big-stage experimenters we knew and loved. The tricky part is what to do next, when the familiar path they were following ran out. Add in the fact that -- artificial ticket scarcity to the contrary -- they are past their commercial peak as concert draws, and the next chapter of Phish becomes even harder to conceive, one of playing to a loyal-as-ever but aging and often smaller audience.

October 24th in Grand Prairie, Texas -- and to be fair, a lot of Phish’s 2016 -- reflected this awkward stage. Even on a Monday night, a long distance away from their New England home turf, it was once unfathomable that they couldn’t fill a 6,350-capacity venue. But the relatively cozy confines of the Verizon Theatre still surpassed demand, with empty seats in big chunks of the balcony. For the common fan, this is not entirely a bad thing, of course, offering an intimacy that many late 90s bandwagon jumpers (this reviewer included) never experienced firsthand. But for a group used to selling out Madison Square Garden and “selling out” Wrigley Field, there’s a recalibration needed for a swing through their less established Southern markets, an adjustment to conditions that may become the norm instead of an aberration.

As a result, what we might be witnessing now is a reversal of the recapitulation theory, a Benjamin Button-like backwards aging to their mid-90s era of bouncing between the theater circuit, minor-league hockey arenas, and the occasional outdoor shed. Since Phish has always been deeply influenced by the venues they play, that might also mark a return to the more scattershot approach of those earlier days. Instead of the self-confident/indulgent gauntlet-throwing of their '97-'04 imperial phase, they’ve settled back into throwing out a lot of different flavors in a given show, hoping that a few will land with the various unique subsets of the fanbase.

That revival doesn’t necessarily have to mean regression, or a retreat into nostalgia. Monday night opened with two songs from Big Boat, and three more made appearances by the end of the show, one providing the undisputed improvisational highlight. Twenty-some years of touring and recording give Phish a much deeper songbook and broader sonic arsenal to draw from on any given night. But that’s a double-edged sword, amplifying both the variety and the lack of cohesion in shows, like this one, where a consistent narrative never really takes shape.

The first set started out as a mixture of new album promotion (competent versions of “No Man in No Man’s Land” and “Breath and Burning”) and nods to Texas’ country-blues musical traditions. “Wolfman’s Brother” provided an early highlight, featuring an extremely patient, minimal jam that built up to the kind of ferocity seen often these days in first-set "Gins." A songy middle section gave way to a segment of pure Phishy humor: a triptych of heavy metal goofs in “Fuck Your Face,” “Ass Handed,” and “Saw It Again,” with some interstitial banter from Trey and Fish on their ranking of the greatest Phish songs.

After that increasing derangement, dropping into an evil late-October “David Bowie” would have been perfect. But in a pattern that would come to define the night’s second set, the building tension was brutally sapped by the intrusion of “Running Out of Time,” a pleasant enough Trey trifle that had no business showing up right then and there. Thus handicapped, “Bowie” had to do a little extra work to re-establish the sinister vibes, though it eventually got there, helped along by throwback lights accompaniment that thankfully dispensed with the LED screens in favor of washes of Loaded-smoke pink cut through with frantic white searchlights.

[An aside: the close quarters of the Verizon Theatre cruelly emphasized the gratuitous nature of the LEDs again and again -- they were often a distraction at worst, gilding the lily at best. Where an argument could be made that they provide an interesting long-distance backdrop for large-venue shows, in a smaller setting the bland and often out-of-sync visualizations detracted from the simple, mind-bending pleasures of room-filling beams of light. Most criminal was “I Always Wanted It This Way,” the kind of deep space that would have once been Kuroda’s sweet spot, but which instead unfolded in front of an ugly brown-and-blue screensaver.]

Opening the second set with “Dog Faced Boy” was a real head-scratcher, though in retrospect it telegraphed the mellow school-night mood that the majority of the show’s reminder would inhabit. A playful “Seven Below” might have put things back on familiar ground, but the curious call of the first-ever second-set “Petrichor” ensured that the show’s 3rd quarter wouldn’t be the epicenter of improvisation this time around. Questionable timing aside, it’s a pleasure to witness Trey’s latest extended piece performed in person (at least once), with the band clearly in a state of deep concentration following its complex route.

After that, the Riffs, Relax, Repeat pattern returned with another rare second set visitor, “Maze,” and the cooldown lap of “Dirt.” It was pushing 11:00 when they started in on Page’s “I Always Wanted It This Way,” which nobody would have picked as the night’s centerpiece. But building on its promising debut in Charleston, the song delivered bigly on its potential, stretching their freshest-sounding studio track in ages into dense, rhythmic psychedelia. Page appeared to have his wayward electronic samples under tighter control for this second appearance, while Trey’s crunchy counterpoint swirled deeper and deeper with Echoplex as the jam intensified. Once he switched to marimba and Mike started stomping on his Moog Taurus, the band reached something remarkable for their 33rd year in existence: genuinely new sonic territory.

Piper” was the tightly-wound, hard-rocking chaser to this atmospheric voyage, moving through the now-customary stop-start rituals, and “Bug” took the set home as the first legitimately-earned breather of the night. “Buffalo Bill” was an apt encore to fit the weird logic of the evening’s setlist, and “Rock and Roll” was a nice reminder that Halloween -- and, presumably, yet another dose of new material -- is right around the corner.

Coming after an excellent week of shows in Nashville and Alpharetta, this first night in Dallas had high standards to meet, and its unpredictable path likely sabotaged those expectations. No arguments that it was disjointed from the perspective of someone who enjoys set flow and lengthy improv, but it was also a success if you want the full firehose of Phish, a mix of new songs, old songs, long songs, short songs, weird songs, slow songs, etc. etc. etc. In the context of Phish’s current transitional period, one balanced precariously on the contradiction of moving forward and satisfying an increasingly concentrated core of loyalists, it wasn’t the best show, but it certainly was a representative one. -Rob

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, comment by Campster
Campster I enjoy your perspective on this show. I was looking at the setlist and trying to reason out how it played as a full show.

This review gives me some good context. I am looking forward to listening to the I Always Wanted it This Way > Piper sequence.
, comment by bushwood_a_dump
bushwood_a_dump Fantastic and expertly written review. The context provided here is phenomenal and is exactly what I yearn for in a show revew/recap. I mean, wow, you're hired!

If the bizarro embryonic trip continues, they are scheduled to play "Dear Mrs. Reagan" at Nectar's on a Tuesday in 2023...
, comment by ttombobadly
ttombobadly Interesting read ... as someone who has seen them too many times to count at this point dating back to 99, albeit only once or twice a year the past couple years, this show delightfully surprised me. I agree that timing and flow of the show was not as stellar as some ... but this was some of the better playing I've heard in the past couple years.

This review glossed over what was an awesome Maze .. no frills, right to the point, but the highs were executed flawlessly (which to be fair, isn't always the case). Would have enjoyed something to keep that vibe going but the Dirt was also welcome treat that's not played all that often. Same with Bug, as this version rocked pretty hard, welcome treat.

Overall, the new songs were done well and mixed in with playful old tunes and some good powerful stand-bys. Thoroughly enjoyed this show and was better than last years Austin / Dallas run I believe. Personally loved the Dog Faced Boy second set opener .. that's when you know they're having fun!
, comment by Outlive
Outlive Sometimes I listen to a set or an entire show and think "that was great!" but can't pinpoint a single sonic standout; it just flows well from start to finish. Other times, like last night, there are several highlights (Wolfman, Petrichor, IAWITW, Maze, Piper, It's Ice, Bug) but the show as a whole seems disjointed, uneven. Phish is a rock-and-roll band. Last night, they seemed to lurch from "roll" to "rock" and back again. That they closed with Rock and Roll was, I guess, fitting. I thoroughly enjoyed attending the show, but aside from the aforementioned standouts (the last five minutes of Petrichor are pure bliss), I doubt I will ever listen to this show again. I will leave it to others to debate the merits of the fact that the two best songs of the night were from the new album.

Hoping they really bring the magic tonight. We are overdue for a spectacular YEM.
, comment by imdano
imdano Agreed; this is a fantastic review. If you could wipe maybe 2-3 paragraphs out of this it would definitely be the perfect post-show review: modest inclusion of history and precedent to analyse a new show in a digestable amount of reading. And, no indulgent personal reflections, which often make some of these reads so annoying-paragraph after paragraph of personal stories that don't really add any insight to the review of the music (which should be the main focus, jah?).

Really enjoyed the way you describe their current draw and the diminishing demand for tickets, as well as the often perplexing nature of setlists like this one: disjointed, deultory, and meandering. The only thing I want to disagree with you on is that you cite Tahoe Tweezer as the launchpad of the 3.0 high water mark...i personally believe 8/31/12 (fuckyourface) to be the show where they undeniably "back" (and i actually think the tour opener in Worcester that year, 6/7, to be a contender too).
Otherwise, great job!
, comment by Bogotafee5514
Bogotafee5514 I really enjoyed last nights show!!! They could have cut a few songs out like Running Out of Time but somehow they made it work!! Big payoffs all night!! With 5 shows left to go, this tour has been a fall classic thus far.
, comment by HenryHolland
HenryHolland Very good review, glad someone mentioned that they're playing venues outside of the Northeast that aren't realistic in terms of their fanbase. I haven't been able to travel to see them for a while due to job/money issues, so I have to be content to see them at the Inglewood Forum here in Los Angeles. They can sell out the floor there, but the seating is half-empty every time. It would make more sense that they play the Greek Theater (6,200 capacity) for a couple of nights instead.

Ah yes, the setlists. As someone who has zero interest in the "OMG! I hope they play a 25 minute version of some song with lots of Type II improv!!!!" thing, I want to hear songs, lots of them, even as I listen on headphones here at work. However, where to place songs seems to be a knack they've lost, the placement of ballads especially is weird.

Very curious about what the musical costume is going to be this year........
, comment by aburtch
aburtch A very well thought out review, thanks for posting.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I like "I Always Wanted It This Way." It feels like the first sonic departure Phish has taken in a while. A genuinely new sound that yet still manages to feel like Phish. It was great to see them take it deep last night and delve into the possibilities.

Bands that don't change and explore new territory stagnate and die. And while certain fans may complain the "new stuff" isn't as good, I'd rather Phish continue to push and explore than become a greatest hits act.
, comment by Billiam
Billiam Excellent review and wondeful perspective, Rob. I couldn't agree more. Maze also encapsulated the microcosm of Phish in this era: a ripping, mind-bending jam led by Page was passed to Trey, who pumped the brakes without pause and brought us all down to happyland. Aye.
, comment by sgballenger
sgballenger I for one like long recaps and personal histories, adds context, perspective and biases to the reviews... Great job, Rob, enjoy the rest of tour.
, comment by strutyerstuff
strutyerstuff Really loved the description of phish at the beginning of your great review. Look forward to listening to this show all the way through
, comment by mattybweston
mattybweston Excellent review- keep it coming. Having lived through every permutation/incarnation of the band since '91 I've long since jettisoned my expectations and/or baggage in an effort to find the bliss in whatever version of the band shows up that night. My experience at Verizon was of a quartet that was extremely patient and dare I say joyous in the first set- both Wolfman's and Ocelot were full of air and built slowly but never stumbled until the boys locked in and took off. Type II was missing but nearly every song was well played and paid off in one way or another. From an execution standpoint the Fall Tour has been a happy reversal of the flubby Summer of 2016. High fives and hugs with strangers still happened in the aisle in front of Section 205 after several songs in Set 1. Perfection?- No. But competent throughout and spectacular in stretches.

Set 2?- Curious from a yo-yo-ing energetic standpoint with Maze and Piper as the standouts (I'm reserving my thoughts on IAWITW until it finds its footing- which it has not quite yet. I sense there is something jawdropping in there...) Every set or show wasn't a home run in the halcyon days of 20 years ago and they can't be on this tour. But my eyes saw a band much more practiced and engaged than earlier this year.

A word on the LED screens- I agree that they detract from the experience. In a venue of that size it was like playing with the house lights up- the ambient light fills the whole space. CK5 could only be felt when those things were turned way, way down or off.

Excited to see what Night 2 & Vegas bring and stoked to see the boys focused and tight.

Thank you everyone Page Side for reclaiming the aisles from security to GTF down- I love ya'll.

Peace--Matty in Austin
, comment by thegripp
thegripp I think that the wonderful thing about a solid review as this one, is the insightful comments that people leave. Sometimes, after a more scathing review of a show, the bitterness ensues, thus leaving a civil war on the comment chopping block. If you look at the comments on this review, they are all not ingratiating, but poignant.

1. I have seen, as of late, most of the Texas shows (Austin 2015 included,) and his mentioning of the crows size last night was on point. Would there be a larger crowd if they booked it in Dallas? I think they know their market, and they, according to last years banter, enjoy playing at this venue. I had plenty of space to dance, and being a Monday night, the staunch phans were pleasant.

2. The criticism of "Maze" being overlooked is correct. Rob does a perfect job describing the beauty and eccentricity of Wolfman's, but the true energy balance was the incendiary Maze coupled with the spacy IAWTW. Yes, it's not mindfucking Type II, but it's experimental, it's new, and sometimes new can be tough to take.

on a postscript, I've been a fan of Rob's writing for a long time, and I hope that, one day, he writes a book on Phish.
, comment by Slice
Slice Just like anything, current-era Phish can definitely be a "to each their own" type of perspective. So while I can respect the reviewer's opinion, I completely disagree on last night's show. If that's what Monday shows are all about, see you later Fridays. I Always Wanted It This Way > Piper was worth the price of admission and had this guy sleeping soundly. It's too bad if you can't enjoy the gorgeously written slow downs of Running Out of Time and Dog Stole Things or their respective placements.
, comment by PhinePhineMusic
PhinePhineMusic I think the big takeaway from Big Boat is that Page is the one with the clearest vision for where Phish should be at in 2016. Happy to see that IAWITW is becoming a launchpad. His tunes on the record are fresh, have a cohesive lyrical and harmonic vibe, and pull Phish in a new direction while still doing their thing. I felt the same way about Halfway to the Moon. #LETPAGEWRITE
, comment by curleyfrei
curleyfrei "the song delivered bigly on its potential"

Ha! Subtle jab at Trump? ;)
, comment by Itch_to_the_nag
Itch_to_the_nag Your review is fine, and for the most part accurate. The comparison of Phish 3.0 and the journey back to the top of their game and a stroke victim is way off base. You could have found a better analogy in that spot.
, comment by Scott
Scott This was a show full of single takes -- and the review does a excellent job analyzing each single take. Yet, the point of the writing seems to be less about the show and more about reviewing the state of the band through a "representative" show. I fail to see why this is representative and Nashville and Atlanta were not, as there were several cohesive sets and various creative highlights.

I'm generally wary of the thesis "3.0 = scattershot." This show certainly is, but the review takes that and connects it to a narrative about 3.0 ("they got there somewhere between the Tahoe Tweezer and Magnaball") that has dominated the front page reviews. That this one is written in a lively and engaging manner doesn't make it any less cliche.
, comment by Hoodward
Hoodward Awesome review and great perspective. Thank you!!
, comment by timbuk295
timbuk295 Love this review! Thank you, Rob!

However, I don't understand the notion that 'I Always Wanted It This Way' is a new sound or direction for them...? What about the first Vida Blue album that came out 15 years ago. I get that it's the first time we see this in the Phish catalog, but in a way, it's classic Page. Definitely not a new direction for Phish, maybe just a detour? Seeing what sticks to the wall at this point?
, comment by pabalive
pabalive THIS!!! This is the absolute best analysis of Phish at this point in their career that I have read. Just when this band seems to be back on course, they deliver two shows like they have done in Texas. Weird setlist arrangements devoid of any sense at all to what the fans actually want in a second set. First sets have been lost for years now, I gave up on them a long time ago. So far, we have had 2, maybe 3 shows with legit second sets worthy of full relisten. At best, 50% are worth returning to and even inside of that, we are returning for 2-3 song sequences.

My only hope is that this is not a new direction and just a bad set of shows(akin to 2014 summer), it will take them time to get the big boat stuff out of their system. Not all of it is great and they are playing all of it right now. I am hoping only a few of these tunes will stick. Ultimately, it is their choice and they will play what they want. But, playing sets like the shows in Charleston and Texas will result in a lot of fans walking away.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert I always find It weird that people don't lump 2011 and 2012 in with the "good 3.0" when they seemed to be the part of this era where Phish came closest to finding a new way forward improvisationally. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty absolute disasters in set construction / time management from back then but there's also shows with 30% of the total improv of 2015 shows but 200% of the "I can't imagine phish pulling this off fall 98" improv.

Tahoe is an obvious high water mark, an absolute masterpiece of spontaneous compositon that stands up to damn near anything the band has ever done, but it's part of a tour where the band seemed to fall back into some old patterns that - for me at least- brought on a twinge of disappointment as often as a rush of nostalgic excitement.

This fall seemed like a good course correction after a summer that was my least favorite tour since summer 2010, but then Texas pops up and messes up the narrative for awhile the same way it did last year. Hopefully the recovery is just as triumphant this time!
, comment by Col4bn
Col4bn Great review. Monday night was my first show since 5/5/93 (life, children, moving, but NO good excuses at all..) and I think your take on the environment was on the nose. Almost every show I've seen was in a bar or in a theater and I missed all of the "stadium" years and I think I'm glad I did. The Verizon Theater felt small enough to be intimate - banter with the band, watching the details of Trey's playing, fellowship with the crowd. I was grinning ear to ear remembering why I love their shows and hopefully smaller will be the trend as I get back on board.

Shout out to MattyBWeston above - I was in front row of 205 and my son was getting off on the high fives and general reverie. He's not hooked on the music yet, but he loved the environment. Thanks to everyone for the good time.
, comment by philanthropist
philanthropist Thanks for the well-executed, realistic and reasonable write-up! This is overall, a fascinating tour, not how most of us would have scripted it, but that's part of the fun! Vegas next!
, comment by InsectEffect
InsectEffect Engaging and thought-provoking recap--nicely done, thank you.

With both Dallas shows on the books, it's pretty clear that the band was in a reflective mood, but were also feeling experimental, setlist-wise.

Though by no means a dance party or rager, 10/24's second set has more cohesion, to my ears, than it would appear 'on paper.' I'm a big fan of instrumental or odd-ball, 'prelude' set openers (like 'Demand' from San Fran this summer), no head-scratching there--it's one way to frame the set-as-suite composition that we love, and this 2nd set seems more intentional than many. Can't say the same for 10/25, though. ;-)
, comment by TexasBrett
TexasBrett Thanks for the recap, Rob.

Loved both shows, songs and crowd. I'm a little perplexed as to why previous shows create "a high standard to meet"; I look at them singularly, but whatever.

IMHO, any Piper is better than not. Thanks again.
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