[Please join us in welcoming guest recapper Matt Burnham, @TheRealBurnham. -CD]
It's hard to identify where to begin. Phish played the back end of a two night run in Grand Prairie, Texas, last night and anticipation was running high. The band's output this tour has been very high and although Monday's show was a bit disjointed at times, it was still executed well. Additionally, this show would be the final warm-up for the four night Vegas Run starting on the 28th. With what felt like a nervous energy, the band stepped up and delivered a first set that was exemplary.
"Daniel Saw the Stone" was pegged as the opener and, as usual, was a quick romp through the old spiritual number. Normal first set versions of "Moma Dance" and "Chalk Dust" followed. They were strongly played but stayed within the song structure. What followed was a very good three-song stretch of "Cities," "Foam" (a massive bustout from 2014), and "Waking Up Dead." The "Cities" was slightly extended and gave the band their first real opportunity to build layered grooves that melded together in a positive way. "Foam" was played for the first time 11/02/14, but showed no signs of rust. Trey deftly maneuvered through the chord changes that sometimes cause him issues, and everyone was smiling at the end of the song. "Waking Up Dead" was the first Big Boat song to appear at the show, and it was quickly evident that among the songs with jamming potential on the album, it should be considered a top tier candidate. To me, it wouldn't be surprising if it found its way into a second set in Vegas.
Similar to the Grand Prairie show in 2015, "Divided Sky" was the centerpiece of the first set, and it -- the second song of the night off of Junta -- was again, played to perfection. I remember thinking that it seemed like it was a longer than normal version (LivePhish has it at 16:25), and I wondered if it would be the longest song of the night (but hoping it wouldn't be). It turned out that it would. Fishman came out to some Texas Trey banter for "I Didn't Know," with Trey acknowledging himself as a true Texan (born in Fort Worth) and Page as a collegiate Texan (he attended SMU), but only Fish was a "cosmic" Texan.
The last three songs in the first set were another highlight of the set. A smoking "Walk Away," which seemed like it might be a set closer, instead segued into an unexpected "What's the Use?." "WTU" has been played more frequently lately with six versions in 2016, but it's a great ambient rocker, and I'll always take it. "More" was the first set closer, bringing another Big Boat number to the set. Personally, I love this song, and judging by the thousands of people yelling "There must be something more than this!" that opinion does not seem to be unfounded. In a different world, I could see this as Phish's "Touch of Grey," as it has crossover appeal. Overall, a great first set, which really whetted the appetite for what was certain to be an amazing second set.
And then it didn't happen.
The second set started with some promise with a high energy "STFTFP." And everyone knew that there was a chance for a second set "Number Line" due to it not being played yet this tour. This led to "Lifeboy," another large bustout that was played with precision and focus. Following "Lifeboy," however, was a string of songs that while played precisely, were not the songs that we we were expecting to get in the middle of a second set. "Meatstick" was fun and short, and then "The Line" showed up for the second year in a row in the second set at GP. By the time "Tide Turns" started, we could feel the crowd losing its energy.
"Taste" offered a faint glimmer of hope that things could turn around, but instead, it wrapped up quickly, and then Trey started up "Friday" instead. This was a pretty big shock to everyone, as the last time played for "Friday" was at Coventry. And that, to me, brought up some interesting parallels. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that in summer 2004 the band had not been playing as consistently well as they had used to play. I remember sitting in the mud at Coventry, listening to botched composed sections of most songs, and cringing as this band (especially Trey) of people whom I look up to seemed to be falling apart. Fast forward to last night, and the second set had very little flow and no real jamming. Which is a shame. But every one of the ballads played last night, to my ear, had no noticeable flubs, and should not give anyone cause for alarm as they head to Vegas this week. There's a difference between poor or sloppy playing, and bad song choices. I'll take bad song choices for one show any day of the week over bad playing.
A dark but truncated "Waves" came up next, continuing the 2.0 vibe. This was really the last chance the show had for any sort of extension, and although the "Waves" jam seemed like it was going someplace fun, Trey started "Julius" over the ending of the song. "Good Times Bad Times" closed the set in a more rocking fashion, and what would the night be without one more ballad in the encore slot in "Show of Life."
All in all, it was a frustrating set that raises the question, "just how many slow songs can one choose to play in the same show?" Perhaps Trey was feeling emotional being close to his childhood home? Or maybe the band was just taking it easy before the four night holiday run that starts this week. Only they know for sure. Still, I think they can build on this, and push to have a great Vegas run. I know I'll be watching. -Matt
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