[Editor's Note: Please welcome guest recapper Sven Jorgensen, whose brain --running on fumes after days deprived of sleep and oxygen-- is in a time zone that does not exist. -CD.]
IT is impossible to please everyone all the time. But Phish, as an ensemble of elder jambandsmen, seems to please their fans most of the time. And last night's gig at the weirdly intimate, yet 17k capacity, MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was no exception.
The second night of the four-night Cirque du Phish, that culminates Monday evening in a Halloween extravaganza, could have been a subdued, through-the-motions, crucible of patience, a comparatively vapid night of rest for the band and fans. It was not. It flowned balls.
Openers possess the potential for epic flubmongering, occurring as they do so close to soundcheck, before the band has digested their expertly-prepared meals and warmed up. But “The Birds”—the second Chilling Thrilling tune to open a show this run, and likely a harbinger of tonight’s opener—was tight and punchy. Even the “Kill Devil Falls” that followed morphed from its habitually melodic, Trey-led, happy-happy self to a stirring peak. And Mike’s “555”? Though not extended, it was executed well, much like the gorgeous “Roggae” that took off next, its relatively small peak no turnoff given its celestial grace.
“Gumbo” raged. While there was no piano outro by Page, and the ending was atypically cacophonous and a bit ambiloquent (with Trey teasing “Call to the Post”), “Gumbo’s” jam funked mightily, making for a must hear version. “Lawn Boy” involved a rare shout-out by Page to Mike side, “Wilson” was played fine, and “Maze”—a song that like “Julius” is immediately overrated by many-a-fan because it is routinely impressive—sounded great from the toilet.
“Wingsuit” brought tears to the eyes. Trey’s majestic solo seemed inspirited by something ineffable, even though, in all candor, the song has a profound meaning to some of us, and our hearts no longer experience the tune with objectivity. “More,” which has concluded the first set every time it has been performed to date, is perhaps the most popular song from Big Boat. Both its chorus and music are rousing, and it deserves its popularity, providing a wonderful transition to set break. Last night it capped-off what was easily a “top tier” first set.
The second set began meekly, with Trey a bit tentative and fragile in the opening composed section of “Mercury.” Its jam eventually took on a dark tone, yet glided along hypnotically before an arguably injudicious transition to “Piper.” While “Piper” has certainly done amazing things over the course of its history, last night’s version was competitive with the finest, featuring spectacularly adept communication from the band, for example when Trey repeated a theme evocative of a hyperactive “Oh Happy Day.” It was a vibrantly orchestral version that soared for many measures and peaked magnificently. You didn’t want it to end.
But end it did into a “Scents and Subtle Sounds” that, unfortunately, began abruptly and sans its intro. The jam of this short version appeared to reach an early peak, and while this peak was sustained for a while, the improv dissolved into a fog, during which Trey appeared to begin “Lizards” before imperiously launching “Tweezer.” This perfect setlist call caused the room to explode in ecstasy, shaking bleachers of seats, and launching tens of thousands of arms and souls skyward. Although a relatively short version, “Tweezer’s” jam reflected our intense energy, thundering fiercely forward, measure after measure. After climaxing, the jam then slowly, smoothly, and serenely segued into the fourth quarter and “I Always Wanted It This Way.”
A tuneful, upbeat Page song from Big Boat, “IAWITW” trumpets plenty of effects from Page’s many instruments, and involves a lot of room for improvisation. Trey spent much of last night’s version, however, on the marimba lumina. And well, for several measures, the jam also appeared to involve each band member playing (awkwardly) in a different time signature, with Trey chording at first slowly—as if he might want to segue into “Ghost”—but then speeding-back-up dramatically, deliberately out of step with everyone else. It was odd and vexing, and while everyone eventually got back on the same beat, the song didn’t take long to peter out into “Horsilent,” which ended the second set along with a triumphantly rough-at-times “Golgi Apparatus.” The encore, “Shine A Light” and “Tweezer Reprise,” was well-played and concluded what was unquestionably among the finest shows of the year, given its pre-4th-quarter highlights. -Sven
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