[Recap of last night's show is courtesy of Matt Burnham, user @therealburnham.]
It's not a stretch to say that the expectations coming into the Summer of 2017 were a bit mixed. Once the Baker's Dozen shows and the tour were announced, the ruminations immediately began that playing 13 shows in one venue would throw everything off. That the shows leading up to the MSG run would be warm-ups. Tours in 3.0 have had a bit of a lag in getting on track. And although the band can usually find that high gear eventually, sometimes it can take some time to get there. Thankfully, the Northerly Run showed that that they were ready for the challenge. And although those shows were not perfect (and what shows really are?), the highlights seen in the "Everything's Right," "No Men in No Man's Land," "Simple," "Scents and Subtle Sounds," and "Carini" at the very least showed that the band was up for the challenge, and ready to try to hit the ground running.
As the real gear-up for the Baker's Dozen though, some indoor shows were in order and, thus, two on campus stops were booked in Dayton and Pittsburgh. Dayton, and specifically the Nutter Center at Wright State, has a solid history with the band, with the Fall '97 offering having one of the greatest first sets in the band's 34 year history. Less known than that, the Fall '95 show has an epic Tweezer that is must hear (amongst the other various Fall '95 high points that were typical of the time). Adding to the allure of the Dayton show was the unexpected announcement on Monday that there would be a free webcast (much to the delight of this recapper). Again, likely serving as a warm-up for the 13 night webcasts coming our way soon, it provides the tech crew and Kuroda a chance to see what works indoors and what comes across well on screen. So, that being stated, could the magic of Dayton shows be replicated this time around in 2017?
I say yes. To my ears, the first set--although not having any standout must-hear jams-- was well played, and provided the requisite time for warming up. The "Tuesday" debut was unexpected and, similar to the "Crazy Sometimes" debut later in the set, seemed to have a slightly different arrangement than when played with either TAB or MGB. Personally, I would be surprised to see either of them too frequently moving forward, as this already seems to be a transition year in terms of debuts (album came out last year so lots of songs debut this year to see what sticks moving forward). "Free" was a particular stand out point, with Mike and Page seeming to push the song further than the usual versions that are played in first sets. Standard versions of "Roggae," "Horn," "Maze" and "Sugar Shack" were played. All solidly, but nothing other-worldly. The end set pairing of "46 Days" > "Runaway Jim" was very nice. "Runaway Jim" was one of the first songs I loved once I got into Phish 17 years ago. Ending a first set for the first time since 2000 was, I thought, a cool statement. Whether or not that was intended as a statement or not, I'm not sure though.
The second set, however, was a statement. A 20 minute plus "Down With Disease" starts it off with a bang, and with a layered, minor groove segment that harkens back to the stellar version from Mexico 2016. I was probably not the only one expecting "Shipwreck" quotes to make their way into the ambiance. Post this beautiful groove, the band moves on a dime into a major progression and explodes with bliss. It's a wonderful jam to encounter and, as a song in and of itself, may have been enough to elevate the set to must-hear standards. But that's not all to come.
A surprise bust-out of the criminally underplayed "Mountains in the Mist" was layed beautifully out of the ethereal sounds closing out of "DWD." It is played marvelously and with great patience. After maneuvering through that space, the band settles into "Waves" which, although has happened twice (the movement from "Mountains in the Mist" into "Waves"), is the first segue (>) to occur between them. And it just works. The two songs to me conjure up luscious and vivid imagery of foggy passageways and searching. The "Waves" is short; it's not a behemoth like the 2.0 versions. But this works out in all of our favors, because absolutely must-hear versions of "Ghost" and "Wombat" (?!?!) follow.
The intro to "Ghost" is really pronounced and striking. The song portion is typically standard. But the jam is straight hose. Clocking in at around 16 minutes, it is a phenomenal version. Once the band has its fill there, "Wombat" starts up, and although it's a jokey song that conjures up visions of dancing Abe Vigoda's, the jam is no laughing matter here. For only the second time (and three years to the day), "Wombat" gets taken out for a ride, and for the third time in this set, an epic jam enfolds that will be required listening in the days to come. Post "Wombat," a pretty standard "Chalk Dust Torture" closes the set. "Squirming Coil" gets pegged for the encore, Page plays his pretty solo, thanks us all, and says good night.
So where does that leave us? Summer 2017 has had four shows so far. You can't count the amount of must-hear, possibly all-time jams on one hand from those four shows. It takes more than one. I have to conclude Pittsburgh will be great as well, based on this track record. Then we're at the 13 MSG shows. Last that I checked (and I just checked), not one of the 13 shows is sold out. Now, I live in Texas, and have no method of getting up to NYC for these shows (and have some large family obligations that I wouldn't miss for the world). But if I could? If I lived close by? If it was drive-able? Hell, if I had a free weekend day then I would be there. Will all 13 shows be legendary? I don't know, probably not. Thirteen is a lot of shows to be on their A-game. But with the way they are currently playing, I wouldn't risk it. I would go. -Matt
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