[Recap courtesy of user @Dmg924, Dave Goldstein.]
Let me let you in on a little bit of my creative process. Generally, when I write a recap such as this, I’ll have the first two introductory paragraphs written in advance; this saves valuable time and allows me to focus on the show details more fully. In anticipation of recapping the July 25, 2017 Phish show, I wrote two paragraphs on Monday detailing the “very good” first weekend of Baker’s Dozen, discussing the doughnut flavor gimmick, and stating how a random Tuesday night in New York City feels like bonus Phish. You know, quaintly setting the stage.
I tossed those two paragraphs out because they’re worthless now; this is being written an hour after the encore. Time will ultimately tell how 7/25/17 rates in the pantheon, but let us not mince any words here. I feel confident stating it is easily the best two set Phish show since 8/12/15 from Philadelphia, easily a Top 10 show of Phish 3.0, and if we’re being as hyperbolic as possible, one of maybe three Phish shows of the past five years that you can credibly discuss in the same breath as 8/31/12 and not be thought of as a hapless fluffer. The doughnut flavor was “JAM FILLED;” it turned out to be little more than an afterthought that the jam in question happened to be raspberry (though to be fair, “Raspberry Beret” was the first song on the p.a. post-show).
So “Sample in a Jar” opens the first set, and it initially had the effect of letting the air out of a balloon; this being the first Baker’s Dozen opener to not be a fun cover song, and it’s, uh, a "Sample" opener. One does suppose that jam comes out of jars. But then “IT” happens, and the audience immediately realizes they’ve been the unwitting victims of a troll job for the ages. Phish sings the “simple smiles and good times seem all wrong….” line, but don’t proceed to the final chorus. Instead, Trey flashes the most shit-eating of shit-eating grins, and the band starts up a jam. The "Sample" has gone Type II, thus immediately rendering it the best version of "Sample" ever by default, and it doesn’t take too long for the audience to realize the REAL meaning of “jam filled” on this evening.
Still, when they follow up the 10 minute "Sample" madness with “Lawn Boy,” the full realization of what’s about to occur hasn’t kicked in yet, aside from the fact that it’s awfully early in the first set to drop a "Lawn Boy." And it seems harmless enough at first; Page breaks out the keytar, but otherwise you’ve got your Mike solo, a Page solo, and the usual dosage of lounge lizard cheese. But then Fishman kicks off a shuffling drum beat the likes of which "Lawn Boy" has never experienced, and the next twenty-seven or so minutes comprises the latest classic example of why our favorite band is so, sooo much better than your favorite band. My written notes are akin to the chicken scratches of a serial killer, but of what I can make out: “Dark, syncopated, chilling thrilling like, UNREAL, Disease-style peaks!!, clav-funk over wah wah scratches, FAST! SO FAST!, this sounds like The Real Me! Biggest white light peak explosion since the 8/19/12 Light!!!!” I also seem to have written “flying like an airplane in the sky,” which, while accurately summing up the Garden mind state, was actually a reference to a Daniel Tiger song that it sounded like Trey was playing around 22 minutes. Fatherhood can be very strange.
Nobody on the bus could’ve predicted “The Garden Lawn Boy;” there’s extremely minimal precedent for such a thing. However, in retrospect, nobody was anticipating a 27-minute prog-rock “Simple” on the second night of the tour either, or a “Wombat” jam, or a 17-minute first set “Moma Dance.” The seemingly out of nowhere jamming of the Chicago "Simple," in particular, now seems like a dry run for MSG Night 4, and nearly every show prior contained an unorthodox 20 minute jam, all comprising a breadcrumb trail of sorts leading up to THIS. The ensuing “My Friend My Friend” was 11 minutes and Pink Floyd-y. The “Bathtub Gin” was 13 minutes of rage, though the “Stash” that preceded it was merely an 11 minute Type I version and therefore lame. At the beginning of set break, the 60-something head in the row directly in front of me raised his arms to the sky and, evoking Hyman Roth’s epic “BUSINESS!” speech to Michael Corleone in Godfather II, screamed “THIS, IS WHAT WE CAME FOR!!!”
So seldom has the heralded quotation “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” seemed so appropriate; do you really need me to tell you how incredible a 33 minute version of “Crosseyed and Painless” is? That the meat of the jam featured a smooth melodic glide in the key of D Major and that it was my first time hearing the song in 71 shows? How about that it evolved into an alien moon landing space, and somehow came back around into a quick lyric reprise, before landing on “Makisupa Policeman?” Trey quoted Bob Marley’s “Jamming” during the "Makisupa," too, because he’s a cheeky bastard.
And then said "Makisupa" got dreamy, pleasant, and somewhat like the work of the 90’s shoegaze bands that Trey Anastasio unquestionably enjoys. Then Phish played the debut of “End of Session.” Yes, THAT "End of Session," the final sketch of The Story of the Ghost that yours truly played as the last song before going to bed nearly every night of his sophomore year in a Rutgers University dorm room. To put a much more positive spin on what’s sadly become a dire indictment of the state of American politics in 2017, This Is Not Normal.
A raging “Tuesday” continued the new day of the week consciousness tradition that started in Dayton, and a “Cavern” second-set closer is always reserved for the cherry on top exclamation point when Trey knows he just completely mind-fucked the audience. Oh yeah, “Thread” was a hundred times tighter than its shambolic debut, and they played a 20 minute “Fuego” too. Meh.
Let’s be real, this is hardly the first time Phish has played a pantheon show to send the fanbase into convulsions; they pulled a similar trick with 8/31/12 and 2013’s “Tahoe Tweezer,” and they’ve still laid many an egg since then. It’s unfair to expect this level of improvisation every night going forward because, simply stated, the band would collapse. But there’s NINE of these Baker’s Dozen gigs left; is it possible that the peak has yet to arrive? What in the good name of the mighty Icculus is left to do? I have no idea, but suffice it to say, we are in extremely good hands. July 25, 2017 is just the most recent example of when this rather unusual band is ‘on,’ and witnessing them live is a privilege unlike any other. You are on notice.
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