[Recap of last night's show courtesy of Nathan Tobey, user @IcculusFTW.]
Check phone for donut announcement Tweet.
HOLES. What could it meannnnn!?
Will they play “In A Hole” for real this time? Would that be too obvious? But weren’t “Harpua” and “Cinnamon Girl” obvious? Wait, does anyone but me care if they play “In A Hole?”
Also, those donuts look super tasty. Ah, what this triumphant run does to our minds.
“Baker’s Dozen” – taken together with the astonishing mini-run that led up to it -- has produced one of the most consistently thrilling runs in the band’s 34 year history. Just when Americans seem to be losing faith in, well, nearly everything – the world apart of Phish is exactly the opposite. Night after night, a band that – by any normal standard of band longevity should have long since become a nostalgia act -- is giving us new reasons to believe. And yes, last night, on August 2, 2017, they did it again.
(I had to webcast, sadly, but the power of this show was easily felt from far away).
One of the most fun aspects of this ridiculously fun run is how creative the band is getting dreaming up covers for the themes. Tonight’s show was no exception, opening with a brilliant choice – the debut of Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” which any fan of “The Wire” knows by heart. Trey is obviously no Tom Waits, but Page’s solo hits the spot, and it’s fun to hear Mike’s bass in a tune I’ve heard so many times.
“Buried Alive” is almost always a good sign of a strong show, and this version is no exception. The “Kill Devil Falls” that follows is a focused, tightly executed first set affair. The rare “Guyute” is always welcome, especially in the first set, and, though Trey fumbles a few lines, it still delivers for a fourth song. Next, we finally get fish’s vacuum back out for the first time this year with “I Didn’t Know.” After a straightforward “NICU,” we get a much more intriguing take on the rarity “Meat,” only the 10th version since the band returned in 2009, and arguably the best. Rather than the usual stop/start breakdown, they stretch the songs’ basic theme into some wonderfully contorted places.
“Maze” makes any first-set better – and is highlighted (as always) by the Page/Trey interplay in the middle passage. It’s a fine version, but nothing special. This is one song that’s long overdue for another walk outside its normal walls (e.g. 7/12/03).
After a typically charming “Ginseng Sullivan,” we get a typically beautiful “Waiting All Night,” which I happen to love. The once overplayed “Heavy Things” is next, but it’s much more welcome, and often more interesting, in its old age. The version, while pleasant as always, is a bit of a throwaway. Note the laugh after “two holes in my face.” “Run Like and Antelope” may just be my favorite way to close a first set – and this one is fierce and well-played.
Overall, some great first set song selections – “Guyute,” “Maze,” “Antelope,” “Buried Alive,” – but I’ve been spoiled by the fantastic and incredibly rare (for 3.0) run of serious first set jams this tour. I’m hoping they return this weekend (the last one of note was 7/26/17). This was not a first set you need to rehear many times, but one that would have been a blast live.
The second set, unsurprisingly, was an entirely different story. Out of the gates with the long awaited first "Mike’s" of 2017, the chance for a second jam was on everyone’s mind. But it’s “Baker’s Dozen.” OF COURSE THEY’RE DOING THE SECOND JAM.
Only, this wasn’t just some novelty act. As good at the two second jams from 2015 are – this was another level. I’d go so far as to call it the most incredible “Mike’s Song” since Cypress (and I know 7-14-00 is great). Ok, who cares what you compare it to, stop what you’re doing, put on your headphones and listen to this immediately.
This is one of those Phish moments that words are not going to adequately describe. Suffice to say that there is superb lead playing from Trey, and the band segues – with throwback fog machine – into “O Holy Night!” Yes, the one you sang in school. Yes, the one from Christmas carols -- and it is gloriously haunting and perfect. In a run full of indelible moments, this one is among the most unforgettable. They harmonize, then it gets psychedelic, and then it gets as quiet as 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden can get before the jam fades away into “Taste.” At first, this call threw me a bit – not a typical placement, and now is not the time to just play a straightforward rendition of “Taste.”
Oh, ye of little faith.
They played one of – if not the – most amazing versions of “Taste” ever, with a spectacular eight minutes or so of must-hear improvisation.
At this point, it’s already one of those shows where whatever else happened almost doesn’t matter. It’s just a bonus. I mean, I’ll tell you about it, but they could have just walked off the stage and it would have seemed appropriate. But no, instead they continued with the best kind of “Wingsuit” – as a delicate coda to a spectacular sequence of deep improvisation. They earned this one, and it’s a fantastic version, full of power and perfect for the moment.
“Sneaking Sally” is a blast, as always, and moves after a (too) short bit of funk into a celebratory, set-closing “Weekapaug Groove,” that Trey ends with many deserved exclamation points. I always think of “A Day In the Life” as the perfect choice to close a special show – its timeless mix of melody and dissonance, whimsy and terror, Lennon and Mcartney, has a way of summing up the whole adventure.
So, where does this fantastic show stack up in the donut box? A first set jam would have been sweet, but once you get to the second set, I think about it like this: there’s a level of patient, connected inspiration the band can reach that is, for lack of a better word, magical. It’s rare for the band to be in that zone, but once they are, it’s not really a question of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ so much as your own taste. Is the 4-3-98 "Roses" "better" than the 6-14-00 "Twist>Jam"? Is the Went "Disease>Gin" "better" than the 2-28-03 "Tweezer"? Is the Tahoe "Tweezer" "better" than the 7-25-17 "Lawn Boy"?
Phish in 2017 – four guys in their 50’s -- has created moments like that almost every night. And last night, they did it again.
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