IT’s not every day Phish offers a free webcast of a show to their fans. Their motives are unknown, but it’s possible they decided to thank their fans for their outpouring of love and support for the minority victims of violence at the Gorge over the weekend. It’s rare to see violence at Phish shows, at least in my experience of them (which admittedly only goes back THIRTY YEARS). And it’s unfortunate that such an extreme, vicious, attack was committed not against the drunk frat-hat who’d just vomited on your girlfriend, but rather fans simply enjoying themselves and the music like the rest of us. We’re also a homogeneous fan base; it’s heartbreaking to see such grotesque, racist assaults, when I'm certain the vast majority of us welcome greater diversity at shows.
In any event, on to the recap of BGCA2. I'd planned to offer you separate Noob, Vet, and JadedVet takes, since when I’ve done so a few times before, many of you were offended, but I don’t have the stomach right now for pandering to various audiences. I cannot pretend that my experience of Phish’s music in 2018 is even vaguely akin to what it was in 1989 or 1995 or 1998 or 2004 or 2009. Whether you first started seeing Phish recently or decades ago, we’ll see eye-to-eye on some things and not others about last night’s music, and your mileage should, and likely does or will, vary.
A “Roggae” opener? It’d been almost twenty years (8/2/98), so I’m curious what Trey was thinking. A signal perhaps that tonight would be less barn-burning and more barn-painting? I’ve always loved this song, so I was very happy to get it and not the six-minute “Sample” I'd cynically predicted. And although Trey at times appeared to be searching for the right tone, and I’m not particularly keen about his use of the pitch shifter either in this version or on the tour so far, his soloing was nevertheless adept. It helped foster a serene vibe in the room, as did Mike’s lead, melodic bass-work; a mellow beginning to the evening to be sure, and a stark contrast to the thrilling “46 Days” opener on Tuesday night.
I’m such a sucker for “Tube,” have always loved this song. It begins a bit on the sloppy side, as Trey sings well, but otherwise smears poop over the opening measures. The jam is short, tight and fierce, with Page, Mike and Fish accompanying Trey’s funktastic, groovilicious deployment of the mu-tron (tru-tron?) envelope filter. I’d have been a lot more happy had this funk gone on for another TEN PLUS MINUTES, but it’s still a WIN when it’s this nasty for six minutes.
“NICU” was fine, its highlight being when Trey kinda sounded like he was aping Bruce Springsteen (in homage more than parody) in yelling PLAY IT LEO, PLAY IT FOR US. I also have a special affinity for this song, as I penned an adorable letter to Phish in early 1994 begging, among other things, for “NICU” to be brought back, and played more frequently, because it’s so awesome. Mike sent me a postcard in response (he routinely responded to fan-mail back then), cryptically implying that the request would be taken under advisement, iirc. (They’d played it quite a lot in the first five months of 1992 but then inexplicably dropped it from the rotation. Thankfully, they brought it back in June 1994, and I got my first one at the Mann, after seeing Mike in the lot preshow, and thanking him for bringing it back.)
At this point in the recap, you may be wondering if I’m going to discuss every song performed last night in detail, because you don’t have time to read or even skim all this shit. The answer is: HELL NO. “Runaway Jim,” “Horse” and “Silent” were, like “NICU,” fine. Trey appeared to want to keep the “Jim” jam focused and steady and centered from its very start, though (“Type I” in other words), and this version was fun but nevertheless perfunctory as a result. And although “Horse” was well played by Trey, “Silent” was largely flubby until the closing minute or two, when Trey sounded like he had rehearsed it, as he played it well. Sigh.
Next came the new and upbeat Mike tune, “Keepin’ It Real,” notable in particular because Trey can play it (unlike, say, “Sugar Shack,” or “Waking Up Dead”). It reminded me of a host of 1970’s classic rock tunes, played by bands like Little Feat and Traffic and Grand Funk Railroad, or even Pigpen-era Grateful Dead (think “Mr. Charlie” or even “Lovelight”). Don’t be surprised if one day they highlight a set or show with a monstrous version of this tune.
“Driver” was undoubtedly performed in recognition of the huge “Driver” sign hanging off the loge directly across the floor from the stage, easily visible by the band. I don’t know whether or not Trey or the band knew that the request was likely made in honor and memory of Ryan Hoherd (Ryan’s brother Pete recapped BGCA1; he and the dot net community lobbied for Phish to play “Driver” in Ryan’s honor back in 2013), but I’m glad the fans behind the sign got it, of course, even if I wished their request for a “Slow Llama”--which was on another giant sign hanging off the loge straight out from the stage both nights--had also been accepted.
Never been a fan of “Saw It Again,” but appreciate how silly it is. This is easily the most magnificent version in Phish history, however, with everyone throwing-down in a sublimely riveting, soulful fashion. Just kidding. “Ocelot” is a song I usually don’t want to hear, but this version had an inspired, strikingly atypical style of jam. At one point I thought they might even segue into “Come Together.” Trey employs the mu-tron or tru-tron (or whatever) envelope filter and the accompaniment by Mike, Fish and Page is BUTTAH. Really dug this version, it’s likely going on the jam chart; the Tahoe version is already there, but this one’s much sicker, as I hear it. Will 2018 be THE YEAR OF OCELOT?
First set was lengthy, but unfortunately didn’t conclude as well as one may have predicted it would in light of “Ocelot's” depth. “Waking Up Dead,” a Mike song with some tricky guitar lines, was an interesting call. I really like the song, but as with “Sugar Shack,” I’d prefer Phish not play this if Trey’s just going to fart through it. Does a disservice to the quality of the song for its guitar lines to be executed so unprofessionally. Trey can obviously master this killer song, he just needs to rehearse it. Mike, Page and Fish tried to salvage the version to be sure, but yikes. “BDTNL” and “More” were good-enough versions to close the first set, and in fact, Trey’s mellifluous soloing in “BDTNL” in particular made it easy for me to forgive his dreadful performance in “Waking Up Dead.”
You’ve probably already heard about the second set. Though relatively short at around an hour, there was quite a lot of diverse, and at times captivating, improvisation, particularly out of the set-opening “Set Your Soul Free.” Instead of listening to me wax philosophic about the merits of the set’s improv, you should just listen to the set for yourself if you've not yet heard it, and skip the rest of this recap. The highlights in a set like this? Why I still listen to every note this band plays, and why I try to get to every show I can, even though, these days, I’m more often vibrating with angst and gas, than love and light.
Simply put: “SYSF” was a bold second set opener, given that its debut was not even a week ago, but the band delivered. I had low expectations at its start, of course, but they were jettisoned high into the stratosphere, and then countless light years into space, over the expanse of this 20+ minute behemoth. Trey hinted at “Crosseyed and Painless” quite a bit in the jam (though never fully quoted the melody), and at times employed the echoplex similar to Gilmour in “Run Like Hell.” As you already may have noticed, I’m a sucker for the envelope filter guitar effect, as a huge fan of ‘77 Jerry in particular.
Thought for sure “Caspian” was next, but no, for some reason Trey opted for “Twist,” which they’d just performed on Sunday at the Gorge. Huh. This version was pretty good, though, meandering a bit here and there, and arguably not as engaging a version as at the Gorge, but enjoyable nonetheless. And then another surprise with “Makisupa,” a song that’s made me giggle for thirty years. You’ve likely heard far more compelling versions of it before, but I’d much rather get it than another sloppy “Golgi” at this point (or a ballad that ought never to be performed in a second set).
Though it began roughly (Trey) and sans its intro, “Scents” had an enthralling jam that began softly like “Harry Hood” (Trey could have easily launched into the “Linus and Lucy” theme had the spirit moved him). And as exciting and powerful as BGCA1’s “Carini” is (the jam of the tour so far), this jam raged so mightily I thought it had the potential to unseat it, but no. It appeared to be heading to some gorgeous places, but surprisingly hit a wall, and dissolved into an unusual “What’s the Use?.” Why was "WTU?" unusual? Because after a few minutes, it went silent; there was essentially a “silent section” a la “Divided Sky,” with many wondering if Trey was even going to continue playing the song. Enjoyed this version quite a lot, and believe it was played quite well, with Trey channeling his inner Gilmour.
And like the “WTU?” before it, “Wedge” was executed brilliantly. The set-closing “Possum” that followed contained some extremely dissonant, mind-shriveling noise to be sure, but overall I loved its tension-and-release improvisation, and found it to be an excellent set-closer (especially since I'd feared a “Zero”). And the “Lizards” encore? While I’m sure it lulled at least some couch tour denizens to sleep, it brought tears to my eyes, as they played it so well.
Overall I thought this show was an easy 6.5/10 on the Scott Jordan Concert Review Poll scale (with 5/10 = average-great show), competitive with Gorge3 as an all-around “above average-great” show (among the top shows this year to date), even though the BGCA1 “Carini” (don’t miss this video) is still the jam to beat. Phish isn’t yet at the level of consistency they attained during summer tour ‘17, particularly throughout the BD shows, but there’s every reason to be confident that at times this summer (as they already have) Phish will improvise at their highest level. $0.02.
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