[Thanks to Josh Martin (@JSAUCE) for recapping Raleigh for the blog. -Ed.]
Greetings, everyone. Jsauce, of the Gorge 2 review, here to give you the lowdown on last night's proceedings in Raleigh.
When Phish goes on tour, I pay a lot of attention and I’m sure there are many, many people besides myself who’ve listened to every note of this tour this far. We care. That’s great. An inevitable consequence of caring is that people are going to disagree. That’s also great. That’s how lively debate happens. However, I can’t help but get a little down when I read the comments section underneath the .net reviews. Maybe it’s always been this way and I just never noticed, but it seems as though it’s gotten way more, you know, PERSONAL all of a sudden. Go back and read the comments on the review of 8/5. Half the people seem to think it was one of the heaters of the tour (my votes would be for 7/20 or 8/3) while the other half seem to think the show was flub city bordering on unprofessional. Am I wrong for thinking that opinions seem to be skewing to one direction or the other in a way they didn’t before? Maybe so, maybe not. More on that later.
One thing I’ll say without fear of reprisal: Phish certainly have gotten tighter as the tour has progressed. I know, that’s some Pulitzer-level insight there, right? Every show has moments, but to my ear they seem to be putting more and more of them together. The 7/20 "Chalk Dust," the 7/24 "Carini," the 7/28 "Jibboo," and the 7/31 "Everything’s Right" (?!?!) were all fantastic, but it was even more exciting to watch them pull together great stretches of songs and kick out the jams in the first AND second sets (8/3).
Raleigh is no stranger to awesome sets, most notably summer '97, memorialized in the DVD, but also check out the "Jim" from '95 and the "Mike's Song" from '98, during which Trey spewed out such hot fire that the only thing I could do was yell "GAHHHHH!!!!!" Would tonight be another heater? It certainly had all the makings of it: Friday night's show (which I contend is the new Sunday), most of the heavy hitters dropped in Alpharetta and Camden, utterly skippable for those doing Camden and MPP. I've been focusing on letting go of the head and embracing the heart this tour, and I'm happy to say I walked in the building pretty damn excited? emotionally centered? committed to staying in the moment? Some combination of those. Here we go.
“Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” is always welcome opener, at least for this guy. It’s a not-so-tacit admission that what minds we did have are in the process of getting scrambled, and a tasty exercise for what’s in store. A sharper-than-normal “Funky Bitch” kept things rolling along nicely.
I know “Ocelot” is gaining a following; I haven’t become one of them just yet. It worked well in this position, watching the lazy summer sun start to make its way over the hill. Fish keeps the soft shuffle underneath Trey’s long, airy melodies, which sometimes go somewhere and sometimes do not. This one was the latter, but still enjoyable.
"The Wedge" is one of those songs they rarely jam, but is such an awesome song it can stand on its own anywhere in the show as far as I’m concerned. “Wombat” got the call for the second time this tour, and while it didn’t get the serious funk workout it got at the Gorge, it was solid and sharp in its execution.
A long pause followed "Wombat," as the band chit-chatted amongst themselves before pulling out “Guelah Papyrus” for the first time in over a year. At this point in the set it seems like the mood would be no barn burning going, but a handful of good songs that relate well to each other and were well-executed. I’m always down for that, particularly in light of the beating Trey’s been taking about the recent number of flubs and, um, interesting song placements up to this point.
“Birds of a Feather” is a song I could catch at every show until I die and be totally fine with it. Fish’s backbeat is so snappy and Trey can make that solo turn so EMOTIONAL when he wants to. I DESPISE the phrase “a little extra mustard,” but this last turn on this rather short "Birds" definitely gets a dollop. “Saw It Again” played on a free “Saw It Again” stream? Let me adjust my tinfoil hat. Before you can blink, we’re off that and into the meat of “Timber,” a song on which I always pray they’ll open up. Alas, it got dark, but for only a moment.
Interlude: go listen to the 12/11/97 “Limb By Limb.” Insofar as any real head could say such a thing, this is my favorite 10 minutes of Phish music ever. Seriously. Which is great, but I’ve never heard a version, either in person or on tape, that even comes close. This version stays very close to home, with Trey stepping back to let Mike chop some wood. There was not a lot of commitment here on anyone’s part, nor was there on the subsequent “Farmhouse.” For as frequently as they play it, I just don’t feel as though Trey has figured out exactly where it fits into the flow of things. Or maybe he DOES know and just doesn’t give a shit that he’s chopping off the momentum of the set. He’s always maddeningly mute on this point during our imagined conversations in my head. Fucking guy won’t shut up half the time but can’t get a word out of him on "Farmhouse." BUT I DIGRESS. A mellow tee up for “More,” which is coming to serve nicely as a set closer.
Beer and pee lines were mercifully short during setbreak. The agreement around where I was sitting was that it was a tightly played set, song-focused, but it really hit the spot. A nice appetizer.
Opening up the second set with “Meatstick” was a bold call, but one that worked for me. This song has really grown on me. It did its fun little ditty. Then we caught that “Drowned” all of y’all have been chasing this tour (sorry Bostick!) and we got into our first real jam of the evening. Fish and Mike stayed fairly locked-in while Page and Trey had a synth pedal party. Things settle back into the main theme. Mike sounds like he’s riding a small pony. Maybe with a little cowboy hat on, just romping all over the place.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t really care for “NICU,” but also the first to admit this was a pretty slick segue for a song that’s known for its segues. Things get spacy after the proper song, but Fish chose to totally put the brakes on for some reason. Song ended. [Editor's note: Last night's version of "NICU" was among the most improvisational in Phish history, whether you like the song and its improv last night or not. -charlie]
Listen: I don’t know what to say about "Thread" here. It was my first time seeing it live. The song structure is tilted and some of the changes are very hard on the ears. It sounds as if they’re trying a little too hard to make it scary. My notes at the time read: “they’re stretching my ears as far as they’ll go.” Just not my song, not that I cared much after what happened next.
Which was a beautiful romp (or run) through “Runaway Jim” and “Run Like an Antelope.” After the opening segment of “Jim,” Trey almost immediately works in the opening changes for “Antelope.” Hhhhmmm. Okay. I’m with you so far. They make their way through the first two segments of “Antelope” and then smoothly turn right back into the second verse of “Jim,” which sort of just ends, and then we’re back into the proper jam of “Antelope,” which shines brightly enough at parts. Trey stepped to the mic and said “You’re alone” three or four times (a "Thread" reference) and the subsequent jam picked up much more steam after that. Still with you, guys. Right before the "Rye Rye Rocco" part of "Antelope," we take a beautiful left turn into "Makisupa." Fish (I think?) tried his hand at the code word. It, uh, didn’t go smoothly for anyone. The final segment of "Antelope" then dropped, with the words being moved over and sung on this part. Interesting! [Editor's note: In the final "Antelope" segment, however, Trey didn't say "Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul."]
I’d been really hoping for a “You Enjoy Myself” and they absolutely delivered. Trey rocked a lot harder than has been the norm recently. Super scary vocal jam to scare the spunions one more time.
I always feel as though the do “A Day In the Life” encore when they feel they nailed the show. I wholeheartedly agree. That set sans “Thread” was a tremendous amount of fun. The immediate reaction I heard around me was it was the best second set of the tour next to 8/3.
Which gets us back to the beginning of the review. I can't help but thinking that the internet is responsible for the skewing of opinions on just about everything in our lives right now. I make this point: Way back when, we simply didn't have the access to the music or to other fans' opinions that we do now. You saw a show, you hustled to track down a taper with some blanks and postage, and you prayed that you 1. didn't get ripped off and 2. got a decent sounding tape some time in the next few months. Now you can listen to almost every show in real time and, if the mood strikes you, download it almost immediately after the show is done. You can discuss it with other fans in chat rooms, write reviews, etc. There is almost zero time to process what happened. I'm very thankful that phish.net had the good sense to not allow show reviews until the morning after. It's human nature to want people to read what you write, and to that end most reviewers (this one included) may even subconsciously start to drift to hotter and hotter takes to get the bigger clicks. In my mind, it used to be that we had a fairly deep consensus among serious heads about what constituted a good show, a good run, a good tour, a good era (Spring '92, December '94 and '95, Fall '97, Fall '13, Summer '15, BD, and so on). Now it seems like we can't even agree on, you know, anything.
Beyond the internet, to me, your appreciation of the music comes back to what you think the band owes you and what you owe the band. For my money, and I mean that literally, I believe that Phish owes me a well-played set of songs performed by musicians who are not so fucked up that they can't play those songs well, and for the band to be engaged with each other during the act of improvisation. I also believe that their catalog is so big at this point, they should make an effort to give some thought to practicing the songs they want to play, particularly the rarities. In return, I believe if I ask those things of Phish, I owe them my attention and to not stand there talking or WOOOOO'ing through the songs, even the ones I don't like. If I want them to be creative and spontaneous in their song selection, I believe I owe them some patience if they don't nail every single change. To paraphrase Trey, if you take a risk, sometimes you're going to play shit. If you want a perfectly executed musical event, go see David Byrne or Van Morrison or Roger Waters. They're fantastic, I promise. I also promise you'll see pretty much the exact same show I saw. Nothing is free. That is the cost.
I turn to some words from the band's opus for my final point: If, like me during many points of 3.0, you go to shows, stream, etc, and you find that, after all the fussing and discussing and hashing, you're truly not enjoying yourself, maybe it is time to take a break. I’ve had a lot of fun on my five shows this summer tour. Blessings from Raleigh. See you at Hampton.
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