For mms, "It is better to be small, colorful, sexy, careless, and peaceful, like the flowers..." -Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
I went to the MGM Sports Book before the show. I had a question. An important one. "What is the largest sum of money I can bet on Phish winning the show tonight?" The attendant's raised eyebrows hinted that I was onto something, perhaps, that the other patrons knew not, "Sir, we don't bet on Cirque du Soleil here - that's only legal inside the confines of Circus Circus." I'll play your game, you rogue, thought your author, and off to Circus Circus I went, fistfuls of cash at the ready. This was a sure bet. I just knew it. This is what seperates Phish fans from the more "amateur" gambler: we know that we are always playing with house money; we know the odds are always weighted in our favor, after all, Phish remains undefeated since 1983.
Quick as a match strike, "Cavern" sprints into the opening slot with precision and gusto. Avid listeners of late may preclude that one of those words is not commonly associated with "Cavern," however, this rendition was airtight from the lyrics down through the changes. A short but powerful harbinger of things to come. A slightly dusty "Beauty of my Dreams" skipped into the second slot. Dusty because of the mini hoedown it stirred up or dusty because this Americana classic sits on Phish's shelf for periods of time far too long, one thing is for sure, this little ditty is always a welcome sight to see on Phish's setlist.
Having awakened something in the their long-term memory, Phish dreams its way into "If I Could." The first version in six years, the words to describe this song are words not of my own, but of my dear friend WW, "I didn't know I could have that many goosebumps." The song swayed and bowed like a field of wildflowers on a breezy summer morning. Mike and Trey drifting effortlessly in a sea of peace and tranquility, this version warms hearts, souls, and goosebumps alike for any number of reasons close to your heart. I'd like to count the reasons, so I can weigh them whatdya say... wait, what? Get out of my head, Phish! Continuing the first set rareities, "Weigh" bounces next into the frame, about a 1/4 step slower than usual, but nothing to scoff at, as Page channels his inner roarin' 20s with piano flourishes far more colorful than the monochromatic hues of his keys.
A molten "Sand" builds off of the swelling energy from a deftly crafted first set. The first jam of the evening, Phish, Trey especially, is inspired with a surging, archer's arrow of a rendition that flies straight and true, hitting its mark dead center as Robin Hood can only look on, mouth ajar. You can't steal this one, Prince of Thieves, mostly because you're holding a lute, not a guitar, but especially because that lute is not a Languedoc (Languelute?) ... ahem, that was way funnier when I thought of it last night. I'm here all day, folks. ::dodges airborne tomato::
"Back on the Train" picked up where "Sand" left off, chugging downhill, picking up speed as if its brakes were removed. Fury and frenzy relishes into a hot peak as the crowd's cardiovascular system starts kicking into high gear. A welcomed, swampy "Martian Monster" ushered in the first volley of hotly-contested dance moves. Obviously inspired by Mike and Trey's "sexy-off," that is to say, they stood toe-to-toe exchanging teases and sweet nothings, pants were being thrown around like confetti, and the Gucci store decided to extend its hours into the night. Oh, Mike won the "sexy-off" by the way. Duh. Yet another sure-fire bet in the world of Phish.
A welcome change has happened in the world of Phish over the last two years or so: the first set extended jam. At times, for years at a time even, extended "Type-2" jamming was often constrained into the second set, but not anymore. "Mercury" orbits into and out of all sorts of nifty, cohesive segments. First, cerebral and haunting. An introspective journey through the vastness that exists inside one's mind, and concurrently inside the universe in its entirety. Morphing into a tribal charge, Trey signals a call for the rhythm section to take up arms and man their battlestations. Mike and Fish warm to the task, and blitz the jam with thunder and bravado. Deep, pulsing grooves nearly relent into what seemed like a -> "Taste," but instead Trey evolves the music into a beautiful, thematic jam, built around the "Mercury" harmonies. Liquid clockwork, the music starts to soar. Inspiring. A jam that is now sustaining and peaking simultaneously, escaping gravity's pull, it sweeps through the frictionless cosmos, captained by an oh-so-sassy Jon Fishman. A monumental achievement happened here, in this version of "Mercury," something we all chase, and tonight, we all found, and we all celebrated. On cue, "Suzy Greenburg" added a red-hot exclamation mark to a first set that needed only a towel and a cigarette. Sexy.
Cigarette extinguished, towel soiled, Phish winks at us with the innocent "Soul Planet" to open set two. And the PG rating ends there, at the song title. Fish and Mike lead a sultry, funked-out jam with our drummer making love to his high hat and our bassist thrusting baritone vibrato. The guitarist and Chariman want in on the action, and the jam switches from funk to soaring bliss. Trey finds an updraft and glides in the stratosphere. His guitar howls, the crowd howls back in a call-and-response that only wild wolves can perform better. Yow yow!!! From the heavenly wilderness the jam gets sucked into an abyss. Dark. Unsettling. And then a pair of eyes stare back at you from the darkness. Unblinking. "Down with Disease" starts to growl, and bare its teeth.
Trey torches his outro solo and the crowd roars back in praise. Unrelenting, Trey smooths out the energized chaos as he starts to tiptoe on water ripples and lily pads. Page and Mike dart along beneath the surface of the music, until the pace and feel become more frenetic. Evil lurches inward. The chase is on. But our fearless bandleader heeds not to the darkness! A spicy, latin-flared "Oye Como Va" jam sashays and struts its stuff. Pants, completely vanished. Kuroda's lights were so on point that Stevie Wonder texted Ray Charles and said, "You have to see this." They were that good. The sassy "Oye Como Va" jam slips like a cat in the night into a shadowy, hyponotic jam that eventually crash lands into "Guyute."
The "transition" into Guyute was... not good. Even Trey looked at his buds and was like, "Lol wtf guyz.." Still, the ugly pig continued the energy and frenzy that has permeated every second of the show thus far. A well-excuted version served, somehow, merely, as the ignition to what was undoubtedly the sexyist jam of the evening. Somewhere in the night, Nigel Tufnel asks, "What's wrong with being sexy?" And "Sneakin Sally Through the Alley" responds, "Nothing, baby." Anyone skipping over this version because it's a sub-10 minutes ought to be punished by being forced to wear unlimited pants. Yeah I mean it. Unlimited. Pants. Controversial dance moves that made the bevy of local "gentlemen's clubs" look like a Disney movie. I mean this jam is dirtier than a trash truck on pick-up day. Yowwwza! Do I have to tip them, orrrr...
"Light" explodes out of the pornographic dance party and raises its sails to embark on a calypso jam, nearly reprising what went down in "Down with Disease." An aquamarine jam that swims through shallow coral seas, the mechanisms of island-making and music-making become intwined. A seismic quake reverberates through the jam as Trey strikes into a "Party Time" jam - hold on a second, can we please have a 'Party Time' jam in every show - yes? Okay. The jam lifts off as if carrying the Space Shuttle on a mission to outer space. You have been selected to write the next sentence describing the heights to which this jam soars, because my thesaurus just exploded. A high-powered, rocketship of a journey into the galaxy, "Light" finally settles into an indigo region of deep space where placcid meditation evaporate into "Slave to the Traffic Light." Since my thesaurus has now quit its day job (good luck being a dictionary), I will leave you with this - this was the best version of "Slave" I have seen. A perfect compliment to the set and show, and a highlight in its own right, "Slave" was nothing short of beautiful. Purely, heart-achingly beautiful.
A raucous crowd ushered Phish back in for an encore, which was proverbial house money at this point. A twerk-filled, antics-laced, goofed-offed, exercise-laden "Hold Your Head Up" and "Bike" left Fishman panting, literally; Trey cracking up, figureatively; and the crowd smiling, uncontrollably, as Fish exclaims that he is in the most fun band in the world. He even crushed the vacuum solo. No, I know. Really. I couldn't believe it either. The hilarity dissolves into more smiles, even prompting Trey to say, "This feels like an old show." On that note, "Good Times Bad Times" singes off what remains of our pants. Not mine though, as I wasn't wearing any to begin with. #protour
As the night concluded, I took my Circus Circus winnings back to the MGM Sports Book. I waved my now doubled fistfuls of dollars at the attendant and made my point clear: Phish remains undefeated since 1983. Did that blackjack table just wink at me? Better go have a closer look. After all, I'm playing with house money.
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