[Take the Bait is spirited deliberation centered around the hyperbole of Phish’s music and fandom, passionately exuded via the written words of phish.net contributors @FunkyCFunkyDo and @n00b100. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of phish.net, The Mockingbird Foundation, or any fan… but we're pretty sure we’re right. Probably.]
One of few remaining readers: Mexico? ::Sideshow Bob annoyed grunt:: Didn’t those shows suck and, like, were undersold and no one went and the food sucked and one bandmember’s wife got into a fight and stuff and they vowed to never return but they had a contract or something? These TTB guys are really running out of ideas...
Funky: Uhh... woozle wazzle?
One of few remaining readers: Woozle wazzle?? That's what passes for journalism these days?
Funky: They finally did it, n00b. They finally understand the italicized text that leads off each episode. They’re going to have to read on just to see how far gone we really are. One might say... they took the bait! Ha! Because… it’s the name of… and they’re going to keep reading… ahh forget it.
So, Mexico. Nine shows, 18 sets, and now one distant, sunglazed memory; marooned on a beach in the annals of the Phish world. Shows that get criticized and forgotten with equal haste, and unequal annoyance. It’s never made much sense to me, really. I just chalk it up to a bunch of, perhaps, just-a-little envious and resentful fans (myself being one) who are a bit perturbed that they could not attend outdoor Phish, with unlimited booze, with the ocean (of love) right there to splash in, the wind (is the music) was blowing the lit up palm trees like a Jackson Pollock painting in slow motion, oh, and it was 80 degrees… in winter. ::sighhhhh:: Oh, right, the thousands of dollars thing, fair enough. Well, up until that point it sounded pretty sweet, right?
No, n00b and I didn’t go either. We all suck just as much as you. Myself, probably much more.
So let’s all take in these shows as if they weren’t about 10x the amount of what a “normal” three night run costs and try to appreciate what Phish brought onstage through these nine nights from a more musical, less hate-filled perspective? I bet you’ll come away from this episode pleasantly surprised, and I’d bet a handful of songs that make their way into your regular playlist. Ole!
1.15.16. Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico (no full-show AUDs exist of this run, how weird).
Encore: Rock and Roll
Encore: Character Zero
 No whistling.
Encore: The Ocean
 Phish debut.
Funky: After “The Wedge,” (no it is not a 9 minute version, the last three minutes are Trey taking in the ambience, with gusto) Trey says, “Well this doesn’t suck.” No. It. Does. Not. I remember couch touring this show. Margarita, in hand. Pants, off. Hula skirt, on, kind of. Jaw, needs medical attention; it was on the floor watching this paradise unfold, rather unfairly, some five feet in front of my face, but thousands of miles away from my soul. “Neverseeingphishagain...” I mumbled to myself. ::sip:: “Whenwilltheyannoucesummertour...” Pathetic. ::gulp::
The first set was entirely first-set-of-tour-opener-y. Rather predictable song selection, solid, in-the-box playing, and a pretty clear feel of the band dialing themselves into this wonderful venue, just as people, then dialing in their sound into this new, outdoor, completely open natural space. Honestly, you can skip the first set altogether.
But the second set, man are we in for a treat. The “Drowned” > “What’s the Use?” combo was tame and rather tepid, but did Phish ever catch the tide can surge into the rest of the set with energy and flow. A scorching “Sand” smokes through 8+ minutes of blistering heat, peels back into the “Sand” theme, and then gets swept into an underwater disco. Mike-anchored, sassy-ass Fishman high-hat splashin, booty shakin… hey is that suntan lotion or are you just happy to see me? “Sand” swaggers its way into one of the best segues you’ve never heard -> “Ghost” and pants became unrequired for service.
"Ghost" had a zip to it from the get go that is absolutely noteworthy. If you are one to normally skip over the song segment and straight to the jam, do not do that with this “Ghost.” Specifically the last three minutes of “Sand” -> “Ghost.” Fish is just… just filthy. ”Ghost” moves like a undertoe into a major-key jam and explodes quickly into a peak before washing out into a spiraling, spacey froth, Fish still buoying rhythm.
“2001” and “Wolfman’s Brother” provided mid-set space-funk, borderline xxx-rated grooves in efficient, business-like fashion and “Possum” and “Shine a Light” provide a one-two combo of exclamation points and fireworks. Honestly, loyal reader, I would have loved to be at this set. I have a feeling if this set happened at a more well-known high-octane venue like BGCA or Hampton, it would be much more well-known. This type of action-packed, sassy-pants, dance-party Phish is right up my alley. This second set will be getting a lot more play as time goes on. But Mexico sucks, right?
Alright, alright. The next night kind of sucked. Save a gnarly, opaque first set pairing of “Simple” -> “Timber” and the last five minutes of a uber-percussive “Golden Age,” this show had not much going for it. Don’t let the 13-minute “Cities” -> 10-minute “Light” fool you, either, they weren’t good. That’s just about all that needs to be said about that show.
So, n00b, we have one show that’s definitely validating the “Mexico sucks” rumor. One show that is definitely going to turn heads and drop pants, and one left… from this year. Seven more in total. About that 1.17.16 setlist… was it chosen at random, bingo-style? The jamming... where can it exist in a show like that? Well, it IS Mexico, so it must’ve sucked…
n00b: So here’s how *I* feel about the Mexico runs, in general: 1) the cost and exclusivity of the Mexico shows probably turn off a lot of people, which, hey, I’m sure going to Europe in 1998 and Japan in 1999 was just like taking a jaunt to your local supermarket; 2) the Mexico 2016 run happened a few months after the beloved Summer 2015 and less than two weeks after the nearly-as-beloved NYE 2015-16 run, and the fact that it isn’t as good musically (I have zero problem saying that) hurt the run historically in a way it wouldn’t have if they’d just been the start of Summer 2016 (well, maybe not THAT tour…); and 3) I don’t think anyone can REALLY argue that the Mexico runs haven’t improved by leaps and bounds since then. I think that about covers it. Oh yeah, and I like that Cities -> Light duo more than you do.
Funky: You do? Ugh.
n00b: Okay, so let’s get into this show. Yes, the first set does have a very “throw a bunch of song titles into a hat and pull them out one by one” feel, with the exception of the obvious opener in "Mexican Cousin" (a truly, wondrously terrible song). But that shouldn’t stop you from giving the highlights a listen - a relaxed "Bathtub Gin" that eases off the gas a bit more than some of the real strong Type I "Gins" of the modern era (say, your 7/31/15’s of the world), and a kickin’ "Moma Dance" that builds up a really heady stew between Mike’s envelope-filter-burbling, Trey playing around with his toys to neat effect, and Page giving Lil’ Punkin (aka the clavinet) a good workout. The segue into "Saw It Again" is pretty nifty, on top. Given that we haven’t quite entered the 2017-18 era of stronger first sets, this is a nice and fun opening frame.
But, as always, it’s the second set where the money is made, and this second set definitely brings home the bacon in fine fashion. The opening "Disease" switches keys at Mike’s urging into a warmer zone, driven forward by Fish’s insistent drumming and enhanced (or “enhanced”, depending on how you feel by Halloween ‘14 samples) by Page dropping "Shipwreck" quotes into the melange, then builds to a superb and powerful peak in the time-honored "Disease" fashion; it’s easily the highlight of the 2016 run so far, and will remain so for all of two songs. "Roggae" follows up (rather shakily, it must be said), and delivers a bluesy and relaxed version that also builds to a strong trill-laden peak, then comes the set’s main event in a truly wonderful "Crosseyed and Painless," a highlight of 2016 as a whole. The band kicks into a fierce and powerful take on the usual "Crosseyed" jam, then as the band seems to be wrapping up the Narrator floats in with “are you too near the shore?” once again, and Fish keeps the fires burning so that a truly spooky and strange little jam can emerge, a buzzing fog enveloping the beach full of effects and dark minor-key playing and Mike pulling out the drill to add to the ambience. "Farmhouse" emerges from the muck, and the rest of the set is more a fun time than anything else, but an opening trio of music like "DWD" > "Roggae" > "C&P" is certainly nothing to sniff at, and the debut of "The Ocean" in the encore is a blast. So that wraps up 2016, a run full of shaky and inconsistent moments, and then a final show that basically redeems the whole enterprise. Uh, right?
Funky: I mean...
n00b: 2017’s Mexico run starts off with what I think could reasonably be called one of the strongest of any of the Mexico runs in the January 13 show. The first set is standard fare for the most part, although you should give the set-closing "Wolfman’s" a try as it’s a cut above the usual 3.0 "Wolfman’s." But the second set really kicks out the jams with a really strong four-song stretch, starting with an all-timer "Fuego," one that dissolves into a quiet and contemplative zone before building in energy and driving to the top of Peak Mountain and then collapsing into another quiet space and giving way to "Caspian." Both this "Caspian" and the following "Twist" belie their sub-ten-minute length in fine fashion, the former devolving to a grimy and almost crunchy groove given added oomph by Fishman playing some fancy rhythmic games, and the latter (arrived at via a nice and stretched-out segue) wandering charmingly into Pee-Wee's Big Adventure highlight "Tequila" before another cool segue into "Seven Below." And this "Seven Below "caps off this nifty improvisational stretch with a chill jam that Trey takes to a lovely little place that’s definitely worth hearing. This show, all by its lonesome, delivers nearly as many thrills as all of 2016’s run, and we’re only one show in.
The second show also contains standard fare for most of its first set, but the closing "Chalk Dust Torture" dives into a snappy and propulsive groove with some really lovely interplay between Trey and Page before building up to a quite good peak and then heading home for a spirited finale; it’s a great version and a nice companion piece to the all-world Baker’s Dozen CDT. Set 2 also contains a stretch of nice jams that are stronger than their length might suggest - a "Meatstick" (!) that squeezes some funkiness out of the usual "Meatstick" outro, an inspired "Winterqueen" that brings to mind some of the best "Roggaes" out there, one of the stronger "Mercurys" from before "Mercury’s" 2018 rise to jam vehicle status, and above all a remarkable "Light" that drops down into an atonal rhythmic shuffle that calls to mind the underrated 11/2/13 Tweezer before giving way to darkness to close things out.
The third show is...fine. Cool segues throughout, though.
Funky: As much as I love what you wrote up there, I still feel like you grossly undersold the “DWD” and “Crosseyed.” They were that good. “DWD’s” percolating, progressively uplifting groove is what sunshine is made of. The “Shipwreck” quotes offered perfect balance of waning moonlight to the starburst that “DWD” would explode into. It is a brilliant dichotomy of styles in one, cohesive, fluid jam. The “Crosseyed” jam made me uneasy, and that’s a good thing. It was like someone looking over your shoulder – walking too close behind you in the dark. It was just… there. Slowly undulating onward in the shadows. Daunting. Intimidating. Just needed to get that out. And that “Farmhouse” choice was garbage. Sorry not sorry.
Okay onto 2017, starting with that Sunday show. n00b... fine? That Sunday show was fine?? Good gravy, it was way more than, "Fine. Cool segues throughout, though.” Bosh flimshaw!! This was high-energy, Todos Santos, barreling mayhem. A thunderous and, if I am being completely honest, a Grade-A “Harry Hood” turns back the clock on how ferocious modern day “Hoods” can be (they usually aren’t). I encourage you to listen to this “Hood” right now and stay still. It’s impossible. You will celebrate, you deserve it. A staccato-y, calypso-y “David Bowie” before that was a special jam rendition, the likes of which we, literally, do not hear in “Bowie” any more. For some reason I am working backwards through the setlist, but, hey, this is “art.”
“Sally” -> “Possum” > “Carini” was a savage mid-set trio. Just savage. High energy, straight forward, party. And before that we had a smokeshow “Down with Disease” that embodied the segue style de jour of 2016/17, layering (the next) song over (the previous song’s) jam. In this respect, we had a hot, sprinting “DWD” that broke into an upbeat, quasi-funk jam. As this section progressed, Trey started singing the “NMINML” lyrics over the “DWD” jam and eventually meshed the two songs enough to where you could call it “NMINML” on the setlist. This is reminiscent of some history that happened just three weeks prior in MSG, in the astounding, otherworldly 12.30.16 “Light -> “Party Time” combo; where layered rhythm and harmony created a segue or sorts, but more “literally” an interwoven tapestry of jamming and elements of songs, perfectly homogenized together, bridging jam and song. Really great stuff here, in Mexico.
1.15.17’s first set was more of the same. High-energy, unrelenting playing, highlighted by a swift, “Ghost” which sent seafoam into the stratosphere; a “Ya Mar” that could very easily hold the secrets to the world’s greatest Margarita recipe; a ferociously jammed out “Fluffhead;” and a swampy, think, nearly 97-esque “Tweezer” that stuck to you like an octopus on a clamshell. The set’s supporting songs were “good enough” versions which complimented the heavy hitters very well. All and all, this was a show, for me personally, at which my dreams would have awoken into reality.
Since I am being all “artistic” going backwards through the Mexico 2017 shows… for whatever reason… oh, right, “art…” I will only slightly touch on that which you have in that Saturday show before I get to Friday. The “Light” is phenomenal. As is the “CDT.” Not much else needs to be listened to from there, but don’t you dare pass on those versions. They are A+ renditions.
Onto Friday. Boy am I ever a sucker for “Undermind.” This 9-minute version is sassy and playful, a rhythm enthusiast’s dream. Swooping in and out, up and down, like a seagull eyeing a sandwich, the jam flutters and glides with humor and panache. I giggle just thinking about it. My pants are shimmying down my legs as we speak – shimmy on, pants! Shimm-meee-onn!! A very strong “Wolfman’s" that you touched on is the other highlight in the first set, worth noting.
Now, about that second set. On paper, it doesn’t look like a whole lot of anything. But that is the beauty of Phish, is it not? Hot if not standard versions of “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” and “The Wedge” kick things off, but "Fuego" is when the band shifts gears. Patient playing. Meditative. Are you familiar with the divine soaring of this year’s Forum “Fuego,” or the hair-raising, spine-tingling, life-affirming version at SPAC on the 4th of July, 2014? This version, the Mexico one, contains elements of both – time is a construct after all. Serene blending of harmonies drift life a coconut husk on calm waters. Sun-dappled sparkles glint on the jam’s surface, much as how it does off of ripples out at sea. It floats along, unconcerned, content in its own beauty. It gets swept into a perfectly placed “Prince Caspian” which continues the meditative playing, albeit with more of a guitar-centered shredding element to it. The jam relents, ultimately, into a spacey outro, still patient, still calm.
Trey deftly layers “Twist” over the jam, and, well, we aren’t following a coherent timeline here, but this is the type of segue I had written about with regards to the “DWD” -> “NMINML” and “Light” -> “Party Time.” A blend of jam and song in such a citrusy-fresh cocktail of sound. “Twist” picked up on this citrus theme, as it brought a joyful “Tequila” tease to the party, and ultimately slinked its way past the breakers and into a warped, cosmic “Seven Below.” This segment of Phish, “Fuego” -> “Prince Caspian” -> “Twist” -> “Seven Below” is strong – very strong. Who was that guy that said Mexico sucks, yeah, that guy sucks! ::eyes dart from side to side::
So, noob, we’re two thirds done with Mexico, and we have dusted off the sand on some truly exceptional moments, jams, segues and fluidity. It blows my mind, really, about how not-talked-about these shows are, as there is so much good music to be enjoyed! But, are we so out of touch? No, it is our readers who are wrong. Since Mexico seems to be Phish’s best kept secret… that’s worth like 4 months pay ::shakes fists at sky:: we now have to ask, “Did they continue this through 2019?” Or does Mexico really, truly, actually suck?
n00b: Honestly, I just said that about 1/15/17 because I wanted you to sing the praises of the show and I knew you’d do it better than I ever could - I like the show a good deal, too. Gotta stir that pot sometimes!
Funky: Love you seriously big time, n00b. xoxo
 Sung over Martian Monster.
n00b: Ah, this first show. Let’s get this out of the way - there’s a fair amount of slop in all three shows. Not quite 2004 level (though basically only 2004 shows are 2004 level), but there are definitely some flubs throughout the run. Now, that said, there’s a fair amount to love about this show, and I’m not just talking about that opening-song bustout of "Spock’s Brain." We actually get multiple songs with impressive gaps - the aforementioned "Spock’s Brain," "Who Loves The Sun?," and "Spanish Moon," the latter two getting their first post-Halloween costumes. We get a storming first-set "Everything’s Right" that spins major-key gold out of its usual minor key jam, immediately followed by one of the most beloved Kasvot Vaxt numbers, "We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains." We get a really gnarly (and probably planned) segue out of the Set 2 opening "Soul Planet" into the aforementioned "Spanish Moon." We get an "Also Sprach Zarathustra" that weaves in teases of "Death Don’t Hurt Very Long" at the start, and then collapses into a dark and pulsating ambient space that carries on through the rest of the song, marking this "2001" as a cut above the usual 3.0 "2001s" (quite frankly, a cut above all the "2001s" that aren’t 1997-2000’s).
And, above all else, we get an absolute surprise jam vehicle in the divisive (to say the least) Page showcase "I Always Wanted It This Way," which Trey steers with some sharp chords into a fierce quicksilver groove, throwing in some "Super Bad" licks for fun, before making the turn to a powerful rockout peak and then sliding into a weird closing segment (dig the noises Page is making!). That’s a lot to ask for out of the opening show of any run, and it portended both the deep improv and the fun antics of the rest of the run.
The second night gives us what might well be the finest opening frame out of any of the Mexico shows, packed with interesting song selection and setlist choices ("YEM" to open! "Saw It Again" to close!), a fast and funked-out "No Men In No Man’s Land" infused with Page really strutting his stuff on the keys, and a really cool "Tube" that dies away to near-silence in the style of Magnaball’s "What’s The Use?" before surging back to life and giving Trey the opportunity to bestow some fancy trills upon the lucky ducks in the crowd. But it won’t be the first set that people will remember when they hear this show - it’ll be the titanic opening duo to Set 2, a truly strong 1-2 punch of jams that can compete with any similar duo from the past few years. The opening "Set Your Soul Free" starts out punchy and grimy at Mike’s insistence, with Trey digging into fierce riffs and Fish firing away, before making the turn into major key thanks to Page switching to electric piano and giving a real funhouse vibe to the proceedings.
You might think blissful upbeat hose is in the offing, but the band instead goes into a snarling and nasty rock jam, goosing a few “woo”s for fun, and then reaches an explosive peak. This then leads into the second big jam of the evening, and it’s a "Mercury" that maneuvers its way from a bright and really lovely groove out of the “net’s unbreakable section” into a more insistent (check out what Fish is doing) and powerful (check out what Trey’s doing) jam segment that really showcases the band’s improvisational kismet before giving way to a surprise mid-set "Slave To The Traffic Light" that serves as the perfect sorbet to cleanse the palate after that massive two-song jamfest. And shit, who doesn’t like "Walk Away" as a closer?
But it’s the third show I really want to talk about, because that’s the show that’s most held my attention out of the run since it was played. It’s not the most jam-heavy show of the run - that, obviously, is the night before it - and heck, the longest jam from the show is the "Divided Sky" in Set 1. It gives us the first "Mike’s Song" > "Weekapaug Groove" in over 20 years, and both songs put together are shorter than the Mike’s from that last "Mike’s" > "Groove" combo (no points for guessing 7/17/98) by its lonesome. It throws us a ton of jam vehicles in Set 2, almost like the band forgot they had all these major vehicles at their disposal before that night and wanted to cram them all into the show, and only two of them really live up to their potential (we’ll get to them in a second). And, perhaps worst of all, we get a "Ghost" that doesn’t even crack the 4 minute mark, much like the "Ghost" from the infamous 8/17/11 II teasefest. All of these elements make it seem like this show is 2019’s answer to the much-derided 7/16/14, a show in which the second set bounced wildly from song to song like a tennis ball rattling around a dryer, and one with maybe the least listenability out of any since the band’s return.
Of course, I’m not going to give a show this much leadup and then say “it stinks!” Joel Robinson style, and the reason I like this show so much is that it shrugs off all the things I talked about above that could make it a lesser show to really deliver a great listening experience. For one thing, the opening frame gives us a number of real treats - both "The Curtain (With)" and "Divided Sky," fine versions both; "Destiny Unbound," always welcome; a "Blaze On" that briefly slides into a funk jam and then floats away on a synth-laden cloud; a "CDT" that never quite breaks free but works some tension-release nerves in the manner of last year’s really strong Alpharetta version.
The "Mike’s" > "Groove" is fun as a novelty, even without the improv of the previous three versions. "Tweezer" > "Carini," coming in the fourth quarter, give us a really nice major-key jam in the former and a powerful (and actually different!) major-key jam in the latter before Trey amusingly whips out the "Tweezer" riff and the band vamps on that for a bit before an equally satisfying slide into "Ghost." And "Ghost’s" curtailing comes for a legitimate reason - a really great (and, again, probably planned) hard segue into "Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.," which may have found its place in the rotation as a killer singalong set closer.
Finally, the 25-ish minute encore is as fun as it looks - "Simple" leading into an odd and funny botched opening to "Martian Monster," heavy with teases from songs played throughout the run, a detour into a particularly crazed reading of "Kung," another detour in a hilariously apropos "Big Black Furry Creature From Mars," and then "Sleeping Monkey" > "Tweezer Reprise" to close in fine fashion. The run from "Tweezer" to "BBFCFM" is as deliriously fun as anything from Fall 2010, and well worth the listen even if you don’t get a jam as killer as the previous night’s "SYSF."
And that brings a close to the Mexico runs (so far), with the strongest three shows out of all nine. In a funny way, you can see the band’s Mexico sojourns as a miniature version of the band’s career post-return - an opening run full of jitters, odd avenues, and the occasional fantastic jam and fantastic set, a second run that shows both improvement in jamming and setlist construction but no truly deep jam or show to speak of yet, and then a third run in which it all (mostly) comes together and you get shows that can proudly stand up with the rest of the catalog (or the modern era, at least). So let that be your takeaway from this gargantuan essay - much like you shouldn’t ignore the modern era, even the first few (comparatively) fallow years, you shouldn’t ignore the Mexico runs, even the first somewhat fallow run. What do you think, sirs?
One of few remainer readers: ::nudges Funky awake::
Funky: GET THAT MAN THE PULITZER!! Oh, sorry, I was having that dream again; where Tom Robbins and I go back in time, and... well, I've said too much.
You nailed that though. That was a succinct and dynamic sweep through 2019. You’re a good man, n00b, and thorough. I want to reiterate the highs for me: that segue from “Soul Planet” to “Spanish Moon;” that breakbeat, uber groOoOovy “2001;” the stratospheric, 20-minute “IAWITW;” the incendiary (hey, I’m incendiary too, man) “SYSF:” and that N3, S2 back half of “Tweezer” through “SANTOS.” And you know what, please play “Most Events Aren’t Planned” more, that song kicks a substantial amount of ass, the four times it has appeared.
I want to highlight that “Tweezer” > “Carini” combo because it featured some exceptionally loose, and dialed in, jamming. You know, where the jam sounds nearly composed, and you’re just like, “These guys are so cool.” I also also want to highlight how much ass “SANTOS” kicks as a show closer. Man, did the sand turn to glass underfoot?? That place was on fire as the night came to a close! I will gladly take that to close any set, Phish.
When we look at all nine shows of Mexico, I think we find a pretty even distribution of great jams, good jams, slop, and segues as we would have had these shows (as three night runs) appeared within the regular tour framework of their respective years. That is to say, I think they are entirely good, solid shows with high points and low points. Much like many Phish shows are. They aren’t A+ shows (although some are close), but they aren’t garbage either (although some are close). They're perfectly good, for the most part.
Worst. Analysis. Ever.
No, really though. These shows rarely get talked about, for no apparent reason. But a lot shows don’t get talked about for no apparent reason. Phish is a numbers game, and when there is so much great Phish out there, even the good Phish can be forgotten. The difference is, at least in the digital Phish world where the nerds rule, Mexico seems to take an unnecessary amount of pejorative dismissal and persnicketiness when they are talked about. Frankly, it’s completely undeserved.
On your next sunny day, I hope you pull up this article and thrown on some of these jams. Put on some suntan lotion for the smell, drink a drink with a parasol in it for the experience, and float away with the music for fun. If you don't, well, tell the .net Federales that you want Miguel Sanchez to represent you. He's new, but he's good.
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