[Thank you @jmart (Josh Martin) for recapping last night's show in Boston, MA -Ed.]
It’s your old pal Marty. First thing's first: I've been instructed to be explicit about the fact that this is a couch tour recap, so, you know, Caveat Emptor, etc. Onward.
When last we spoke, I was busy drooling over that Charlotte 6/21 show. Guess what? I’ve listened to the whole thing at least three times since then and to my ear it still stands up as the show of the tour and “Runaway Jim” the jam of the tour. More on those distinctions in a second.
After Charlotte we were treated to six solid shows from Merriweather, Bangor, and Camden, each with its own individual moments (the "Simple" from the first night of Bangor1 and the "Mercury" from Camden1 definitely belong in the conversation of notable jams.) Reports from the run at Camden varied wildly, with some folks saying the second night was a true heater to others saying it was one of the worst Phish shows in years. As with all things, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
I was chatting with a friend who was on tour from Charlotte through Camden and his contention was that song choice has been the biggest variable rather than actual playing. Other than a few isolated moments where Trey fairly melted ("Taste" Charlotte, "Strawberry Letter 23" Camden1) I’m inclined to agree. There are two entire new albums of material to work into the rotation. Phish have unequivocally earned the right to play whatever they want and with so many new songs they're going to hit a few snags, even if those snags are sometimes seemingly self-inflicted. For example: The first half of the first set of MPP2 was blistering, but then we ran into a four song brick wall. For the band to think that it’s going to be easy, or even possible, to recover that momentum from a bunch of 40-year-old hippies on their third Phish show in as many days borders on naive, if not downright ludicrous.
Then Camden3 happened...
...and a solid 90% of the Phish universe lost their collective minds, immediately declaring it one of the greatest shows in recent memory. Is this so? Who knows, man. For my money, it was pretty amazing. Here is a fair criticism I saw mentioned on the forum: heads can be counted on to go bonkers when there is a "rarity dump" (this was the commenter's phrase, not mine) and the reactions usually don't have anything to do with the actual quality of playing. Also, I hope it's not lost on anyone that two the most lauded shows of this tour (Charlotte and Camden3) featured one KV song ("Say It to ME S.A,N.T.O.S.") and zero KV/GOTF songs, respectively. To think this is coincidence is pure ostriching. Headie bruhs and chicks love the 1.0. Counterpoint: besides the "David Bowie" first set closer, the two strongest performances of the night ("Mr. Completely" and "Twenty Years Later") are in no way venerated Phish classics, or even Phish originals in the case of the former. You know a show is strong when "Tweezer" is the *fourth* best jam of the night. Bottom line: no matter what you like about Phish, this show absolutely has the goods. Dig in and listen if you haven't already.
For all the whinging about certain shows of this tour that seems at times to be the birth rite of every long-suffering Phish apostle (your old pal Marty referred to MPP2 as a "dogshit show,") there hasn’t been a truly bad Phish show this tour, just some more inspired than others, and which you prefer probably has a lot to do with what songs you wanted to hear the most and your own headspace at the time. That is the nature of improvisational played music in front of imperfect human beings. Speaking of which, have there ever been two fan bases as sanctimonious and put upon as those of Phish and Boston sports? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph you assholes can cry. Six Super Bowls, Four World Series, One NBA title, and a Stanley Cup in the 21st Century and you’d think the world was ending because the Sox are in third. This truly was a match made in somewhere other than heaven. PISSAH.
Such was the state of Summer Tour 2019 when Our Core Four rolled into Fenway for the first time since opening Summer Tour 2009. TIme really flies, doesn't it? Then and definitely more so now: an exciting time to be a Phish fan. "Free" opened the proceedings at a few minutes after 7PM and demonstratively set the tone for the evening. This version is another close read, but one I'll take as a show opener any day. "Blaze On" followed on its heels and wasted no time getting into an airy jam from Trey that stayed within the mold. After a brief conversation, Mike fired up "555." Folks, I'm still not sure where I fall on this song. Trey's wah and tone on the outro solo sounded pretty bitchin' and really jumped out of the speakers.
Fenway "Tube"? HELL YES. Along with "Timber," "Free," and "Gumbo," this is one of those songs I always pray they go deep on. After the first verse, Mike bombed the groove and Page pounced on with heavy clav. Trey stepped out long enough to lead the band to major territory right at four minutes, and here they stayed, despite Mike's protestations, until dropping back into the fire. Solid shit. Definitely a relisten-worthy moment.
The first break of the evening came in the form of "Brian and Robert," a song I absolutely love. At 16 times played in 3.0, it's not as rare as you might have guessed, but still rare enough to make you feel as though you really got lucky when you caught it.
"Halfway to the Moon" is one of the stronger Page songs of 3.0 and Trey took the time to mine the chord changes for some interesting Middle Eastern-themed runs. This reviewer is not a fan of "Ocelot" and took this song as an opportunity to have a bathroom break and a slice of pizza. "Rift" appeared for the third time of tour and was played at an encouragingly fast tempo. The jam after "Everything's Right" did not stray from its now-expected riffer funk excellence. Redemption from the lull came in the form of a set-closing "Runaway Jim." While nowhere near the length nor ferocity of the Charlotte version, this Jim still managed to get a majestic peak, led by Page's baby grand and Trey's sparklingly clear tone. All ears satisfied with that first set and ready for a sit down.
"Sand" is one of the true heroes of 3.0, joining "Roggae" and "What's The Use?" in the trio of 1.0 songs that are actually stronger in 3.0. This one probably won't end up on the jam charts, but is satisfying nonetheless. They wasted no time locking down the slickness, with Fish letting the hi-hat do a lot of the talking. Mike took up most of the sonic space on this one, with Trey mostly content to hang back. There was a good bit of stasis here- the jam existed as a moment in time with very little passage of mood. Eventually Trey stepped back in and orchestrated a brief foray into a happier part of town before dropping rather abruptly back into the main "Sand" theme, then drooling into "Axilla I," which was strongly and quickly read. I'm actually a fan of following up a big second-set opening jammer with a relatively straight forward song, ala Merriweather1's "Ghost" being followed up by, uh, also "Axilla."
The love affair continues unabated with "Mercury," ladies and gents. At 20-minutes on the dot, this wasn't even the longest version of tour (that would be 6/28), but was by far the most exciting and one of the two songs of the evening to go type 2. If "Sand" was static, this "Mercury" roamed a lot of places. Trey seemed to have a little bit of trouble with the chords on the first instrumental, which is strange given how thoroughly they've been slaying this song. Coming out of the last vocal break, he started to relax and pick up some steam, taking the band through a slow solo melt with repeated call backs to the main theme. At the 12-minute mark, Trey turned the band down a dark alley, where he and Mike happened to find a very wicked groove they passed back and forth for a few minutes. At 16-minutes, Page used some bouncy synth to push Mike back onto the sunny side of the street. Then another section of very enjoyable grind. At the very end of the jam, Page really sounded like he was about to fire up the spaceship, but instead we landed in "Wading In the Velvet Sea." Your old pal used to have a complicated relationship with this one, chasing him around as it did, for the better part of the late 90's. At some point, I learned to like this song a good bit, and Trey's solo rarely, if ever, disappoints. The moment of introspection ended, and off into your other big jam of the night, "Fuego." I don't think I'd be alone if I said I've had some really good experiences with this song...but I'm in "Fuego" fatigue. No matter to Phish, as they proceeded to have an angry first go-round at the jam. Trey kicked in the Leslie he's been leaning on so hard this tour and Mike stepped forward to chop some heavy wood. Fish's cymbal work morphed into a full-on "Bowie" tease. A subtle modulation at the 11-minute mark to set us up for a (rather rough) segue into "Say It to Me S.A.N.T.O.S." Hey man, I LOVE the KV material, but sometimes it feels as though Trey is just crrrrammmmming those songs into the set. This was a straight rock read which, to my ear anyway, didn't reach the blister level of 6/21.
When Trey started "Character Zero," I wrote down in my notes "nice to see it not as a set closer." Oops. Apparently they were paying more attention to their watches than I was, as they worked through a fairly pedestrian version and then took their bows at exactly 10PM. Huh? At this point there was half an hour left of music time before curfew, so instead of another fourth quarter track, we got a two-song encore featuring "Bug" and "Squirming Coil," two personal favorites. Fun fact: "Coil" has been played as a set closer or encore exclusively for the last 26 versions of this song, all the way back to 10/30/10. At 10:22 Page twinkled us into dreamland and then wished the crowd good night.
What to say about this show? It's easy to write good things about your favorite band when they play well and I got pretty lucky reviewing the two shows that I did. This one is very good music played by a consummately professional rock band that managed to avoid some of the blunders that have plagued the weaker parts of the tour. Both sets featured great pacing, if not my favorite particular song selections. For as far down my list as "Halfway," "Ocelot," and "Rift" are, each of those songs was still actually played quite well. This show's sole jam chart entry will probably be the "Mercury," but that criterion alone would sell 7/5 short. I'm saying this was my third favorite show of the tour behind 6/21 and 6/30 and I was fighting to hear it over a roomful of my knucklehead CHOMPER friends, so I can imagine that being at Fenway in person could have been a truly transformative experience. For those of you in attendance, excellent work. You wooked great out there! We'll do it again tomorrow night.
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