In the “real world,” alpine holds a different meaning: mountain slopes, evergreens; otherwise peaceful, placid, serene - much like the drive through waving, rolling corn fields and green cow pastures that leads into the venue. But in our world, the other real world, Alpine means something a bit different; fire, energy, the summit, not the slopes. The final three shows of summer tour have led us here, to the fire, to the summit – to Alpine.
“Sand” pulses its way into the opening slot and immediately gets a thunderous reaction from the crowd. Hot. Trey latches his guitar on to someone in the crowd, one person, perhaps, the one person representing the many dancing thousands in attendance, thinks to himself or herself, “He was totally looking at ME!” Whoever you are, good job, as you helped the jam reached a hot peak to start the show.
There are times when a song placement is entirely too perfect. “Tweezer” explodes into the two-slot of the show and amplifies of the energy already seething through the humid, summer air. The forecast on my phone just changed: lightning storms incoming. Mike drops into a hair-raising slap groove, Trey solos like lightning strikes. Fish downshifts the beat into a grimy, opaque groove which all four bandmembers latch onto, then release, into a final few measures of funk. Trey drips on this theme for a bit before nudging his way into “Free.”
“Free” was otherwise standard, save for when both Mike and Trey stepped away from their rigs and up to the front of the stage, delighting the crowd. Showmanship comes in many forms; some rock stars dance around onstage, some flail about with reckless abandon, but Phish’s understated approach, the confidence and bravado that accompanies even the most humble of movements, well, actions speak louder than words, and the extended thunder of the crowd post-“Free” speaks louder yet.
“Turtle in the Clouds” continues the dance party energy. My personal first version I caught live, a song I had been wanting to hear since its debut, it was a delight - especially the, “My friends are dancing on the hillside…” line. Trey was definitely talking to you, controversial hillside dancer. He gets you.
“Set Your Soul Free” reprised some of the smokin’ hot themes from the set-opening “Sand” and despite what this version may “look” like when viewing the official length of the song, the amount of energy concentrated into this version was absolutely not sold short.
Showmanship. A word I touched on earlier, speaking to the humility; the humble nature of Phish's stage presence. Part of their appeal, a big part I will safely assume, is their humanity. Showmanship doesn’t always mean that rock star vibe, the flair, the glamour or glitz. Sometimes showmanship is simple; an effortless ability to connect with your fans, simply by being you. So, seeing the four members of Phish visibly laughing, smiling, interacting with joy and happiness and ease and comfort while they figure out what to play next, it brings a oneness to the show – they’re just like us, these rock stars, they get it, they get me. Making a venue of some 35,000 people seem like you were seeing Phish in your own backyard is something only the best showmen can do. Phish did.
“Lawn Boy” was the choice, post-laughter, and it fit. It fit well. Mike’s bass solo fit so well, in fact, that one anonymous, pantsless (long since pantless at this point, I mean did you hear that “Sand/Tweezer” combo?!) fan, perhaps your author, yelled, “SEX!” (at Mike... he heard me… or, uhm, he heard that person). As did the dozens of fans around me, who gave me the old over-the-shoulder-side-eye-into -> agreeable-head-nod… clearly thinking, “Well, someone had to say it.” Not all heroes wear capes, but I will be wearing a cape for Saturday’s show.
“Camel Walk” struts next into the set and keeps the fun, high-energy swagger of the set scooting along. An energized “Theme From the Bottom” paired with a well-placed and well-played “Rift,” acted as a collective launch pad for our set closer, “Wolfman’s Brother.”
“Wolfman’s” was slimy. Gooey. Primordial. Growling tones from Trey’s guitar. Thick molasses dripping out of Page’s clavinet. Fishman hammering chasms into the earth. Mike, playing rolling thunder. The jam evolves, inching forward, mutating within itself; generations worth of changes happening in an instant as the jam grows legs and sprints to a zealous climax. Charles Darwin rethinks his career.
Setbreak is weird.
Really weird. Where are we?! “No Men in No Man’s Land” sashays its way to open set 2. This version had an immediate snarl that wanted to be unleashed. Gnashing gnawing, and wild! Trey teases the theme from Star Wars - the good guys theme, not that Vader theme - we are the good guys after all, we are the men and woman in no man’s land. We are at Alpine. And we are winning. “NMINML” drips notes made of indigo velvet. Dripping deep down in the abyssal plains of the darkest ocean – Mike can withstand the pressure, his notes are now more physical than audible. Trey, however unfortunately, needs to surface.
“Prince Caspian” breaks through the surface tension like a bubble who’s late for work. Popping and fizzling, the jam does not wind down, no, Trey recoils and strikes at the peak. The serene nature of the song now takes on the gnarled edge that was initiated in “NMINML.” Trey’s fierce solo fires like an inverted tornado, swirling notes from the calm surface and blasting them into the peaceful chaos of space. The jam breaks apart as it reaches the stratosphere, and cascades in fragmented pieces back down to earth. Don’t worry, everything’s right.
“Everything’s Right” pops next into the setlist. Continuing its reliability as a jam vehicle, “Everything’s Right” sneaks back into that “NMINML” outro groove, right before the “Caspian” interruption. They knew they had a good pocket in here – patient, aquatic music that sits like a bubble suspended in Jell-O. Trey, perhaps feeling trapped, probes for an escape. A release.
“Roses are Free.” Wow. What a reaction. Easily the loudest, most rowdy moment of the show came during “Roses.” Richter Scales had to be recalibrated, jaws had to be reattached, as the US Geological Society was left wondering what could have caused such ripples flowing through the ground. To science, said the dancing crowd, we thought that we could help.
“2001” rippled spacetime itself, placement wise. The all-too-short jam paired exceptionally well with the preceding “Roses.” The crowd was delighted. The dance moves bordered on any combination of these words: beautiful, sultry, illegal, nude. The police presence in the lot was put on high-alert – “Nah uh … we’re not going near those guys,” said the chief, “Rethinking my line of work… should’ve been a poet.” My pants reached escape velocity - again – and shot themselves clear out the galaxy. Elon Musk looks on, inspired, thinking he should go into the fashion industry.
“The Wedge” jolts its way into the second set. I was not a big fan of this placement, but the song was played well in its own box, but might have it signaled the end of jamming for the night…?
“Light” bursts out of “Wedge” to prove doubters (read: your author) wrong. The jam tiptoes like starlight at twilight, eventually settling into “Plasma.” This sexy midnight jam gets hazy, light dissipating. It chugs along like a rhino through grassland, eventually circling right back into “Light.” This was a well-executed, nearly flawless segment of jamming – don’t be fooled by the song lengths - this is well-connected, cohesive, original improvisation.
“46 Days” was quintessentially hot; a song, like “Everything’s Right,” which has become sneakily reliable wherever it pops up in the set. This ferocious version featured animalistic Trey, roaring at the night sky with a guitar on fire. A humble “Squirming Coil” ends our night. A simple treat. A blissful exit. Showmanship in its simplest, most beautiful form. A big hug.
“A Life Beyond the Dream” lulls its way into the first song of the encore. Beautiful sentiment in the song, but, perhaps not quite matching the energy of the show that came before it. No matter, as a dirty little “Tube” launches us back to one last disco throwdown, recapturing the energy the show had built. Our grateful host, QLEE, had this to say about "Tube," "It was at this moment that I imagined your unbridled joy to be manifested in a rather x-rated version of the Cha-Cha. I saw security look on in awe, and although weren't dancing next to each other, I knew I had to accumulate bail money... quickly." “Grind” sends us home with endearing comedy, leaving us wanting more: more dancing, more laughing, more smiling, more fun.
While this show is not a show that many will revisit on their own accord, it is safe to say that it most definitely has ignited the fire that Phish and Phish fans have come to know and expect at Alpine. It set a tone of fluid, palpable energy, focused micro-jamming, and a collaboration of rock, funk, ambience, and groove, each played with succinct respect, but each yearning to be let out of their confines to go deep. The fuse it lit for the final two shows. Ignition.
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