Saturday 11/30/2019 by Icculus


IT has been almost twenty-five years since Phish first played the Civic Center in Providence (12/29/94), and sixteen years since a version of a song performed on November 29 made the jam charts. But then again, it’s been ten years since Phish last even performed on November 29 (in Portland, ME).

Did Phish perform a 59 minute “Runaway Jim” last night, like they did at the Worcester Centrum twenty-two years ago on November 29? (Of course not, WTF is wrong with you.) But did they play a lot of songs that “Trey’s Notebook” predicted they would play? (Remarkably, only a few!) Ok, but did they perform any versions of songs that were so unquestionably “above-average great” and noteworthy that the jam charts team will undoubtedly vote them onto the charts in due course!?

© 2019 Phish (Rene Huemer)
© 2019 Phish (Rene Huemer)

Phish opened fall tour last night with an entertaining performance, at times reminiscent of their overall playing at Dick’s in September, and over the summer in general. And although one exceedingly reliable-but-hyperbolic vet, deservedly notorious for his ranking of shows in “tiers,” was heard to remark that last night’s show was “terrible, even by late 3.0 tour opener standards,” such an opinion---however well-informed and based on decades of careful, discriminating Phish listening it may be---is nevertheless demonstrably false for the following incontrovertible reasons.

First, set one opened with “First Tube” (customarily an encore in the last decade) and closed with “Fire” (customarily an encore for decades). This was no accident. A conscious decision was made to perform a first set memorable if only for its song-selection and song-positioning; and memorable it was. We love Phish in no small part because of their unpredictability, and literally no one predicted both of these tunes to be performed in the first set. And no one called the “Bye Bye Foot” bust-out either, of course; it was the first version since 8/10/97, a show with inarguably magnificent, must-hear versions of “SOAM” and “Cities.” Because WTF. And no one called the debut of Page’s “Maybe” (from Vida Blue’s Crossing Lines album), either; or if they say they did, maybe they’re lying.

Second, first sets---particularly those that begin tours---are often bereft of memorable improv, perhaps because the band is still warming-up, or soundchecking the venue, or getting a feel for the crowd, or digesting their dinner (or whatever). While last night’s first set was no exception, featuring absolutely no transcendent, bewilderingly-mellifluous improvisational gems at all whatsoever, it could have been much worse, because at least there were some wonderful song choices (e.g., “NICU” and “Gumbo”) and pleasant grooves here and there, including in “Final Hurrah,” "NMINML," and the spectacularly sllllllllllooooooooowwww “Sand.”

© 2019 Scott Marks
© 2019 Scott Marks

Third, the second set was a JOY. And while this is an ordinary and customary feature of every Phish show, and a person---so routinely spoiled---may take it for granted, last night’s second set featured Phish’s most significant performance of “Plasma” ever: it not only had a delightful, bliss-inducing major-key jam for a spell, but its coda also returned twice, seguing ferociously out of the bedazzling jam in "Light," but sublimely out of a precious jam in "Set Your Soul Free," creating a “Plasmafest” effect o'er the set's course, if you will. And the set also contained very tight, gorgeous, and thrilling-at-times versions of “Back on the Train” and “Walk Away,” which closed the set with a f’ing PUNCH. Even the ballad “Joy,” which Tom wrote the lyrics of in March 2009, was strikingly beautiful last night; I believe Trey sings "Joy" in honor and in memory of his beloved, brilliant sister Kristy Anastasio Manning, who died of neuroendocrine cancer just over ten years ago.

And finally, the encore was surprising, which, let’s face it, isn’t always the case. “Meatstick” hadn’t encored a show in nearly five years (since 1/1/15), and it was followed by three additional songs: “Sleep,” a serene rarity that had not been performed as an encore in nineteen years (since 6/14/00); “Driver,” which hadn’t appeared as an encore since 12/31/12; and yeah, “Bug.” A four-song encore!? What kind of disturbingly despondent monster leaves disappointed by THAT!??!?

So sure, while some may contend that this fall tour’s opener was “terrible,” you should listen for yourself. I bet you’ll agree with me that---overall---it’s quite enjoyable, and a taste of improv we’ll soon get (probably tonight!) that’s so stupendous we’ll be thinking about it for years, and years, and years to come. $0.02.

© 2019 Phish (2019-11-29 soundcheck) (Rene Huemer)
© 2019 Phish (2019-11-29 soundcheck) (Rene Huemer)

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, comment by joshkorin
joshkorin Wasn't there, no attendance bias. Good recap, Charlie, but I agree with Chop. It was not good at all last night. I had high hopes with a First Tube opener a la Dick's 2012 where they clearly weren't fucking around all weekend. Not the case last night. Technically proficient playing, which I always do appreciate, I'm generally of the mentality that I don't really care what they play, but I pay them to be professionals and sloppy play makes me cringe, so at least there's that.

I guess Plasma is a highlight but proceeding to ripcord multiple songs to play the end of Plasma and playing songs at a quarter of the tempo at which they've been written (Sand, Gumbo) doesn't do much for me at all. It's 4 stinkers in a row coming off of arguably the most complete show since 99 at Alpine 3. I'm sure there are minds greater than my own that will tell me different but that's what makes Phish interesting for those of us who nerd out on it. We've all got an opinion.

As a collective unit, they're more than capable of killing it any night they so desire and put their minds to it. It's always been a mystery for me for 25 years now, how Trey, who obviously sets the tone for the evening can look as uncomfortable as he did last night, yet less than 24 hours later on the very same stage can command it and his band like a true maestro. I'm quite confident that tonight will be infinitely better and they'll likely be firing on all cylinders by the time they hit Chucktown, Fingers crossed for no Saturday night special! Enjoy for all those in PVD tonight!
, comment by 99tilnow
99tilnow Good review, thanks for writing it!

I would argue that the Plasma madness at SPAC this summer (no attendance bias!) is still Plasma's best showing to date. It was used as a truly liquid (plasma?) vehicle that night. Last night's first appearance was a beautiful deep dive, but the second and third dips from last night don't have the fluidity that the movement into and out of the song had at SPAC.
, comment by BetweenTheEars
BetweenTheEars An enjoyable recap, thanks @Icculus, that was pretty much my read on last night too. Sure, its the kind of show that invites some to use an adjective like "terrible". But frankly, I thought there were some very new and fresh-feeling sounds coming out of Plasma and Light which, if stretched out in the context of an early second set jam centerpiece, could be something that we talk about for a long time.

Providence 1 was sort of like a thanksgiving dinner where there wasn't really a centerpiece dish, but there were a lot of side dishes, and they were all on point.

And I'll take a plate filled with small portions of the sides instead of one half-filled with dry turkey breast, please.
, comment by Runaway_Jay
Runaway_Jay Great review. Though 12/30/18's plasma is a little upset about it...
, comment by Jimbokaflocka
Jimbokaflocka Simple>Set your Soul Free I think had the energy most were anticipating. Pages vocals on Walk Away were particularly good in my opinion. I like to consider the fact that sometimes that pure burst of "PHSSHHKKaBop! !!" may take the first few sets of a tour to warm up and gather some energy. Cant peak with out a little climb and from what I've heard I'm pretty sure they blew a big load all over AlpineN3 so recharge is in motion.. ..Everythings right so just hold tight..
, comment by JMart
JMart Gotta add my thoughts that Friday’s show was garbage. Flub after flub. Incredibly slow pace. It felt like the whole band was still digesting their thanksgiving dinners and just not in the mood to bring any heat. The plasma refrains felt like pure gimmick. Total whiff of a show.
, comment by MillyG
MillyG I can’t believe someone called it terrible. Besides the 2 snoozers (IMO) first set (Bye Bye Foot and Maybe) the first set was fire, literally ending with Fire.

Second set Plasma-filled was also amazing, I used Farmhouse for my pee break.

Only disappointment was ending on a slow note. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Bug, but I want the final song to be a stomping, jumping, bring the house down kind of song.

Regardless, I did summer tour (except Alpine and Dicks) and I thought RI N1 was better than most of the summer tour shows.

It’s all subjective, but in 23 years I’ve never ever ever called a Phish show terrible. Ever.
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