Me, two months ago: “Hell yeah I’ll do the Hershey 2 recap, I’ll be there. Boom!”
Narrator: “He would not be attending Hershey.”
Due to a looming work deadline and some family obligations, I had to bail on the shows, but I was excited to be able to do the recap based on couch touring. I also got to spend the evening with my wife, celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. Maybe I should have prioritized that in the first place? All’s well that ends well.
Speaking of that, Hershey night two showed again that sometimes, from the start, the band comes out and is just completely ready to rock. Last night was one of those nights. And before you write me off completely for not being there, I will bring in reviews I got from a couple friends who were there.
I really love the opener choices this tour, a mix of staples, like Crowd Control, and new songs, like Evolve. This You Sexy Thing opener last night really set the tone. I remain impressed by Mike’s vocals on the tune. Wombat in the two slot, and a solid ten-minute exploration—who could have expected that? This jam was a jam, as confirmed by Jonathan: “At least half of the Wombats are in the five minute range. A good number of them, however, crack the ten minute mark. Dayton 7.18.17 goes 13 minutes. That said, this one is a jam.” It sure was. It highlighted the musical theme of the tour, for me: Page with his synth sounds, Trey with his new effects, making a spacey, improvisational moment straight out of the gate.
The “You Sexy Wombat” segment may seem a little silly, but if you watch the band move into that You Sexy Thing theme while singing different lyrics, it took them no time at all, and there was no disruption or confusion. They were exchanging a few glances, but this is how telepathic they are at this point. This moment hammered that home for me.
A jammed out Halley’s Comet? The statisticians can contradict me, but I think this was the longest version since 9.18.00. And this did not disappoint. This song obviously provides a great entry point to a jam, but often it peters out as quickly as it starts. Not this one. Trey started going back to the chorus lyrics at the beginning of the jam, but you could tell by his vamping and Fishman’s driving that they weren’t going anywhere. Page and Mike push the space sounds around 6:40, and Trey continues with his soloing, instead of opting for the Jedi switch or any of the new toys. But you know he can’t resist! So he starts using that effect around 8:30, then returns back and takes it into a major key bliss jam. This is just a wonderful example of patience, and attentive listening, early on in a show.
I’ve been waiting for more Lonely Trip songs, and the title track was a welcome cool down after that jam. This set of Herman / Marshall lyrics, and the great songs they became, have been overlooked so far, but I hope they continue to be played and recognized. They have a modern, melancholic perspective at times, but there’s a lot of hope in them, too. I think this is Trey and Tom meeting halfway in the way they both approach songwriting. Can’t wait to hear more music like this.
A smoking Maze to finish the set, complete, of course, with a You Sexy Thing reprise. That’s a hell of a start, and a world of difference from night one.
My friend Patrick, who was at the show, sent this report back: “Nice step up from night one. Seemed to be testing out all the bells and whistles to get ready for AC. They played a whole lot of water songs that seemed like a better fit for this weekend, but I’m sure there’s plenty more water songs left in the tank. I have to relisten again but I’m not sure there were huge highlights we’ll relisten to over and over again. That said I’d do it every day of the week. It was a Phish concert. They are fun. I like them.”
They are fun. I really like the pattern of playing a bit of a warm up song before a big jam in set two. The Theme from the Bottom slowly built the energy, and then into this Birds. What can you say about that jam? I’ll try. It’s kind of a perfect 3.0 / 4.0 combo—similar builds and patterns but totally different sonic textures. Fishman’s drumming never slows down. One pattern I’m noticing from these shows is that the “bliss” jams, if they happen, are happening more in the middle, as opposed to the end (save the Blaze On from Deer Creek). In this Birds, it’s around 10 minutes, and then it gets darker and more spacey. Just another way they’re continuing to explore and evolve.
I’m a sucker for Bug. It’s one of my favorite songs, and I love when it comes after a huge jam (see 8.15.15 out of 46 Days). There’s something so beautiful about this song. The space that exists in the verses and chorus, the build of the solo, the release. This was a great spot for it.
In terms of the rest of the set, this is from my friend Matt: “Solid show from start to finish, not really a lull at any point. Even the Lonely Trip and Bug were perfectly placed and didn’t suck any energy from their respective sets. Halley’s was the high point for me, but Light -> Party Time > Ruby Waves was 30 minutes of heaven. CDT proved the old adage: ‘If you don’t stick the landing, just land again.’”
One more thing. I'd like to take this time to thank Trey for his amazing singing this tour. The Show of Life encore was a great example. Ever since Ghosts of the Forest, and maybe before that, he's spent so much more time and energy focusing on his singing, and it shows. Bringing soulful feeling to so many songs, it elevates every song. Keep up the amazing work.
This show had a great combination of fun and improv, new songs and old, familiar and novel. The Light -> Party Time segue was perfect, and again showed how locked in they are, how willing to explore while also never straying too far from the humor and spontaneity that made them who they are. And those two songs landing into a new(ish) jam vehicle, Ruby Waves, that built the energy up again before going into a classic, Chalk Dust Torture, is the best summation of where they are right now.
Since the pandemic, I think Phish, like all of us, are excited about a return to (relative) normalcy, while still feeling tentative at times. And we all are looking toward the future, and what it brings for us, musically, personally, professionally. I think the band and the audience are on the same page right now, celebrating where we are while continuing to push forward. I can’t wait for Atlantic City.
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