You know it when you see it, but it is still hard to put into words. “It’s real, but, in a different way,” I might say to someone who asks what magic is, “Your eyes and ears say, ‘absolutely,’ while your brain and logic say, ‘that can’t be,’” and neither are correct. Or maybe both are. Magic fills us with a sense of wonder about the world: a sense that beyond the surface of somethings, all things, radiates whole other worlds of timelessness and innocence for us to observe, but only through the right lens.
Logic and rationality no longer seem applicable or appropriate when magic is around. Magic supplants a new reality---a much better one, I will add---to our existence. Phish shows are one such lens that shows us magic is real. Vibrations and light and people come together to form experiences and memories that transcend what daily life is like; for most, at least. And that’s magic. For three hours a night, a handful of nights a year, we can experience magic, and we did tonight.
“46 Days” shimmies itself into the opening slot. The song acts like it owns the joint, with thick, grotty notes growling out of Trey’s guitar. Trudging through a morass of deep purple hues, a fog descends onto the jam. Intense and ominous vibrations howl through the PA as Trey lets out a sustained note that strikes back into the “46 Days” refrain.
“Party Time” fits perfectly as the second song, as it allows for minimum vibe leakage from a “46 Days” jam that sounded like it could have grown much gnarlier. Nonetheless, this bright jam starts out with Page swingin' on his piano like he was playing for tips in a New Orleans club. Trey sees the jar overflowing, and adds fistfuls of slippery notes into the jar with a wink and a nudge, “I got you, Page.” Fishman adds to the gratuity with a bevy of rabbit punches on the snare, and our cup, or, jar, runneth over! Ha! The rich get richer! Snazzy, snappy playing define this fun-filled, light-weight tune.
“Steam” slinks its way into the third song of the evening, and Portland rock juggernaut Jenny Sizzler’s glasses begin to fog up. Whether this was from the music or his onslaught of highly controversial dance moves, your author will never know. What I do know is that drops of sweat mimicked the drops of bulbous, subsurface, aqueous notes from Mike and Trey. Notes which buoy the jam from the depths of a dark sky. While short, there was no shortage of breath when this horse's nostrils ssssssteam.
“Timber” creeps out of the lingering mist and rumbles into the set, continuing the foray of flowy and fluid song selection. Fishman excavates earth with his floor toms, and the Colorado School of Mines offers him a full-ride scholarship for his magnificent subterranean playing. Mike and Trey drip gemstones of indigo blue into the chasms and caves Fish leaves behind, but all too quickly Trey guides his band out of the song and onto “Yarmouth Road.” The bouncy, off-kilter Mike tune did not add much to the set, instead bridging the opening quartet of fluidly-linked tunes, as well as the song-chaser’s trio that followed:
”Foam!” I yelled to my show neighbors, who furrowed their brows in a vain attempt to catch-up to my savant-esque mind. "If only this sort of knowledge were applicable in the real world," I say to myself as they slowly back away ::sigh:: Well, if I learned anything from the opening paragraph above, it’s that reality can be whatever we want it to be. As bland or as magical as we can imagine, if only we have the courage to do so. “Foam's” composition was not the cleanest, but it was not offensive, either. Page’s jazzy solo evoked imagery of a warm pond on a bright spring day. And then when it’s Trey’s turn to lead, his notes tiptoed like raindrops on lilypads, delicate and light, soft and free. The hallmark solos were each way-too-truncated for my taste, but put your pitchworks away, fine reader, as the song fit the set perfectly.
Continuing with the magical feel and flow of the first set, Phish pulled a rabbit out of its hat. No, “That’s no rabbit…” said the fine gentleman with dishplate pupils, staring out into the crowd, opposite the band. "I’ll have what he’s having. And make it a double!" While his fauna identification may be incorrect, Phish playing the long-sought animal tune “Vultures” is a true delight to those facing the band and those facing an existential crisis at the show. That’s magic, baby! While the song was well-played and energized, yet another truncated solo section left just-a-little-too-much to be desired. But, honestly, I cannot complain in any “valid” capacity about the strength of the set so far.
Trey then briefly paused to wish the crowd a happy 10th anniversary from the first time they played at Dick’s in 2011. A decade!? Really?? Have we grown so old, matured so quickly? Well, clearly not matured, as Trey exclaimed, “We love Dick’s! You love Dick’s?” Which, of course, was met with '90's sitcom-esque hooting and hollering from the 20,000 of us sexually-charged individuals in attendance. My pants have left the chat.
A short but sweet “Pebbles and Marbles” permeated into the set, creating a pocket of emotional introspection of the last decade of memories. Memories that might have happened a show ago, or a tour ago, or a year ago, or a decade ago… all of which are real, now, in our minds. Friends from all corners of the country; moments that live in all corners of our minds and souls; music that fills every corner of our spirit; all existing together, as one, at a Phish show. That’s magic. Time has no place here; we are free of time. We live in these eternal memories, at least if we are brave enough to choose to.
“Carini” is unleashed upon us like goblins from Moria. An initial maelstrom of dissonance and distortion, Trey effortlessly guides the music into sweeping meadows and lush grassland. Wispy clouds float up from the music, giving halos to the rocky crags of Page’s heavy synth use. The dichotomy of styles here---Page’s hard-edged tone, and Trey’s bright, sun-dappled licks---provide harmonic and sonic balance, cosmic unity. Differing styles that compliment each other perfectly. Turquoise blue hues from Trey clash against thunderstorm purples from Page, but the jam gallops on! Such focus! The music descends into darkness, a blacksmith’s anvil and hammer seemingly leading the way. Pounding, pulsing, spacey funk surges from the PA and my pants, which are now long gone, sent me a "Dear John" letter saying they have no use for me ever again. The feeling is mutual, pants, I assure you. Sparks fly with each punishing measure, and the sparks ignite Trey yet again. A lick of rainbows and delight spring the jam into a blissful peak, radiating joy and wonder for a brief, timeless moment before Trey launches back into the “Carini” riff to close the set. Wow! Some people prefer their brains fried. Me? Mine is sunny-side up, but no matter how you take your brains, this set was a smorgasbord of delicacies for any Phish fan.
What is fun, for me, is to listen to setbreak. That is, listen when I’m not sitting there wondering, “Is that moving?” or, “Is that supposed to be moving?” or, “Am I die yet?” Rather, listening to the conversations happening around me. Listening to the people exclaim that this was the best set they’ve seen, or the best of the tour, or other hyperbole that belongs right at home in this review. While I do not necessarily agree, the magic that can stitch together any set, in anyone’s mind, to make it seem like, in their eyes and ears, “Yeah, this was the best ever,” is indeed magical. I’ve been there, I’ve felt that, and none of us have ever been wrong. Everyone in the crowd is on the Phish Honor Roll, and some guy in the parking lot is about to make millions selling bumper stickers that proclaim as much. Ha! The rich get richer yet again!
“Rise/Come Together” was not a good choice to open the second set. That is all I have to say about that. “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” was a slightly better choice, with deep navy hues enveloping a swatch of still ocean on a moonless night. Ominous fog crept over the jam, eerie and unnerving. A delve into terrorizing ambiance seemed inevitable, but Trey, perhaps a little scared himself, aborted the disquieting dissonance for the tropical warmth of “Chalk Dust Torture.”
“Chalk Dust” then charged out of the refrain, and was met with a veritable waterfall of glowsticks raining down from the upper deck, Lot side. Each arc of color danced devilishly with the arcs of free-flowing notes from Trey’s guitar. Like a rattlesnake in a Western, Trey recoiled and struck again at the peak, lightning fast, razor precise. A volley of triumph spilled over into dissonance in the second-jam of “CDT,” where Mike laid down the foundation of what could have been “Manteca” teases, as Trey dropped opaque, molten notes over the newly-forming pocket. Sky and Earth merged in a cosmic ballet as Page’s synths once again took charge of a jam, this jam. Fishman shoveled boulders of dense, heavy notes behind his kit, throwing them into the sky with violent grace. With impeccable feel and timing, Fish then switched over to his snare, propelling winds of melody from Trey. Mike swooped in like an eagle riding an updraft, and the foursome danced around each other with comically perfect execution and spacing. Mike again took over, feasting on the deep rhythmic pocket being created for him by his friends. The crowd answered, volleying our most controversial dance moves of the evening at the band, as the band pulsed and surged onward into dark and jagged space. Yet, all the while the music faded, fades, almost unnoticed at first, past the darkness, past the tension, and into “Beneath of a Sea of Stars Part 1.”
An ironic overcast lingered over the venue after an afternoon full of sunbeams and smiles. But with magic, we must learn to see, not using our eyes. Intrepid, free minds coalesce beyond the clouds as “BASOS” floated like a feather in the summertime, carefree, immersed in the dance of the breeze.
Music can take you to distant epochs and places that once were, or are yet to be, coexisting magically within vibrating air. That’s magic. And we are there, in it, tonight; within those places that exist beyond our eyes and ears, and beneath a sea of stars. Within the world of magic.
“Light” burst from the calmness and Trey immediately turned on that tone - you know the one - the one that’s dirtier than a cowboy’s underpants. The scuzzy tone that’s so dirty, soap bubbles everywhere just put in their two weeks. That tone that, had I still been wearing pants, would have cost me the use of them, entirely and unequivocally. No refunds. The jam presses on like a locomotive running on strobe light, and just when it seemed to be primed for explosion, Trey sweeps the jam off its feet and into “Plasma”. Like an Italian tailor, Trey adeptly weaves “Plasma,” “Party Time,” “CDT,” and elements of “46 Days” into one, cohesive, fun-filled mashup. Four for the price of one! Who said, “No deals (my guy)!?” Fishman is jostling around his drumkit like raccoons in a trashcan, and the music overflows with giddiness and youthfulness. We are having entirely too much fun, and that’s the whole point, isn’t it, “Don’t under-do it.” Words to live by.
“Runaway Jim” bounded its way out of the preceding free-for-all, continuing the light-hearted, smile-inducing feel of the middle of this very strong set. Although “Jim” was entirely ordinary on its own, it fit into the set with perfect balance and placement, complete with a satisfying, one might even call "ordinary," peak. Making no wrong moves, Trey then slid the band into “Slave to the Traffic Light.”
“Slave” was serenity. Meditation. Calm. Airy notes of starshine and dreamdust speckled the intensifying build. Mike, thunders. Page, floats. Fishman, soothes, Trey, dreams. The music, grows. They swirled around each other, orbiting the fast-approaching peak with which they struck in unison, in perfect harmony. One build, two builds, three builds, and a courageous Trey exploded with one final cascade of triumphant notes and blissful energy, as the band wound down, then took a bow, and headed offstage. Magic.
“Cavern” opened the triune encore with a raucous, yet entirely usual, version. There was no need for anything else at this point, we had been given our fill. “Waste” provided a beautiful respite to reflect on our evening, hug our friends, and wish with our hearts that we will hold and kiss and smile and laugh with our person, the one we want to waste our time with.
My heart sings, “This feeling is wonderful, don’t you ever turn it off,” as thoughts and memories made of magic bounced between my mind and soul.
“Good Times Bad Times” then set the venue ablaze with what has to be one of the finer versions of the last decade of Phish, as we culminate the night of flow and fluidity, energy and passion, fun and funk, with one word, the only word that matters in times like these: magic.
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