[Thanks to Josh Martin, @JMart, for once again writing a recap for the phish.net blog. And thanks to Matt Bittmann for the sweet photos! - ed.]
Greetings, everyone, and glad tidings from New York City, where Phish played the first of four rescheduled concerts, originally slated to be played Decemeber 29th - January 1st.
Before we begin in earnest, a brief requiem for what might have been: It is overstating nothing to say that Phish in the fall of 2021 was on one of the hottest runs of the post-break up era, no matter what you choose to call it. And while comparisons to the best tours of ANY era may have been a tad premature, one can certainly forgive their being made, as such comparisons are made with the breathless exuberance of a fan who has just witnessed something great. And if you saw a Phish show last year, chances were you did. Add to that momentum the bonkers Sci-Fi Soldiers numerology that Phish started laying on the audience during the Halloween run (4680 days from 3/6/09 to 12/31/21, etc.) and one can’t help but be a bit sad for what might have happened if those dates had gone off as planned. That having been said, if the last two-plus years have taught anyone anything about life, it is that there are things that are simply out of our control and it is our charge to deal with that uncertainty as best as we’re able.
There was no 12/29/21 show, but there was a 4/20/22 show, and that show started at the shockingly early hour of 8:07 PM with “Carini.” Given the level of 4/20-related chatter that had been going on for the past few months, it’s doubtful that very many heads had this as the run opener. This subversive “Carini” modulated is its way out of the dark into a pleasant, if familiar, sonic space. Around 7:30 Trey started upping the ante and Mike was quick to follow. Page jumped on clavinet for a few bars of something that was starting to sound very sinister, but was quickly nixed for a return to calmer pastures. There Trey and Mike fell into two beautiful melodic runs that coalesced into a propulsive chop, beautifully segueing into “Possum.”
It is true that “Possum” rarely enters the conversation of most interesting songs in the Phish catalog. Even the most ardent cynic will have a hard time finding fault with this version. Page started the party off with an uncharacteristically lengthy solo. Never one to be outdone, Trey started a slow burn and brought his solo off with a precision and clarity he rarely affords this song. Something happened several minutes into “The Moma Dance”: everyone seemed caught off guard when Trey started singing the first lines, setting the mood for what would be a noteworthy reading of one of Phish’s most often played songs. One would be hard pressed to name a version as subdued as this one, and even more hard pressed to name a version that went unfinished, segueing instead into “Leaves.” No song happens in a vacuum, and “Leaves” can be seen as giving voice to where Phish has arrived psychically over the past 13 years. For a band that spent the first half of its career running away from traditional expressions of sentiment, they seem quite determined to reside there now. Those efforts are met with varying levels of success. While in no way is “Leaves” a bad song, it probably didn’t belong smack dab in the middle of the first set of the run-opening show.
Nor did, for that matter, “Strange Design.” One may feel a bit reluctant to take issue with such a classic 1.0 song, especially since it has become such a rarity recently, but its placement deeply bruised the set’s momentum. “Stash” to the rescue. After a fairly tentative beginning, “Stash” wasted no time getting serious. Here we call Mike’s name for the first time, as he effectively led the jam with well punctuated, aggressive bombs to complement Trey’s moment of nasty shredding. Were it not for the sheer length of “Carini,” this would have been the highlight of the first set. Given the aforementioned serendipity of band, date, and venue, calls for “Blaze On” were loud and frequent, and here met with an energetic, if somewhat succinct, version to close the first set.
Continuing the trend established in summer 2021 of opening the second set with a short song followed by a heavy jammer, Phish paired “Sigma Oasis” with “Down with Disease.” For length, girth, and execution, this 23-minute "Disease" was the clear highlight of the set and the evening. Out of the break, the jam stayed close to the cuff before modulating to a happier place at 11 minutes in. From there Trey hopped on a descending riff, followed shortly thereafter by Page, coasting into a jam reminiscent of the 12/29/18 “Tweezer.” A final swing back into "Disease" capped a fantastic musical odyssey, the sort of which you pay your money to see. After the absolute spectacle that was the unveiling of Sci-Fi Soldiers in Las Vegas, one was left to wonder exactly how (and how well) those songs would translate during a normal Phish show. “The Howling” offered an emphatic, nasty answer to the question, riding a stellar groove that could have been lifted from “2001.” “The Howling” deftly segued into “Twist,” the third such remarkable transition of the evening. "Twist" itself never strayed far from home and featured several nifty melodic ideas from Trey and Mike. “Mountains In the Mist” served as the mid-set cool down, followed by a rare late second-set “Reba.”
Over the years, Phish has moved through a truly dizzying number of musical styles that heavily influence how their songs are played. In the best sense of the words, “Reba” remains almost impervious to change. For as long as it has been a part of Phish’s repertoire, it has served as a testament to the power and beauty of Phish’s improvisational brilliance. Piano, bass, guitar, and drums. Amplified but otherwise unadorned. This version probably won’t make the Jam Charts, but it was still a very special moment to witness in person and a great example of why all of us do all that we do to be in the room with our band. In “Drift While You’re Sleeping,” one may find faults similar to those in “Leaves,” the most common and saddest of which is that’s it’s not a Phish song in the broadest sense. There are no kooky lyrics nor dazzling instrumental passages. Which is a bit of a shame, because, despite what it’s not, “Drift While You’re Sleeping” is still a well-written song about one man earnestly grappling with the one sure thing in this life: that it will end. After a “Gumbo” and “Slave to the Traffic Light” encore, it was easy to walk away from this show feeling satisfied. This evening wasn’t splattered with ridiculous highlights, but it still served as a nice warmup for what promises to be a very enjoyable run. See you tomorrow night!
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