[We would like to thank Doug Kaplan, user @MrDougDoug (Twitter: @hausumountain, IG: @hausumountain) for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
What’s up wooks, custies, spinners, and spunions? It’s your boy @MrDougDoug, here to share the heady scoop on Phish’s 22nd ever show at Alpine Valley, on the day of our Lord Icculus, August 13th, 2022.
Today we’re going to focus on the notion of between-ness and liminality in the Phish experience. So we aren’t focusing on what was before, or what will be after, but that undecided, undefined space in the middle . Some of the most important rituals in the life cycle – like a wedding or graduation – celebrate the passage from what was known into the unknown and can serve as essential touchpoints, unforgettable times, moments in a box.
Conversely, some of the most mundane elements of life brim with this feeling of liminality: a doctor’s office waiting room or a train station are equally marked by their between-ness, but on a less world-altering "from-where-you-were-to-where-you’re-going"-sort-of-vibe. A liminal space brims with potential energy as one moves from what was before into what could possibly be. To exist in this sort of space in the present could be disorienting, or even a little bit frightening, like standing on the edge of a cliff. But being open to this sort of zone can provide life-altering and life-afirming experiences when you lean into embracing the unknown.
Listening to Phish, like the life events I’m describing above, is very much about between-ness. In a zoomed out listening perspective, we are constantly weighing the differences between tonight’s show and other shows on the tour, or tonight’s version of "Fluffhead" and all that came before, or weighing the differences between this Alpine run and all others, and the list goes on. Zooming inward, fans are thinking about the between-ness on a personal level: what has happened in my life between visits to Alpine Valley; how many years has it been since I last saw "Petrichor"; what is happening between me and my mind? In the moment, Phish fans are invited to embrace between-ness as the band composes in real time, inviting us to step beyond the threshold from the known to the unknown. Embracing this feeling is what we refer to as “surrendering to the flow.”
Phish took the stage at 7:36PM, instantly blowing the roof off the shed with Prince’s “1999.” My first thought was that between the 88 shows I’ve attended since 2003, I’ve seen all three performances of this track. My mind drifted to Friday night’s show in which me and my partner were in the side of the pit, looking up at the whole crowd, experiencing a very sappy and nostalgic moment as we felt transported back in time to the 1990s – between then and now everything in our lives has changed, but Alpine Valley has remained stuck in time. Between tonight and our next run at Alpine Valley, we’ll be married.
Next up we were treated to “Fluffhead,” one of the band’s most technically difficult tracks. The band has been playing "Fluff" a lot recently, and the song has been feeling much tighter than in previous years. After bringing it to the customary fist-pumping peak, the song is supposed to end with beautiful C-major chords – “but what’s that I hear? A Trey whale call delay siren? What era of Phish are we in right now? Oh that’s right, tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1999.” Between 271 performances of "Fluffhead," Phish has only attempted serious improvisation in “Fluffhead” a few precious times. As the band invites us to step beyond the threshold, tonight’s "Fluff" took on a searing, heavily-effected vibe -- changing keys a couple of times and nestling into a few tasty grooves. “But wait? Didn’t they do something very similar once upon a time on this same Wisconsin hill?” Tonight’s version was second in length only to 7/24/99’s "Fluff" – which also took on similarly brooding characteristics. “We’re going to party like it’s 1999 indeed!” And for all of the fans who were there way back in 1999 and have remained steadfast and devoted between all of the chapters of their lives, Phish wanted to remind you that you “Saw It Again,” which also was full of delayed-99-style-whale-calls, capping off an extremely self-aware and fun opening to the show. Rarely does the band exhibit this sort of knowledge of the nerdy minutiae of their performance history. They often seem so focused on constantly reinventing themselves and spend little time dwelling on the past.
The band takes a moment to leave behind their suite of coded-message songs behind them and show us a taste of the version of Phish that they are still actively inventing. “Leaves” begins and a drove of people head for the bathrooms. I reminded my friends about the very sick versions of this song performed at Jones Beach and The Baker’s Dozen and a few stay put. Lo and behold, they decided to take this ballad for a little mystical strut, rewarding the fans who were willing to let the band lead them into something new. “Leaves” seeps into a more ambient portion, and for a few moments they were in a space that’s between “Leaves” and “BOTT,” with the band mitigating a moody, spaced-out zone and a happy jaunt in a way that only Phish can do it.
A few songs later “Petrichor” appears for the first time since the pandemic-imposed hiatus. “And what’s that I feel on my head? Is it the rain coming down? But what? How could they possibly know that it’s drizzling when they’re all the way down the hill and inside? The only logical explanation is that Trey is a magical red wizard that controls the weather.” While many fans didn’t seem to like this pick, I found it to be perfectly played and gorgeous, and by the second time they said that “the rain came down” it was already past tense. The rain had stopped.
“The Squirming Coil” was up next and between all the shows I’ve seen in the last two years I hadn’t caught a single version of this song, making some tears well up. "Coil" capped off a gorgeous set, full of purpose and intent, with not a single wasted moment. But then the rain really came down and washed it all away. Set break was a very wet one, but after last week’s show at Pine Knob, where I had to remove my soaked underwear after they finally let us in the venue, this was child’s play.
The second set started off full of promise, with “Backwards Down the Number Line” taking an improvisatory ride for the first time since the early years of 3.0. As the official birthday anthem, the band invites us to consider milestone events in our lives – moments where we have an opportunity to look back and look forward in equal measure as we embrace a day of between-ness. As the band figured out how to bridge the known and unknown, the jam took on a similarly sneaky, groovy characteristic that was on display during “Leaves,” with a little bit more pep in their step. “Maze” flowed out of “Number Line,” showcasing another tightly performed, composed tune. This was perhaps the moment where the crowd was the happiest and most engaged.
“Mr. Completely” came up next and was the improvisational highlight of the second set. After the song concluded, the band quietly searched for the next motif and Trey latched onto a filthy, pitched-down, wah’d-out “Crazy Train” jam. The band dusted off some of the eviler vibes they channeled during “Fluffhead,” and in true Ozzy fashion, they really bite the head off of the bat and rain blood on us all. This passage led into some major-key, beautiful, blissful moods, as Fishman alternated between the “Mr. Completely” beat and other musings before entering into a “Weekapaug”-like segment , and then coming back into “Mr. Completely” for a nice conclusion.
“Roggae” is one of Phish’s most beautiful songs and actively invites the listener to slow down and consider all of the between-ness. “If life were easy and not so fast, I wouldn’t think about the past.” Some of the big feelings from the first set returned as the band slipped into the song, and I considered where I was in that moment, where I have been before, and where I will be soon, through all the darkness and the light.
After “Roggae”, the set kindof fell apart. Of course this is just one wook’s opinion, but the sequence of “About to Run” followed by “Waves” > “Undermind” didn’t quite put the cherry on the top of what had been a very inspired show up to this point. “About to Run,” though absolutely searing at moments, kept the set in ballad mode for a considerable portion of the song. “Waves” served a similarly mellow purpose, and “Undermind,” though always very fun, doesn’t quite compare to the only other time it closed a second set way back when our Faces Got Fucked at Dick’s. But Phish isn’t just the best at what they do - they’re the only ones who do what they do. I’m incredibly thrilled to keep Blazing On while the band plays on, dancing in the field and wearing sunglasses at night.
At the Saturday Alpine Valley show sandwiched between two other Alpine shows, Phish provided a swirling canvas of moods, feelings, and symbols, inviting me to joyously embrace the beautiful between-ness of the present moment. Though it wasn’t the apex Phish experience that I’m forever chasing, the show left me feeling grounded between what was and what will be. For other fans who allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to be open to this experience, this show, like many other Phish shows, provided ample moments in which we were invited to collectively step into the unknown, and hopefully use the opportunity to learn something about both the Phish experience and our lives outside of this bizarre hobby. Happy Sunday y’all!
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