Sometimes things just fall into place. After decades of seeing Phish, we all have our preferences. Our quirks. Our routines. Our horrible opinions. And every show is someone's favorite. For a variety of reasons, Tuesday's show didn't flow for me like it did for a lot of people. Partially because I was distracted by a hilarious game of whack-a-wook between a security guard and a box that was empty for most of the night. Every time someone came into the box, they were so happy—they were the first person to ever think of sneaking into a box! And then within 30 seconds, the security guy was back. Two minutes later, a new trailblazer appears. Rinse, repeat.
After a couple of fun days of post-show / pre-show / bus rides in partnership with the Ardmore Music Hall, we rolled into The Mann ready to soak in the second night of the run. Probably goes without saying, but what the hell: The Mann is amazing. Beautiful venue, great staff, great sound, great surroundings. The lot scene is among the best, and the band is clearly comfortable and happy coming back to this venue. I know there are Camden defenders out there, but The Mann is the best.
"Mike's Song" to open was a nice way to settle in, and the transition into "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and then BACK into "Mike's Song" showed an ease of effort but also a willingness to have fun and go off the beaten path a little bit. (First ever "Mike's" followed by "Boogie On" for those keeping track). The purists get their "I Am Hydrogen," and close it out with a classic, straightforward "Weekapaug Groove."
So here's where things can go either way. Maybe you don't love "Army of One." I happen to love it. Only played 27 times, last time at MSG on 4/22/22. Next comes "Mound," keeping this old-school feel to the show, and another first time played in 2023. As an aside, during the clapping portion of "Mound" I was thinking that if this was your first show, you'd be wondering what the hell is going on. And we saw neighbors there who were at their first show. At setbreak, they said "it's pretty weird." Indeed.
We get a slighlty extended, unfinished "The Moma Dance" into a "Prince Caspian." We were loving the song choices, and as I will happily tell anyone, we were extremely psyched to hear "Backwards Down the Number Line." Trey gave a shout out to Kuroda for his birthday. It was also my wife's birthday at midnight, so we celebrated her as well. This whole set had the feel of a celebration. A growly "About to Run" and a really well played "Fluffhead" ended what I think was a really cohesive, fun, and well-constructed first set.
This "Fluffhead" reminded me that we've seen very few flubs in composed parts of songs this tour. They're clearly practicing these songs and putting a lot of effort into delivering them well. That and the "Mound" in the first set reminded me of this point. The "Walls of the Cave" from Tuesday was kind of a train wreck, but I love that it didn't seem to get to them. They recovered well with the "46 Days" that closed out that set. I don't pay a lot of attention to flubs, or lack thereof, but if you are that kind of person, you are probably feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good about the playing on this tour so far.
Set 2 opens with "Set Your Soul Free," which I thought was going to be the jam of the night, but the monster shows up. Multi-part, fascinating, intriguging "Carini." This rarely, if ever, disappoints, and this was no exception. About 5 minutes in we get Trey chord jamming into some soloing, with Page backing him up on the synths. Seems like we’re heading toward a bliss peak, with Mike and Fish keeping the tempo a little slower. We've talked on our podcast a lot about whether these major-key "bliss jams" are an easy place to go, or an easy way out of a jam. To be clear, none of this is easy, but building a peak that makes the crowd go wild and makes everyone feel great seems like a good move for a rock band.
But instead of pushing harder, they start to go back a little bit into a quieter, more contemplative space. I've noticed a lot more of this dark, patient playing since the Trey Trio shows in Denver a couple months back. In this "Carini," they show incredible patience, spending the next 5 minutes building slowly and organically toward a great Trey led peak. The payoff here is just phenomenal, becuase we went on a slightly longer journey with them to this peak. But that's not all!
About 12 minutes in we drop into a slightly darker, funky groove. Full band communication is in full swing, and we push into a bit more of a blues direction, but everyone is fully part of the conversation. And then around 18 minutes we get another peak that came out of this awesome period of listening. Multi-part, multi-peak, just a stellar jam.
Trey's playing this tour has just been incredible. He's leading a lot more of these jams with soloing, as opposed to using effects to enhance and influence the improv. Sometimes when he uses those low-end effects, it sounds like he ends up on a sort of island, with the rest of the band trying to figure out how to get back and support it. And those jams end up just dissipating. But this tour, he's guiding these jams really well with clean and powerful guitar playing. 40 years in. Hot damn.
"Joy" is just an absolutely perfect landing post-"Carini." The "Golden Age" features more of Trey leading in a laid-back, almost calypso-type groove, before quieting down and dropping into "Limb By Limb." This may have seen like a questionable drop for those watching at home, but like everything in the show, this just hit perfectly. Another breather before we wind down the set with "Golgi Apparatus" and "Harry Hood," my personal favorite song to hear at a show.
My wife is a huge fan of "Life Beyond A Dream," and "Run Like An Antelope" was the most memorable moment of my first show in 1995. This balance of honoring the catalog and pushing things forward is just a really inspiring thing to watch. As we took the bus back to Ardmore Music Hall and made it hope to relieve the babysitter, we were just basking in the afterglow of this experience. Songs we love, with my oldest friend who was visiting, and an atmosphere like The Mann, just combined to create a special evening. Maybe it was someone's least favorite show. But that's how it goes. Embrace it.
Can't wait to see what they do at MSG.
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