[We'd like to thank Jennifer Moore (Twitter: @rowjenny) for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
Everyone knows what happened last night, so part of me feels like this entire review should just be WOWZA!!!!! Nothing I can write here can encapsulate the musical magic of this very special Saturday evening in Saratoga.
Last night, Phish played their second performance of the weekend at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Both shows were benefit shows to raise money to help people in Vermont and Upstate New York who were affected by catastrophic flooding in July. Phish and their charity organization, the Waterwheel Foundation, put these special shows together in a matter of weeks, complete with two acoustic preshow performances by Page and Trey.
We were fortunate to score pit tickets for the Saturday SPAC show. The SPAC pit is small (capacity 150), and in the dozens of times I have been to a concert at SPAC, I have only been in the pit a few times before. We entered the early entry lottery and scored numbers 3 and 4!!!!!!!
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the process, Phish has an online lottery to determine the order people walk into the pit. You sign up online two days before the show (with a plus one), and they notify you if you have gotten a number in the cue the next day. You are walked into the pit in number order, very slowly (NO RUNNING!) and the process is easy, polite and civilized. We attended the Foundation preshow event, and immediately after the acoustic set, lined up with the rest of the folks with pit tickets to walk into the pit. We lined up in number order, and as we waited for security to walk us in, number 1 and number 2 were nowhere to be found. I don’t know who doesn’t show up with #1 and #2!?!? But that meant we were first into the pit this night. (This is where I will point out that everything I say from here on in is obviously sprinkled with a GIANT dose of attendance bias. The night speaks for itself, though!)
We chose the Trey spot (DUH!) and I could not have been more thrilled when the band walked on stage at 8:03pm. Quite literally the stuff Phish dreams are made of! My favorite band at my hometown venue, playing to help people in my chosen home state of Vermont, and I am in the absolute best spot I could choose. SO GRATEFUL! On top of it, there was a lot of chatter before the show about an extra monitor on stage, and a heavy rumor that Derek Trucks was going to sit in.
"Free" opened the first set, dropping quickly into the Mike bass section, thick and deep grooves to start the evening. Fishman was sporting a new dress again, this one with donuts shaped like waves crashing, as he laid down the grooves and fills for a short, sweet fiery Trey solo. "Wolfman’s Brother" was up next, light and bouncy to start, with a delicious Trey led jam that quickly ascends into some blistering runs. Tight and focused was going to be the theme of this set, with the "Wolfman’s" clocking in around the 8 minute mark. "Maze" comes next, and Trey is already bouncing and jumping a little during Fishman’s intro. Trey laid on some of his new vocal stylings while the song heats up prior to what I like to call the chaos jam (when Page and Trey take turns destroying your sense of space and time until you are lost in a maze of complete and utter chaos). "Maze" is also tight and short, but leads right into "Sigma Oasis", a light and ethereal counterpoint to the depths of "Maze." After "Sigma Oasis," the new song "Pillow Jets" appears for only the second time (at Phish), which evokes lightness (pillows!) and sweetness, but is punctuated with darkness (conjurers of thunder). Eight to nine minutes is the sweet spot for song length in this set, and "Pillow Jets" is no exception. "Tube" comes next and is the highlight of the first set for me. There is nothing like a wook-town groove-down to "Tube." I don’t know if the Tube hit the “did Tube jam” mark but it was ferocious. An unusual first set "Twist" followed, perhaps the sexiest song in Phish’s repertoire. Slinky and sultry "Twist," yes, please, now not only with WOOS but Trey kicks to accentuate those woos he loves so much (he doesn’t care what your opinion is on woos). Another first set surprise, "Hood," to close the first set! What an incredible uplifting way to end a tight and deliberate first set.
Setbreak seemed quick, and as the band walked on for Set 2, Trey gave my guy props for his Jah Volunteer shirt (HAHA!) and quickly, the dissonant opening to "Disease" rises up and we’re in for a treat. Fishman has changed into another new dress, this one with life preservers as the donuts. There is nothing in the world quite like the "Disease" riff that explodes into the jam. This disease started in the uplifting bliss joy realm, Trey leading us into a light and ethereal space for a few minutes until the mood turns dark and broody as the band segues seamlessly into "Ghost" around the twelve minute mark. "Ghost" never disappoints and this one is a must hear. "Disease" never returns, and "Ghost" takes some unique and different twists and turns and emerges from the depths into another outstanding bliss jam. If "Tube" was the wookalicious dance song in the first set, "2001" comes out of "Ghost" to wook up the second set. "2001" dance party may just be the best dance party on the planet, and this one is no exception, turning SPAC into a giant disco ball of grooves.
Quickly after the "2001" ends, two guys bring out an extra set of monitors on the Mike side of Fish, and it is GAME ON for a special guest, who is none other than Derek Trucks. Anything I say here about the rest of the show will fall flat. Other times when I’ve seen a special guest sit in with Phish, the appearance is sweet but doesn’t always gel with the vibe of the rest of the show. Not the case with Derek Trucks. This man was made to play with this band, and this is absolutely my favorite sit in at a Phish show ever. Plus, Trey looked absolutely in love with Derek the entire time he was on stage. Derek looks pretty enamored with Trey, too. The amount of connection and shared love between the two guitarists is incredibly obvious the entire time they are on stage together.
(Apologies to Mike and Fish and Page for the guitar focus on this section but it is really all about the guitars tonight).
I am assuming Derek will play some Allman Brothers or other classic rock with Phish, but no, as Derek walks on, they start "Golden Age." WHAT?!?!?! Derek takes the first lead moment after the first verse -and hot damn, maybe Phish should add a second guitarist. When Derek takes a slide solo after the verses are sung, it is a joy ride to heaven that almost takes my breath away. Modern Allman Brothers meets indie rock bliss jam. Best "Golden Age" by Phish ever? Toward the end of the 13 minute song, it was absolutely epic to hear Derek and Trey trade licks and listen and riff off of each other, all while watching from a few feet away. I can’t get over how intimately the two guitarists can communicate and have an entire conversation using their guitars as their voices (rewatch the webcast to see me filming the end of the "Golden Age" jam ha!). Derek’s playing is so rich and textured and pure, layered on Trey’s snarly tone and this is the stuff that rock guitar dreams are made of. Derek takes another smoking solo toward the end of the song and my whole body has officially melted into a puddle.
Is Derek just coming out for a song? OH NO HE IS NOT. "Everything’s Right" comes immediately, and you can tell Derek is stoked to be playing this one. Call this song Trey’s dad rock if you want, but the world could use a whole hell of a lot more love and light right now. I’ve loved this song from the beginning, not just for its positive message of hope, but also because it delivers the musical goods. (Funny personal moment, I danced next to my friend Maggie all night and as happens, I stepped on her feet a lot as I was dancing, constantly apologizing for the whole show. We both were singing the line “try not to step on your best friend’s feet” and happened to glance over at each other just then and laughed hysterically and embraced in a sweaty joyful hug.)
Derek punctuates the beginning of the jam with more filthy slide madness, ripping and turning to Trey while Trey takes his turn at destroying his solo, then alternating back and forth until it settles into a quieter and more delicate section, and they are pretty much sounds playing "Blue Sky," and Kuroda even turns the lights turn blue. Trey and Derek pick back up the beastly shredding to wrap up the song before the band drops back into the lyrics. I can’t even believe this is happening. Guitar god shit. Trey introduces Derek, who IS STILL ON STAGE, and "Life Beyond a Dream" is a sweet contrast to the rest of the sit in so far. This song pulls hard on the heart strings. Trey sings with such raw emotion, it is as if he’s singing right to C Cott (RIP).
"First Tube." FIRST TUBE!!!!! THEY ARE HARMONIZING THE FIRST TUBE RIFF ON GUITAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! That is my biggest take away from this absolutely must listen, possibly best version ever of this song. I am honestly speechless on this one. GOOD LORD TREY IS JUMPING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Derek slays his solo, turns back to Trey for his, and the second set wraps with Trey’s guitar god offering. What an incredibly special and amazing show.
Will they encore with "Whipping Post" or some other Allmans Song? No, they are gonna slay "Possum." But they are going to start it before Mike is even on stage (what?). Mike works quickly to get plugged in and ready while the rest of the band sticks in the intro until he is ready. "Possum" is a song built for twangy southern rock vibes, perfect for Derek. Derek focuses on Mike for the first time, adding little slide flourishes to Mike’s bouncing groove. Page takes the first solo of the song, sweetly stretching out the theme of the song while Trey follows. Trey gives the nod to Derek next, who takes his turn destroying the song. I mouthed “this is awesome” to Trey and he nodded and smiled and laughed!! Derek passes the jam back to Trey, who is snarling while he rips through until a blistering guitar duel to close this incredible evening.
SO GRATEFUL YOU GUYS!!!!
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