, attached to 2010-06-13

Review by waxbanks

waxbanks The Way We Were: Exactly one year ago Phish played Bonnaroo for the first time in the middle of an early summer tour that was proving mildly worrisome for fans. The written music was superb, the energy unbelievable, but - tough as it was to admit it - the improv just wasn't going deep. There were bright signs, but it wasn't until the late summer shows that the band started to embrace what was once known as 'Type II' jamming (open-ended improvisations beyond the standard individual song frameworks). Even the improvisatory blowouts of fall and winter - the Albany Seven > Ghost, the Miami GBOTT, runs of segues from early December - seemed exceptional rather than standard.

Things have changed.

Historical perspective is the first casualty of the adrenaline rush of tour, but it's clear that the boys have undergone a transformation during the long offseason, growing both individually and (especially) as a group. All three shows of Summer Tour 2010, so far, would have counted as 2009 highlights - as would a handful of individual performances from *each* show. The whole first set is top flight, but nearly every song in the second set tops its 2009 versions; it's just that kind of show. The Twist, Drowned, and especially YEM(!!) are gold-medal stuff: Trey and Fish are playing at 1999 levels of precision, vigor, and most of all *patience*, while Page and Mike are simply better in every way than they've ever been. (OK, one exception: Page's vocals.)

Patience is the key, I think, and as usual the band's transformation is in many ways Trey-centric. The Red Wizard/Magic Man often seemed jittery in '09, jumping in to arrest unusually free improvisations - witness the painful Hartford DWD/Wilson transition. But he's very much at ease here, really surrendering to the music even at the expense of last year's structural tightness. Even when he tries to pull off maneuvers that don't quite work, like *dropping* beats instead of adding them in the messily exciting first-set SOAM jam, he's right there in the moment.

There's a lot of late-90's rhythm play going on now too, though without the loss of clarity that really set in during '99/'00. Trey's making an effort to sit back during jams, freeing the other players up to take more authoritative roles. This show's Drowned and Twist jams revel in the democratic spirit that's always been a big part of Phish's music, yet sometimes gets submerged onstage, where Trey's leadership role is more or less clear from night to night.

And yeah: consider springing for one of this tour's SBD recordings from livephish.com; the balance issues of '09 have been worked out, and they're a joy to listen to.

As strongly as Fall Tour closed out, exciting as the Miami run was, Phish are simply better now than at any point since their return. If you're on the fence about catching a show this summer, just do it. Can't go wrong with Phish even on an off night, and they haven't had one of those in a while...
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