, attached to 2014-04-26

Review by Piper72

Piper72 This was my 22nd show and my girlfriend's second. The whole weekend was practically a fluke, in that the transition from just talking about doing Jazz Fest to actually finding out we COULD do it was seamlessly surreal. We rode an Amtrak 23 hours from Chicago to New Orleans on the very train Arlo sang about over forty years ago, and in fact had that song and others loaded on a playlist I played throughout the trip. We finally got to our hotel about 9pm Friday, had time to hit a neighborhood bar (Igor's - some of the best burgers around) and walk around Garden District with the novelty of holding open beers. (We even asked a cop if ok, with the excellent response of "Oh sure - longs as you don't act a fool!") I was starting to like this town already.
We headed down to the fest the following afternoon. We had bought the Festival Express tickets that included our festival admission. Our hotel was close enough that one streetcar or bus to Canal St was all it took. However, half the streetcar lines were still under construction so we ended up walking most of the way. Nice day for it, tho, and we enjoyed the 80 degree breeze and a couple tall boys as a schoolbus took us through some ramshackle neighborhoods to the fest. Once there, all running and smiles and more beers (reasonably priced!) and the unbelievable realization that we were here, at Jazz Fest! In New Orleans!! We joined a parade in the Jazz and Heritage tent, danced out and into a quick food line for some Alligator Pie and fried green tomatoes, and headed over to the Acura Stage.
We didn't have too high expectations for Phish. I knew they'd have good chops from being the last couple months in the studio, and I knew she'd enjoy it just for the fact her last show was in Cedar Rapids in 1995. (Our room # even reflected the date - 1020 or 10/20 - a cool coincidence.) The anticipation was still high, among us and our new friends around us. I expected at least one guest - Santana was a good bet - and some horns.) First things to notice was lack of a lighting rig - they'd be riding kinda dirty - and also the VIP section gated off right in the front. We could only get as close as the first gated off section. But then - there they were! The boys all close up, the first time I'd laid my own eyes on them without the aid of a screen in years. Like being in the shadows of giants. Opening notes of KDF and we were all dancing, and didn't stop until set break. We were treated to a laid back and precise first set. Notables were Rift, Moma, Party Time, 46 Days and Zero. Trey was down in the mix but his lines were punchy and fluid. Was happy to hear very little whammy pedal. Fish and Mike were a freight train of funk and Page played soulfully and aggressively - "Page is the new Trey", I said at one point. He tends to confidently take his solos home, whereas Trey seems to be about building song dynamics and filling in space with smooth melodies. Above average and well-played set. Second set brought the fun stuff, not the fireworks I was expecting from the last Fall run but some nice adventures, specifically in DWD, Light and Sand. In terms of placement, the order of Birds, Twist, Sparkle and Free made a nice "gumbo". Sparkle and Free, especially, were tight and nice vocally, with Trey keeping up with the speed of Sparkle and not drifting his note in Free. Hood was tamer than previous versions but had a nice build and satisfying conclusion. "Grind" was nice to finally see, and my gf got a kick out of because her last show had a cappella "Hello My Baby" and "Amazing Grace". Julius was a nice way to cap off a fun, satisfying, tight set. Afterwards, we nixed our return tickets on the Festival bus because they switched the departure points and the line became epically long, and took a bus/streetcar combo that a staff member pointed out to us and got back just in time for a relaxing and much-needed dip in the outdoor hot tub.
I give 3 stars for the tameness of the set but it really was enjoyable, and they were really together and virtually flub-free. A lot of people complained about how terrible it was but it really wasn't. It was more for a festival crowd, but I didn't feel let down. The song selection was good, with a few throwbacks to '96, some longer jams and exploring, and a lot of well-played songs showcasing their storied history. Listening to the Live Phish SBD on the way home, I was impressed by the improved mix and how good the show really was, that wasn't as well represented by front-of-house at the venue. It's certainly one worth revisiting, and made mine and my girlfriend's first time to Jazz Fest and to New Orleans a memorable one.
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