, attached to 2014-07-20

Review by solargarlic78

solargarlic78 https://medium.com/@solargarlicband/the-closer-review-7-20-14-5983ff23aed4

The Closer: Review 7/20/14
A Spectacular End to a Three Night Run

Like Saturday night, Phish saved the highlights for the fourth quarter. But, unlike Saturday night (a) the first three quarters had enough substance to not overly pressure the fourth and (b) the fourth quarter highlights were even more spectacular and unexpected. When Phish busted into “Wedge” out of Mike’s, I won’t lie — I was utterly unenthused with the song selection. Not only was it the fourth “Wedge” of tour, but it came on the heels of an interesting but short lived and one dimensional DWD and yet another (fiery) in the box “Mike’s.” Of course, no one would have expected Phish to play a 15 minute jam on Wedge. But that jam brings up another interesting question — do we evaluate jams on their pure musical merits, or does the context or unexpectedness of their “song” attachment matter? After the show last night, all the talk was about “The Wedge,” but for sheer musical inventiveness, in my view, the “Ghost” was the highlight. But, how many extra points does the “Wedge” jam get for simply being unexpected? I don’t really have a good answer, but my main point is: don’t forget this “Ghost.” This song has been the undisputed (well, in my opinion anyway) MVP of Summer 2014, but this version is like none of the others.

It’s amazing how a simple rare opening song — “Gumbo” (first since 1998) — and a bustout in the third slot — the wonderful, “Tela” (damn you @LivePhish…damn you to hell) — can quickly reinvigorate the stale and repetitive first set juices. The “Gumbo” not only included the funk breakdown that it has had since Fall ’13, but also featured the standard (and recently abandoned) “ragtimey” (don’t look that up) piano outro. “Runaway Jim” is my favorite opener and the two slot is great too — this version was quiet and patient. A good sign for the night ahead (even if it didn’t build to a particularly raging peak). “Tela” was well played, even if Trey kind of flubbed the final melodic line of the song (of course that was the exact moment my stream kicked back on). “Scent of a Mule” was just weird — the three band members congregated around the drums while Fish played his Marimba Lumina. Page inexplicably held out candles at one point, as if to provide mood lighting for the ongoing insanity. I don’t expect this one has much replay value. The “Bathtub Gin” marks the second-in-a-row in the box set 1 version. As usual, this one featured a glorious peak, and a “Scent” tease taboot. A horseless “Silent in the Morning” and a standard rip-roaring “Maze” followed — a nice Rift combo. I will defend “Ocelot” to the end — once again this slow blues drone jam featured dynamic interplay between the members. This one was more “peaky” than usual; and was the first song where I began to notice that Trey was employing a particularly fierce rock tone this night (for the guitarists, a lot of ‘bridge’ pickup, snarling blues licks, and power chords). “Wall of the Cave” has really developed into an amazing closer. The jam just explodes with the combination of Trey shredding and the use of his loops (and echo-plex) to create a raging texture of sound. All and all, an enjoyable if imperfect first set (but definitely the best one since Cmac).

The ‘history’ written about the 2014 Chicago run hinged on what happened in set 2. And, it got off to an inauspicious start. While certainly not as frustrating as the rip corded “Carini” on Saturday, the opening DWD jam simply lacked “oomph.” Much like the “Light” Saturday, it sort of meandered along through different rhythmic grooves. To be sure it was enjoyable, but never really “went” anywhere that could build to anything substantial. The segue into “Winterqueen” was effective and you should all enjoy it while this song is still fresh. The outro jam felt longer and more spacious and interesting than normal. Next came “Mike’s Song” and, given its inability to ‘open up’ lately (meaning the last decade at least), I had the distinct feeling this set was headed in the similar underwhelming direction of CMAC, Pine Knob, and Chicago 2. No second jam again, but this was a fiery Mike’s. Again, Trey’s rock tone was really working to create really nasty licks and runs. When “Wedge” kicked in I was ready to hang it up on the set. Boy was I wrong. I commented in an earlier review about how the “Wedge” is really a dynamic groove based in Fish’s very complicated drumming pattern. Phish has been playing it looser in my view this tour — so maybe we should’ve seen this coming. All it took was Trey repeating a note over and over again to create a hypnotic space that forces the rest of the band “out” of the Wedge chords. Page picked up on it immediately and blast off. The first half of this jam was more rhythm-groove based ala the DWD. Once again, the settled on a two beat hit pattern that created a structured groove. Page seemed to be toying with some “Crosseyed” teases on the clav (to my ear anyway) and Trey was stabbing along on the rhythm guitar. Then Trey found that chord progression. It sounded like “Paradise City” (maybe if the Grateful Dead played it — to really be a tease I think Trey had to switch on the distortion and go all Slash up in it with anthemic strums), or some other classic rock song, but I’m pretty sure it was just a nice progression Trey came up with on the spot with no “tease” in mind. The progression built to the point where Trey finally erupted in melodic soloing over the changes (finding a chord progression on rhythm guitar and building it toward a melodic peak solo was a great tactic in 2013 jams). Maybe the coolest part was as the jam petered out, Trey kicked back into the “Wedge” ending without missing a beat. Not only a type ii “Wedge” but a finished version.

Everyone was clearly blown away by that, but what came next was even better. “Ghost” has been amazing this tour, but it has also been relatively formulaic. Funk/rock vamps->bliss major key jam peak->abstract fizzle->next song. It was the demonic circus funk outro jam that set apart the Randalls version (even if the previous part of the jam had the same formula). This one was altogether different, and (perhaps an overreaction but…) to my ear the most musically inventive and interesting jam since the 10/20/13 “Tweezer.” At first Trey found some more anthemic rock chords he was strumming along (these sounded more “G’n’R” than the Paradise City progression!), but he started punching one chord in odd rhythmic moments. This allowed the rest of the band to create a more abstract and dissonant sound around Trey’s repetitive one chord drone. Eventually he developed an evil and almost ska-like rhythm pattern with this one single chord. As Trey layered loops around this chord, Mike, Fish, and especially Page on the piano filled in this dark, dissonant groove with amazingly thick textures. This one chord jam just thickened deeper and deeper until, out of nowhere, we found ourselves in “Weeakpaug Groove” (the same segue as Mansfield). This was a particularly playful version. The Weekapaug jam often vacillates between soaring melodic D mixolydian and thick, high-tempo funk. When they were transitioning to the funk last night, Trey thought, why not just “call back” the Am Dorian funk groove of “Ghost”? A perfect ploy as D mixo and A dorian are in the same key family of G major. The jam quickly went back to the D melodic jam and even threw in an odd “Stash” tease (odd because the show did not include “Stash” — I would have expected “Fuego”). “First Tube” played the same role as 7/4/14 — a rocking exclamation point on a monumental set. The only glitch was the overplayed encore choice of “Character 0” — I guess there was no time for “YEM” (Is Trey scared to play this after the SPAC debacle?), but something else interesting would have been more welcome.

We shouldn’t declare a show to be good if its only redeeming quality is the “fourth quarter” (which is oddly what people seemed to say about Saturday). This night featured a wonderful bustout of “Tela” and epic Gin to anchor the First Set and a deep groove DWD to open set 2. That kept me (at least) satiated for the massive and totally unexpected finish. Again, everyone will talk about the “Wedge,” but the diversion of “Ghost” from its formula to create a truly unique improvisation was the musical highlight for me.


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