, attached to 2021-09-05

Review by neal_nugget

neal_nugget If I were looking at setlists, I might be underwhelmed (although a 7-song first set is always something to behold): SYSF, Lonely Trip, and Ruby Waves were songs I actively hoped to avoid. Catapult and MEAP weren’t on my radar, Bliss and Billy breathes seemed out of the realm of possibility, All of these Dreams was a song I forgot I loved, and a third-quarter Meatstick normally seems to portend bad things.

But damn, it all came together perfectly. The fact that such a seemingly incongruous set of songs converged so seamlessly tells the whole story. Phish knew what they were doing last night—just as they have all summer, even if I didn't realize it (see my thread lamenting a lack of peaks). Syunda night, Phish totally surprised me in the best possible way, and it’s the way that that unpredictability pays off that makes this the most compelling band I'll ever have the immense pleasure of engaging with.

I talked a lot in the “Do you miss the peaks?” thread about how I felt they were missing a sense of cohesiveness this summer, maybe a price for all the exciting exploration that was happening. Last night, as well as set 2 on Friday, it felt like it all came together.

Set one was one of the rarities that felt fully complete—everything purposeful, zero filler. Moma and McGrupp were great calls to get started. Sand in the third slot indicated we might be in for one of those special nights, and Sigma Oasis made good on that promise. Sigma was another song I was not looking forward to hearing, but damn, what a fun, feel-good song—one of Trey's rare new ones that, IMHO, manages to tastefully balance the love and light positivity with some nuance and grace. But the composed section of Sigma was just the start: following some triumphant bends after the vocals finished, we suddenly steered into the darkness. My friend Nate (who was decidedly anti-Phish until the pandemic, fell deeply in love during our year of isolation, and enjoyed his first ever shows at Dicks this weekend) and I looked over at each other excitedly: back-to-back type II jams straddling Q1 and 2? It was one of those nights.

Sigma explored similar terrain as Sand, with no complaints here, before sliding nicely into All of These Dreams, making only its...13th... appearance ever. I was not expecting or thinking of this song before this show, and it’s this kind of micro-bustout (if you will, per se, some call it, but actually no one calls it) that speaks to me: it’s just a subtle enough of a nod to Phish’s incomparable magnitude, and how many points of connection I have with this band, that reminds me of the sheer vastness of this whole thing. Making me fall in love once again with a song I didn't even know I had forgotten—one that will be but a footnote on a stellar weekend run—is something I can't imagine many other bands doing to me. Reba was a winner (any time Trey nails the composed section, the call-waiting/dentists office smooth jazz jam that follows is all butter) and Gin provided the glorious, triumphant closer that I love so much. My best friend Aaron, who has been marooned in Germany since before the pandemic, called it "overwhelmingly optimistic." Going into the third winter of this neverending pandemic, I'll bottle up this shining light of positivity for the darkness that surely lies ahead.

After such a promising first set—and the fewest songs played in a Sunday at Dicks as far as I can remember (too tired to research now)—I had no idea what to expect for the second set. Nor did I really care. I was ready to follow wherever the night might go. Where we went was so much richer than the mountain range of blissful peaks I thought I'd wanted all summer.

SYSF is perhaps the song of the soul suite I've hated most, thanks to its atrociously unacceptable lyrics, until I got tired of fighting it all this summer. Trey loves this song, clearly. I can block out the lyrics enough to appreciate that the vocal buildup right before the jam is undeniably fun, and the band clearly cares about going deep into the ensuing jam. This version proved true: the jam started with darkness, crossed into the light, then built to a shreddy electrical inferno, complete with shrieks that felt like the far off, slightly more concentrated echoes of the 9/2/16 Dicks NMINL. Not an intentional callback, I'm sure, and a technique Trey has used much in recent years (especially 2017), but I couldn't help but gratefully connect it back to Dicks Night 1 in 2016, one of my favorite shows for personal, sentimental reasons.

Lonely Trip was a heartfelt and reassuring comedown. This song, as intended, is now burned into my soul as a marker of these goddamn weird and disconnected times we live in. Despite being vaccinated and returning to some sense of normalcy over the summer, and then spending my weekend with 75,000 people the past three nights. I’ve been feeling the isolation lately. Lonely Trip spoke to that, and it will forever be a vessel to how I feel right now.

Simple was the party starter we all needed, and the fact that Nate called it as Lonely Trip gently wound up made it all the more special. Simple sinisterly devolved into a malfunction at the robot factory with Catapult, setting the stage for another goofily feel-good, come-together-and-sing-a-song-about-nonsense arty anthem with Meatstick. Back-to-back party classics, sandwiched around a weirdo semi-bustout morphed into a barely recognizable format? This was the second set I didn't know I needed.

We soon enough found ourselves back in the short-circuiting robot factory with the Catapult callback (a place I was happy to return to even if I never expected wanting to go in the first place), then onto Ruby Waves, which surprisingly cut me deep. I know that’s what it’s intended to do, but it’s usually too saccharine to get past my guarded, skeptical brain. But this was a night of feels for me, and Ruby Waves easily slid into my heart that had already been plowed open by 2+ hours of immaculate song choices, "trust-me-you'll-like-it" setlist construction, and inspired playing. This version of Ruby Waves, charging hard out of the gate thanks to Fishman, built to a chaotic and intense peak before beautifully evaporating into...BLISS? Yes. Whoa. Bliss!

What a treat for me to hear. Billy Breathes is my favorite album, the one that got me into the band when I was in 5th grade, forever ag. To bridge that time in my life to today, nearly 25 years later, where I’m ostensibly an adult but still carry the same childlike wonder and playfulness that Phish so perfectly taps into, was so special.

The Billy Breathes that followed wasn’t an all-time version, especially after I’ve listened to the Hampton Winston Salem standout so many times. But the vocal section was performed well enough. And choice to play it felt like a nod to someone like me—as if saying, “We’re light years away from the era in which we wrote the songs you grew up on, but we’re still the same band that wrote them.” A validating and special moment, an amazing connector of the dots between the past and present.

Most Events Aren’t Planned is one of the coolest new songs the band has introduced in recent years. Conventional wisdom probably called for 2001, Possum, or maybe even that long-clambered for Tweezer. But the band’s decision to buck expectations during the waning moments on the last night of tour paid off, at least to this guy—and proved that sticking to the script denies us the opportunity to keep writing new chapters of this weird, rarely boring, never-ending book. Sure, Trey could have pushed the solo section deeper, but I didn’t care. MEAP was plenty supercharged, setting the stage for a Hood that was as good as Hood will get these days—the perfect call to end such a wild, exploratory night and tour altogether. As surprising as MEAP might have been in the penultimate slot, Hood was the obvious call for closer, and proof that sometimes sticking to the script is the right call.

Overall, though, it was the lack of sticking to the script that made this night—and tour—so special. I’ve found the last few Sunday nights at Dicks to be a bit deflating. Ever since the THANKYOU show*, Dicks Sunday shows have felt like a greatest hits collection on a CD you’d find in the bargain bin of Walmart—all the songs you love, but packaged in an unforgettable, if not altogether uninspiring way (listen to the fourth quarter Chalkdust from 2019 and tell me the band sounds excited at all to be there). Tonight, and this whole summer, was the opposite.

Sunday night’s second set was a complete musical journey, one that went horizontal, vertical, into the darkness and back toward the light, straddling tones and textures and terrains I didn't even know existed. Last night, Phish balanced familiarity with something weird and excitingly exploratory in the most Phish-like way possible—in the way that only this band, with its 35+ year repertoire of songs that, at their best, resemble their former selves enough to keep the thread connected between all our yesterdays and our current reality while simutaleously breaking free from the past enough to keep us all guessing, trying to find the end of the never-ending maze, and always coming back for more. Who knows where it’ll all end up?

That’s a question I hope we don’t have the answer to any time soon. I’m not ready to see where the rainbow of infinity ends. After this tour and tour finale, it’s beyond encouraging to know that our favorite band feels the same way.

(*I have a huge soft spot for 2016, what with the huge peaks and all).


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