, attached to 2021-08-07

Review by CarrotEyes

CarrotEyes In a review of Alpharetta 1 I said that show should be in the running for best of tour. I stand by this thought but would now slightly amend the list of other shows. Since it is not possible to edit reviews after posting, here is the revised Top 5 shows of Summer Tour 2021, in chronological order: Alpharetta 1, Deer Creek 2, Hershey 2, Shoreline 2, and Dick’s 3. Now, on to a review of this show.

Here is the second installment of a three-night Deer Creek run, coming after a two-night run in suburban Atlanta, and then another two-night run in downtown Nashville. It’s interesting how the first two Deer Creek shows can be viewed as mirroring the Atlanta shows. While the first night in Atlanta sees the band taking advantage of the first and second sets to explore pacing, dynamics, energy, and sound, the second night’s first set is devoted more to building momentum for an explosive second set. At Deer Creek, the opposite is the case, as the first night is all about the second set Blaze and Simple.

Set One

Night two begins with the relatively uncommon appearance of Crowd Control. It’s a solid rock tune featuring Who-like riffs and an anthemic chorus, but not much distinguishes one version from the next. In fact, nearly every performance of this song since 2009 has opened a first set, the one exception being Maple Night of The Baker’s Dozen when O Canada took the number one slot. Thus, while it could very well be overstating the case to say that it is significant this show’s opener is Crowd Control, lyrical elements of the song are nevertheless later echoed in Army of One, and then once more in A Wave of Hope, the second track off Trey’s Lonely Trip.

“Do something, or we will.” Is this a provocation, a threat, or simply a statement of fact? While Crowd Control dissolves into a crackling mess of half-strummed guitar chords, the question is answered as soon as asked. Here comes Poor Heart, and it’s thumping. Although not the fieriest version of all time, Mike is forced to squeeze in a quick solo before Page completely steals the show.

Mere seconds later, it’s on to The Moma Dance, and it slays. Three minutes in, before a word has been sung, this version is already bursting at the seams. Later, Trey manages serve up a thick-sliced slab of guitar solo just in time for BOTT to take over where Moma left off. Another cooking Trey solo, and out of it emerges a lengthy sustained note more typical of a second set jam, but it’s only five and a half minutes into a seven-minute song and this note alone lasts almost thirty seconds.

BOTT wraps, and a flurry of piano notes signals that Page wants to sing. It’s Army of One, but a deeply felt version of this second cut of the night from Undermind. Like the earlier Crowd Control, Army of One is a relatively rarely played song, and almost always shows up in the first set. In fact, four of the last six sets featuring the latter has also featured the former, going all the way back to Summer 2016.

Following his turn in the spotlight, Page takes a moment to address the crowd, and says how happy the band is to be back at Deer Creek. It might be argued that the band has a somewhat ironic way of expressing appreciation to its fans considering the rather low opinion most have of the next tune. Still, even Bouncing has its place at the setlist table, serving here perhaps as a sort of amuse bouche before the next course of songs, much the same as Poor Heart before it.

Mike and Fish take turns leading the charge as Ya Mar gets the party started up again. “Play it, play it, play it for us, Leo,” warbles Trey, and the casual lyricism of his sing-song delivery is reflective of this rather soulful take on a cover that has over time become as much a part of the Phish canon as any of their own songs. Page responds with what seems a relatively quick run through his traditional solo organ spot. Then, following a return to the chorus Trey takes his turn spreading the good cheer, playfully soloing this summertime classic out to its end.

It can be interesting sometimes to observe how the band changes their approach to a song from tour to tour. The last time a performance of Roggae crossed the nine-minute mark was on November 3, 2018, and before that on August 7, 2018. On both occasions the tempo was faster than in the version under consideration here, and on both occasions Trey’s solo built to a (for Phish) straightforward big rock peak.

This Roggae starts the like all the others, with the same base song structure, but even leaving aside the slightly slower tempo there remains something different about it. From the beginning Mike and Fish are more present, as was also the case in the preceding Ya Mar, but about a minute into the jam they get locked in tight with each other. Then, echoing each other, back and forth, bit by bit the jam is pulled just enough off its standard course so that Trey must build his solo to a different, much more psychedelic sort of peak. It’s a spellbinding performance.

Out of Roggae’s ending comes an unfamiliar chord progression. Well, for anyone not yet conversant with Lonely Trip the first Phish performance of A Wave of Hope is certainly something novel, if not necessarily unfamiliar. A single live version of the song had been performed by TAB in October 2020 as part of one of the Beacon Jams. It’s an interesting song, featuring a single verse of irregular line lengths and a repeating chorus, and it will also be interesting to see if the band takes future versions farther out.

Stash is up next. Trey’s vocal delivery is pretty much standard this time, but the jam after is most certainly not. No sooner has the final “maybe so, maybe not” been left behind than the rest of the song has been left behind, too, and the band is already venturing out toward new territory. Seven never to be repeated, brilliantly inventive minutes of group improvisation later, suddenly out of a fast-decomposing peak there arrives a fully developed groove recalling the beat of Jibboo to bring the refrain of Stash around. While the preceding jam has little in common with the precision tension and release playing of the canonical version of Stash from A Live One, there is evidence in it of a different sort of precision, of each band member’s careful attention to the shifting dynamics of their shared musical space from one moment to the next. Call it the sound of precision listening.

Stash ends, and Cavern begins, for only something like the eighth time ever. This is a somewhat surprising statistic, considering how many times both songs have been played over the years, and continue to be played. Cavern, of course, can appear at any time in a show, but unlike Chalk Dust, for example, it is usually performed the same way, excepting the very rare slow and funky version. Nevertheless, Cavern seems always to be welcome anywhere it appears, and it is a fine way to arrive at a rousing sing-along conclusion. Says Trey, “We’ll see you in fifteen minutes.”

Alone, none of the songs from this first set are likely to be considered among their best versions, except for Stash, perhaps. At the same time, each one is in its own way quite a bit better than average, especially Roggae. Does a combination of above-average performances add up to an above-average set? Certainly, but it could be there is more to it, or at least not just that. More on this after the second set.

Second Set

Everything’s Right seems to have acquired new status as a favored second set opener following its call-up to that slot on the first night of the 2019 Dick’s run. However, it was the exploratory first set performance at Barcelona Maya in 2020 that revealed new improvisatory dimensions of this song. Now, the band returns to the stage and launches into a version that sees them breaking even more ground.

As in Mexico, the lately added “Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na” refrain continues to develop, but with the singing done there is very little left over to recall previous performances of Everything’s Right. In a sense the jam simply picks up where it left off before Stash ended. Each band member’s playing is full of care, sensitivity, and emotion, while the music itself is all patterns of light and shade, constantly shifting and changing like the sky reflected in a mountain stream. Bob Dylan surely had something different in mind when he said it, but this might be Phish discovering their own “thin, wild mercury sound.” Perhaps thin seems an odd choice of word here, but this sound is not packed down, it is opened wide. There’s so much space, and in that space is room for the music to find its own way.

It’s over sixteen minutes later, and a seemingly random squiggle of feedback flickers out as Trey strikes the first chiming note of What’s the Use? Mike and Fish jump on the beat, while Page begins adding sweeping synth tones behind. At a little over eight minutes, this is one of the longest versions in recent years, and the first since Summer 2018 to appear as the second song of the second set. While most recent performances have been relatively straightforward, the band here stretches out and takes advantage of the extra room to explore. Fish and Page, especially, find fresh corners to color with rhythmic washes of sound, and Trey uncovers hidden resonance in the song’s lead.

Crosseyed & Painless now makes its first appearance in a second set since Fall 2019. Although shorter than most other recent performances, the band takes this one at a quicker pace. Fish attacks the beat with the same intensity he has brought to nearly every song so far this tour, while Trey ramps up the intensity at the first instrumental break by using a reverse pedal during his solo. At about the nine-minute mark the jam begins to peak on the back of some riffing somewhat in the vein of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. Peak now in the rear view, Fish deploys a snare roll to reign in the tempo, almost as if he is signaling for BOAF, except the beat continues to break down. A quick outro to What’s the Use? then emerges from the ambient stew left in the wake of this high-energy version of a Talking Heads classic.

Meanwhile, Mike triggers a couple effect pedals, and from the rumbling sounds being made by his bass everyone knows it’s time for DWD. This version covers some of the same ground in the first six minutes as the one that launched the second set of the tour-opening show on July 28. There’s even a note Trey hits at roughly the same time in both, at 6:22 on 7/28 and 6:25 on 8/7, but here it leads to a C & P tease which sets things up for the jam that follows. Or, rather, here it serves as a pivot point, for the jam that follows quickly shifts toward brighter territory, Trey and Page playing off one another to great effect over the course of several summery minutes. Then, a bit past the eleven-minute mark Trey hammers down on a single high note and refuses to let go of it. It’s a very interesting, even perhaps confrontational choice, as it induces a radical shift of tone. Whether or not one calls it a peak, this sustained note effectively demarcates a point from which something like the standard DWD jam cannot return, so with nowhere else to go but outward the jam gradually flows into a more ambient zone before resolving into Wading in the Velvet Sea.

Velvet Sea is a lovely song, and an always welcome return to the spotlight for Page. Having said that, most performances in recent years have not featured the complex Trey solo that some probably have a hard time hearing the song without (two exceptions being second set ending versions from 1/14/17 and 7/23/17). This version, while it does include a brief solo from Trey, returns to the chorus on the back of a watery-sounding guitar part that repeats in a way somehow suggestive of rolling ocean swells.

Possum gets off to a quick start, but the abbreviated intro isn’t indicative of what comes next. Page takes the reigns following the first chorus, and at about the three-minute mark he teases Long Tall Glasses, a Top 10 hit for Leo Sayer in 1974. It isn’t the first time the band has teased this song, but there’s something about it that captures very well the spirit of the moment. Page plays the tune of a line from the song’s chorus, in which the narrator of the song might be singing, depending on the line, “I know I can dance,” or perhaps “Of course I can dance.” Trey immediately picks up the reference and repeats the tune of the line. It’s almost like Page signals “Hey, I’m ready, let me run,” and Trey responds, “Right on, man, we got you.” Regardless, Page’s solo is great, and builds to a double-handed key-pounding crescendo. After Trey’s solo reaches its own screaming machine gun peak, Mike brings back the chorus so that all might joyfully sing the possum’s demise one more time.

The band returns to the stage for an encore and launches into Drift While You’re Sleeping. It’s a song with multiple parts, and in this way is quite like classic Phish tunes such as Fluffhead and Divided Sky. Also like these songs, Drift features a concluding section structured in such a way that it can accommodate some improvisation. This section builds to a soaring peak and sends the crowd home on a high note. Someone, possibly Trey, even exclaims something like, “Whoa,” at the very end, as if to say, “That was great!” In fact, it was great.

Final Thoughts

What if a show, or the flow of a show, is conceptualized as a series of waves? Energy builds from song to song, and then it crashes, or it dissipates, and the cycle is repeated. However, there are moments when the energy can be channeled into a performance, and it is these moments that a band like Phish exists to fully capture, as a surfer dropping into the curve of a great wave rides across its face from the peak to the trough.

This show is a demonstration of how Phish goes about bringing those moments to expression in and through music. From Poor Heart to Moma Dance to BOTT, and from Bouncing to Ya Mar to Roggae, the first set rises from one peak to another before the bottom drops out of Stash and all the energy that had been building up flows out and into the jam. Conversely, the second set, following the ER that picks up where Stash left off, goes about gathering up the energy that has so far been released, as Crosseyed, DWD, and Possum reverse the path laid down by BOTT, Roggae, and Stash.

Finally, Drift completes a separate series of songs, beginning with Crowd Control, but that also includes Army of One, A Wave of Hope, and Velvet Sea. Perhaps in the lyrics of these songs there are something like various perspectives on a wave, snapshots of points in time isolated from this wave in which the wave’s shape becomes visible. Maybe so, maybe not.


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