, attached to 2021-10-31

Review by mattybweston

mattybweston Howdy all,

Bleary eyed in Austin after 4 nights of late night/early morning couch tour. I'm a crusty vet with a deep deep love for this band and our community (most/all vacations revolve around tour and both kids are fully indoctrinated), but not at the expense of honest criticism. So howsabout a praise sandwich here- a classic management technique to couch (wordplay!) the meat of your less flattering remarks between two slices of fresh-out-of-the-oven positivity. Apologies if I go long - I'm unpacking some complicated feelings about one of the touchstones of my adult life here.....

Taken as a whole, these shows are four of the strongest sequential shows of the last decade - deep transmorgrifying jams, bust outs, gags on gags and continual evolution of the soundscape. Awe inspiring. That said - last night was the least successful of the run.

Set One started off with two very tentative takes on reliable barn burners - Buried Alive & Roses Are Free. The former had Trey repeatedly looking back as his rig as he appeared unhappy with something and the latter generally failed to launch, not quite a ripcord but ripcord adjacent, in favor of Ghost. But what a Ghost. Layered, constantly evolving and super exciting until about minute 19 (as I relisten right now) when Fish incorporates a beat that the rest of the band has trouble adjusting to. Possibly they just ignore it as they soldier on through another 6+ minutes. The wheels never come completely off, but it does require a complete shut down to return to the Ghost coda. Not to worry - Wolfman's to the rescue! A reliably great guitar laden peak has us fully back on track and Kill Devil Falls also inspires - Trey's recent love for his octave down effects fits in nicely just before and after a sweet little "do it again" refrain. Free is next, and though lacking a screaming, evil Phish peak, we get some Mike bombs and more octave down wah from Trey. David Bowie comes in on the wrong foot (literally) to finish off the first set. After that inauspicious start the jam eventually goes full bliss in the major and seamlessly shifts back into Bowie for our familiar trilling finale. Ba Da Ba Da!

Comic books are thoroughly digested at setbreak and anticipation is both sky high and curious. Sci-Fi synth space funk? Yes please. We get not one but two unplanned fake outs as the stream comes back with its graphics and intro music but the house lights are still up. Then the houselights dim only to come back up. But eventually we get to....

Set 2!

The spectacle of the tubes and holograms is incredible as our our heroes' hopelessly goofy space outfits. I won't recap the comic in its entirety but the premise is simple enough (for Phish)- welcome Sci-Fi Soldier, a band of time travelling superheroes with telepathic abilities who have met with a renamed Icculus (see Harpua from last night) here from the future to save us from destruction with the power of music. And......

.....well.

With the exception of the pyrotechnics, the visuals are simplistic and seem to have stolen CK5's mojo- odd to tie one hand behind the back of the man who can conjure spaceships and the swirling cosmos out of thin air, smoke machines and light. As for the music? I'll paint with a broad brush here and this is obviously one man's opinion - it too is simplistic and feels rushed & unedited. Most are based around a simple one or two chord vamp and several of them feel fully self indulgent. For example - an entire song based around one of Fish's more grating samples? Hmm. Half baked and half remembered choreography in the first song again? Huh. At one point my wife asked (between various band members shouting lines, often over top of each other) if the lyrics were improv. I could not disprove her theory as most songs lacked a coherent vocal melody and/or harmonies. And Page's synth, instead of being complementary or laying down a melody of its own, seemed random and wildly up in the mix. One of our gaggle gamely dancing in our living room said "it sounded like a bus just drove past the microphone." Again, as a crusty vet I'm prepared to suffer a bit to get to the meat of the groove, and indeed the groove was eventually there in nearly every song. But getting past the vocal portions of this set was challenging. Challenging.That's probably the word I would use to describe the whole set. I personally found myself hoping they would not step back toward the mics & just keep this thing in the pocket and instrumental. But alas, that was not to be. And then....I Am In Miami shows up at the very end to heap some musicality on this challenging, borderline confrontational set. Wordplay, harmonies and general geeky goofiness. Thank goodness. My crew and I will love this band forever and none of us were huge fans of Kasvot Vaxt right off the bat. But it was easy to see the potential of some of those tunes and many of them have transformed into jams we eagerly anticipate dancing to. So perhaps that's the real gag - transforming these 12 tracks over the next year or so....

A breather or ten, some text chains between dance parties scattered throughout South Austin, and then on to Set 3

2021 MVP Carini shows up and covers a ton of ground in 13 minutes, multiple sections melding together to drift into Lonely Trip. A gorgeous, nearly dead silent version that I'm sure has the ragers questioning its placement but, hey man, play what you want. The inevitable Soul Planet is up next, and it goes long but has a bit of trouble picking a lane, jumping between bliss and darkness, guitar god and techno echo. It finally reverberates into Death Don't Hurt Very Long. In fact death only hurts for about two minutes - it's much more of a longform DDHVL tease twisted by SFS (are we abbreviating Sci-Fi Soldier yet?) and ripcorded for Twist. A gentle, blissful Twist at that. The divisive Drift follows as the closer and has some extra sauce on it taboot. Think of it as three songs in one - more bang for the buck, baby. Harry Hood comes very late to the party as the encore and is packing an endless sustained Trey note. Typical great Hood proving the point that a little bit of structure in a song can only help as a monster jam vehicle.

What an incredible four nights of music and tomfoolery. Set 2 was a very big swing and I'm sure that it is generating a ton of conversations. Only in a collective community of band & fans like ours would they feel comfortable enough to try something so outrageous. If the past is prologue, I'd guess we will see mostly positive thoughts, or at least the accentuation of the positives, here at .net. I'd imagine that the knives are out over at PT but I'm not going over there to check. Now is the time for more civility, not less.

My crew will be putting this run into heavy relisten rotation as long as our ears still work.

Be safe out there and see you on tour. And as always - anonymous posts are for cowards. Put your name on it people.

Matty Weston
South Austin. Texas. Earth.
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