, attached to 2021-10-23

Review by westcoastavenger

westcoastavenger Simply stated, Phish's most recent venture last October to Chula Vista was close to "perfect" and immediately joined a long list of "legendary" shows. The primary ingredients required for "legendary Phish show" status include a blend of rarities, unique playing with extended jamming, theming (not necessary but this helps) and the overall flow (pacing, transitions, song placement and even lighting). 10/23/21 was nearly flawless.

Recently, I reflected on my personal "top shows" (subjective of course) I have attended list. The moment this show ended, I was quick to input Chula Vista into my personal top ten based off the post show glow. As days went by, I continually revisited this show from both an audio and video perspective. The "post show glow" never dissipated. In fact, the appreciation only intensified.

I continued to recall and revisit my favorites from 1.0, February 2003 tour, Dicks 2012, Bakers Dozen and several others within the nearly 120 shows I've attended. I couldn't find a show I enjoyed or that met all of the "best of" criteria that Chula Vista did (aside from "The Moby Dick Show, 7/11/00):

1. 7/11/00
2. 10/23/21
3. 7/25/99
4. 7/14/19
5. 8/31/12

It's a shock even to me. A 2021 show is my 2nd favorite show I've seen from a band that peaked 23 years ago? That said, it is more than deserving of its ranking on my personal list.

Chula Vista was special preceeding the show. As most know, the venue’s name is an acronym for “NICU”. This of course nearly guaranteed the song would be played and maybe something unique around it as Phish has really retraced their whimsical roots of theming based off of little innuendos.

“Fluffhead” as an opener is always special as it harkens back to the tear inducing joy of Phish’s triumphant return at Hampton in 2009 (which I also attended). Once "Fluffhead" started that atypical “Type II” groove, there’s was an elevated suspicion that the night would be special. Then that little extra "Fluffhead" jam (only the second Type II "Fluffhead" in recorded history (7/24/99 being the other) segued into "NICU".

"NICU" is always a fun, quick song that frankly has had ups and downs with Trey often flubbing the song’s primary riff. That was not an issue that evening. Not only was the riff played without issue, the nearly 18 minute "NICU" catapulted this version to the best version in the 30 year history of the song. The amazing melodic groove that Fishman really kicked into gear was not just a tacked on jam but a beautiful collaborative, spacey jam normally reserved for second sets. The segue into the surprise rarity (and my first) “Bye Bye Foot” that followed almost served as an extension of the "NICU" jam rather than it’s own stand alone song.

Then another of my Phish career highlights dropped into the set like a bolt of lightning with the best “Tube” I have ever seen live. Many people (myself included) consider "Tube" to be Phish’s funkiest song. It’s a song that is always welcome and the crowd prays for the jam to continue but typically ends as it’s just starting to find it’s footing. Not this version. "Tube" changed rhythmic narratives several times throughout the nearly 16 minutes. From Trey’s leading Dorian notes (abundant with “NICU” call backs) to a Page fueled keyboard funk infused dance fest to Gordon absolutely blasting our collective chests with the bass drop.

The "Tube" was the third song of the night—and the fourth played to that point—that could make a strong case for canonization into the “best versions” list.

"Slave to the Traffic Light" was well placed after that incredible "Tube" jam. This version wasn’t necessarily a “stand out” version but that isn’t a demerit. This "Slave" served as the set “cool down” song which is often reserved for ballads.

At this point the show already was on a roll and moving up the all-time charts when the surprise slow “Llama" appeared. This was only the second time I had seen a slow "Llama" and what an amazing version with tremendous set placement. While a set closing “Set Your Sould Free” or possibly “Possum” seemed likely at this point, this "Llama" was just amazing. Left everyone speechless around my section.

“Rise/Come together” was a fine way to end a magnificent set. Of the newer songs Trey is working to establish as a set closer, this one works to a degree. I don’t necessarily have issue with this song to end the set (though I’d be lying if I wasn’t hoping for an “NICU” laden “Antelope”.

With the first set already etched in stone as one of the best first sets I had ever seen, I was really expecting big things out of the second set. “Bathtub Gin” was due at this point (having not been played in the last 5 shows). While I love the funky “No Men in No Man’s Land”, I was a touch disappointed that they decided to carry the momentum of the first set into a newer song.

That said, this version of "No Men in No Man’s Land" was an absolute star. While the musical structure bares the obvious comparisons to the Grateful Dead’s cover of “Dancin’ in the Streets”, it might even be more funky than the Dead’s disco rhythms in Trey and Page's composition. "No Man’s" continued the incredible grooves of the first set with an even funkier dynamic that harkened back to the deep pocket grooves of fall 1997.

It was no surprise that "No Man’s" segued into another all-timer in “Free”. Free is unique in the fact that it has versatile set placement. It can open a show, serve as the slower song of the first set or it can rarely be a jam launching pad (see Brooklyn 2004). This version was just unbelieveable. "Free" marked the point of the show where Kuroda’s lights really started to stand out as well. The extended nearly 17 minute "Free" synchronized perfectly with the new light rig to the point that the crowd was entranced.

After 39 minutes of continuous funky playing, the show's lone slow down song in “Joy” began as "Free’s" jam dissipated. There was the typical audience collective sit down during "Joy". I couldn’t stop my (completely sober) body from moving to the truly heartfelt ballad. "Joy" is arguably the best complete song from the rather underwhelming album of the same namesake. The raw emotion and relatable mixture of celebration and sadness due to the loss of someone close to you is powerful and relatable.

While the ensuing “Sand” was shorter than most, it was not without it’s moments. The short jam was very in tune with the theme of the night and lead to arguably the highlight of a show filled with highlights in what I have dubbed the “Space Mountain Piper”.

"Piper" has a spectacular history dating back to it’s 1997 debut. During the “1.0” era, "Piper" began with a slow G major build up leading to double time repetition before beginning the short lyrical section. For the first time I can recall since this era, this "Piper" began with the slow build of that era segued directly from Sand. This was already a memorable introduction to the song. This nearly 18 minute "Piper" began it’s ascent into a locked in melody before transitioning into what many fans refer to as “dark, scary Phish”.

People live to see Phish descend into the dark, “spooky” jams where Trey lets his effects pedals (specifically his Boomerang looping board and his Echoplex) run wild. "Piper" continued in the breath of the recent San Francisco “Frankie Says” themes that filled the amphitheatre with sounds so unique, it sounded like an evil robot was in the midst of an epic space battle to the death with R2-D2.

The moniker of “Space Mountain” added to this version of "Piper" pertains to the incredible lighting work again displayed by CK5. The glowing red lights that lit up the sky transcended into an up and down lighting rig movement that mirrored the magical moment during that portion of Disneyland’s Space Mountain as the countdown begins elevating your ride vehicle into a figurative supersonic portal filled with speeding lights and colors. As a frequent visitor of Disneyland, I felt as if my two passions had blended into one.

From this incredible Piper spawned my personal favorite Phish song, “Scents and Subtle Sounds”. Most readers will be taken aback at the statement that someone deems "Scents and Subtle Sounds" as their favorite song. Since the song debuted in 2003, "Scents and Subtle Sounds" was primed to be an epic jam vehicle in the vein of “Ghost”, “Piper”, “Twist”, “Gotta Jibboo” and other recent epics that are now jam staples.

For some bewildering reason, the 2004 album “Undermind” saw the album’s producer convince the band to separate the song into two separate songs. I never understood this. The slow build up of the intro’s melody is intricate to the momentum of the latter (it's also quite catchy). It’s dark yet “subtle” in it’s build towards a surprisingly strong lyrical section that Trey must have been very proud of. The full band segue into the uptempo, D major second section is powerfully anthemic then beautifully unwinds back into the familiar structure that blends the two halves together. This melodical transition leads to one of the best full band jam vehicles in Phish's incredibly diverse catalog.

"Scents and Subtle Sounds" is emblematic of what Phish is as a band. It gives each member a chance to shine. It is just a perfectly written piece that is deserving of regular rotation.

The fact that the Chula Vista "Scents and Subtle Sounds" included the intro electrified me in a way that no other song could at that given time. This version was everything I wanted it to be. I wasn’t the Deer Creek 2003 first night show opener but it was perfect to wind down this incredible show.

The encore’s “Lonely Trip” was a fine addition for Trey to show case one of the newer songs that he’s proud of. That of course launched into a rocking “First Tube” that is always a great send off.

I hope that everyone that attended this show appreciates how unique the experience was. This might not be everyone’s favorite show. It doesn’t need to be. Phish is subjective. That said, I continue to think that I’ll never see shows that I could even begin to compare to “peak” Phish. Chula Vista (along with all of October 2021) was a reminder that Phish is still capable of moments and shows that even the most curmudgeoned veteran would smile and reflect “wow, this is why I still see this band”.


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