SET 1: Wolfman's Brother, Devotion To a Dream, Wilson > Poor Heart > The Moma Dance, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Lawn Boy, Yarmouth Road > Rift, The Line, It's Ice > 46 Days
SET 2: Mike's Song > Ghost > Prince Caspian > Backwards Down the Number Line > Weekapaug Groove > Cavern > Piper > Waiting All Night > Tweezer > Fuego > Tweezer Reprise
ENCORE: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Possum
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Review by solargarlic78
The Songs Remain the Same: Review 7/16/14
Repeats and Ripchords in the Motor City
OK, so maybe CMAC did win the week. As usual with Phish tour, we are starting to hear the complaints about “repeats.” But, as @zzyzx demonstrated last night, this tour might be the first time the complaints are warranted — that is, this year is seeing more repeats and shorter rotations between shows for certain songs. He theorizes (probably rightly) that this is largely due to the lack of covers. We all go to Phish shows to witness the unexpected. Mostly this comes via their improvisation, but a lot of it is because of their massive and diverse song catalog. Bustouts are part of the fun of Phish. My glee Tuesday night at “Buried Alive” was at least as much about its rarity as it was about it as a song from a pure musical standpoint. I attended 7/29/03 and remember vividly my sense of disbelief as rarity after rarity was played. The only songs debuted for Summer tour last night were Wilson, Poor Heart, and Lawn Boy (none of which you would say was a ‘bustout’ of any kind).
The other concerning aspect of last night was the tendency for jams to be ended in favor of the next song (i.e. ripchords). I thought CMAC was “songy” at 9 second set numbers, but this one was 12! In a second set that featured Ghost, Tweezer, Piper and Weekapaug, the jams were surprisingly short. The problem with lots of repeated songs — and truncated jams — is the bulk of material played “remains the same” to the veteran ear. Lets face it, we’ve all heard the verse, chorus, bridge of songs like “Ghost” and “Tweezer” thousands of times (each of which takes about 4.5 minutes of time to get through). The jam section is where something new might happen, but when that section is ended in favor of another verse/chorus/bridge we’ve heard a thousand times, jaded vets will surely get frustrated.
The repeats have gotten so endemic, it is really not necessary for me to comment on each individual song at this point. As I’ve said before, I enjoy first sets largely in relation to song selection. And last night was not my favorite collection of songs. Trey started the “Wolfman’s” jam 4 measures early, throwing off the band, but they recovered to present the formula of ‘thick funk’->‘rock peak’. Please open a second set with this song! We saw the first “Wilson” and “Poor Heart” which both got off to rocky starts (Trey’s opening lick on “Poor Heart” aint what it used to be). The only highlight of the set was undoubtedly “It’s Ice.” Since summer 2013, the “jam” section has featured a funk breakdown with Page often switching to the clavinet. But, I would speculate that no “It’s Ice” has gotten into funk this thick — very “Tube-y”. Although the really difficult section of the song was nailed, Trey got lost in the ascending licks that transitions out of the jam section. Opening the “Live on Letterman” set must have signaled Trey is ready to shred “46 Days” all summer — it’s one of the heaviest repeats.
While the second set was filled with ripchords, there were admittedly some stellar moments. (1) The “Ghost” jam is so effortlessly creating these bliss melodic peaks it’s almost becoming ‘ho hum’. Like the Mann version (and according to @MikeHamad), this one went into the more Lydian territory of C (wheres Ghost jams more often go into the mixolydian area of a D chord). I think we could probably agree that thus far “Ghost” is the MVP of the summer?
(2) Weekapaug Groove got really weird for a while. First, Trey was doing some pretty standard ‘trilly’ D arpeggios, but around 4:08 the rest of the band (especially Fishman) got really quiet behind him. This created this really serene, calm texture (rare for this song!). By 5:00, Trey seems to be signaling a transition back to the chords, but at 5:15 he takes it back into some thick funk via his wah pedal. Then the jam starts venturing out of the groove entirely as Trey employs some loops and by 6:22 we are in some really interesting un-Weekapaug territory. But, it was one of those kind of nights, as Fishman, ostensibly on Trey’s command, busts into the opening drums of “Cavern.” Ouch. In other “historical” news, this was the first unfinished “Weekapaug” since 10/26/2010 (I tweeted @Yemblog the question and within seconds he had the answer — dude is impressive!) (3) “Piper” was nothing really special. Standard high octane, feverish jam. By 5 minutes it transitioned to the “rhythmic stabbing”, with Trey on rhythm, but the high-tempo approach remained. By the 7 minute mark, the jam fizzled away into that abstract space that can either lead to a ripchord or a new direction. It twas a ripchord but the best of the night with the much anticipated transition into “Waiting All Night.” The intro to this song just feels like a jam, so it was great to see this segue.
(4) The Tweezer was a highlight historically speaking: @Secretcabdriver reported it was the shortest version (7:38) since the legendary shows (ahem) at Telluride in 2010. But, who’s got time to jam Tweezer when you need to play the third “Fuego” in as many nights (including Jimmy Fallon)? In the wake of the 25 minute Mann version, I ridiculed anyone who complained about this song being overplayed. Well, I think now the complaints are kind of valid (big hat tip to @nolasox for the Oprah meme — “EVERYONE GETS A FUEGO!” Hilariously done). I propose a new policy — if you’re going to play the standard 10 minute “Fuego” with the composed ending, etc. take it to the first set please? Second set “Fuego’s” should be in the third quarter, be unfinished, and last a long, long time.
(5) You really should listen to that “Possum” in the encore. I love Possums that get weird and this one did just that. At 3:45 it started getting really quiet. A minute later, Trey is playing these menacing bent notes over and over again and it is becoming difficult to know where the blues changes are until Trey finds them again at 5:04. By 5:45 the jam slid back into pretty standard Possum territory, but it was a nice ride. This encore also featured “2001" for the first time ever, which is pretty amazing.
Phish is anything if unpredictable. After throwing down, long, epic, and breakthrough jams at Randalls , the past two nights have been about playing songs and truncated jams. Who knows which Phish we will see this weekend at Chicago? I hope Randalls won’t be seen as the peak of the tour in retrospect. I will say, no matter what songs are played, or the length of jams, they are still playing with tight, crisp confidence. And that will continue this weekend.