Phish: Summer Tour in Review
SHTICK: In Hartford on June 18, fans were treated to one of the most memorable encores in Phish history. “Sleeping Monkey” was played for a guy who, at the previous night’s show on June 17, had apparently held a “big, elaborate sign” requesting the song all night. At Trey’s direction — “This is for you, guy with the sign” – the crowd impressively sang-along on the chorus. As if that weren’t enough, Phish then proceeded to play two complete versions of “Tweezer Reprise,” the second of which, albeit fast and hideously sloppy in its opening section, was “for Hershey Park,” because Phish had played “Tweezer” there but no “Reprise.” Somewhat unsurprisingly, Phish then opened, and closed, the next show at SPAC on June 19 with “Tweezer Reprise.” This marked the first time since 11/9/95 (482 shows earlier) that “Tweeprise” had opened a show, and the first time since 7/16/93 that two consecutive Phish shows had each closed with the same song. (“Freebird” had closed both the July 15 and July 16, 1993, shows.)
Even though Fish had given his vacuum cleaner away to a fortunate fan named Rich in Miami on 12/30/09 after “Love You,” in Camden on June 24, Fish employed an Electrolux of unknown origin expertly on “I Didn’t Know.” During the song and before Fish’s vacuum solo, Trey reminded the audience of his “very strong prediction” at Camden a year earlier on 6/7/09 that the Flyers would win the Stanley Cup in the 2009-2010 season. (The Flyers made it to the final this year, but failed to win the Cup.) Trey then predicted that the Flyers would win the Cup next year, as long as Fish performed “his voodoo Stanley Cup, sucking, vacuum tube sound.” During Fish’s solo, many fans chanted “Let’s Go Flyers!” and Fish briefly played along to it. It is a must-hear version for Fishman-on-vacuum aficionados — who should check out his vacuum mastery during “Love You” and “Hold Your Head Up” on 6/2/90 Greenstreets if you haven’t heard them yet.
Phish performed a second set on June 27 at Merriweather that was similar in its ludicrousness to the 8/14/09 Hartford second set last Summer. After a perfunctory “Wilson” and strong “Meatstick” with Japanese lyrics, Phish launched into “Saw It Again,” and then continued to tease it now and then during the rest of the show, including vocalizing it during a jam that segued out of the debut of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” While musically a mixed-bag, just like Hartford 8/14/09, this Merriweather show is ridiculously entertaining and a tour standout.
A summary of the Summer tour’s “shtick” must conclude by noting the “Harpua” on the Fourth of July in Alpharetta. The story of this particular “Harpua” isn’t worth re-telling, aside from the fact that it involves Jimmy listening to one of his “all-time favorite bands”: a band that “happens to be one of the only other bands, other than Phish, that won’t bullshit you, and will tell you the truth, you know, in their songs.” Phish then launch into “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine. While not nailed, it is a riot, with Fish on drums and vocals. (If you’re unfamiliar with the song, said vocals include a refrain of “FUCK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!”)
The foregoing “Executive Summary” of Phish’s Summer tour was written for those of you who allot yourself no more than ten minutes or so of Phish-reading at any given time. If you’re interested in more detail about Phish’s shows year-to-date, the following capsule summaries may be useful to you. They at least will help contextualize my two cents on Phish’s music, if not also help you decide whether to bother downloading any shows or tracks off of LivePhish (the recordings for this tour sound spectacular). For substantially more information about Phish’s songs, including recent versions of them, please see the Song Histories on Phish.net. There is also a “Recommended Listening” section below, in case meritorious versions of songs from the tour interest you.
After five months off earlier this year, in which they found time to induct Genesis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 15 (covering “Watcher of the Skies” and “No Reply At All”) and play a few tunes on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show on May 13 (“Loving Cup” and “Kill Devil Falls”), Phish opened their Summer tour quite well in Chicago on June 11. Occurring only a few days after the Blackhawks had defeated Trey’s beloved Flyers to secure the Stanley Cup for the first time in almost 40 years, Phish’s tour opener featured strong playing in “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Reba,” “Ghost,” and the rare cover “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” as well as excellent, melodic soloing from Trey on “Limb by Limb,” which ended surprisingly with a vocal jam. The jam in “Light” was unusually disoriented, if only given Trey’s hair-pulling overuse of a whammy pedal that creates a whiny, obnoxiously off-key, whale-calling-like effect. This pedal was frequently used on this tour, appearing at times to magnify flubs while possibly (and ironically) trying to conceal them. Some fans want this pedal to be thrown up against a wall and shot. But it seems to greatly amuse Trey and, like it or not, it is his tone. And if he wants his gorgeous Languedoc to sound like an out-of-tune, gasping-for-air Willy the whale on occasion, then so be it. I’m just glad that Phish is back, writing new music, and improvising magnificently on occasion.
The Chicago tour-opening show included the debut of the catchy and now quite popular “Show of Life” as the surprising close to the second set – not a customary location for debuts. “Show of Life” is a simple, Beatles-esque anthem with a sing-a-long chorus (“…Find ourselves right here, in the show of life.”). Like a more serious “Sleeping Monkey,” it seems engineered to end sets and shows on a happy note without undue burden on the band.
Blossom and Hershey
After leaving Chicago, Phish performed in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, at the Blossom Music Center, and in Hershey, PA, before taking a day off. Both shows were well-played, classic “average-GREAT” Phish shows. Phish opened Blossom with a cover of The Band’s “Look Out Cleveland” (a first), and treated everyone again in the second set with John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” (with Page on lead vocals). Blossom’s “Backwards Down the Number Line” (aka “BDTNL”) was quite good, venturing into “Type II” territory. A pro-shot, high quality video of this “BDTNL” can be seen above. Blossom’s second set also had a strong “Character Zero.” Hershey was similarly a paradigmatic, well-played Phish show with a strong setlist, what with crowd faves such as “Fluffhead,” “Funky Bitch,” “Bouncin” and “Sparkle” in the first set, and solid versions of “Drowned,” “Tweezer,” and “You Enjoy Myself” (aka “YEM”) in the second. While there was no “Tweezer Reprise,” nor particularly remarkable versions of any tunes, most fans likely left the show fulfilled, given the solid overall level of play. Even though I do not recommend any particular version from this show below, as a complete package, Hershey was song-to-song one of the most consistently well-played shows of the tour.