Phish: Summer Tour in Review
Despite having a day off both before and after the show, Phish’s nTelos Pavilion gig on June 15 in Portsmouth, VA, was fun but “through the motions.” Yes, this show arguably featured one of the best versions of “46 Days” of “Phish 3.0.” (Though not as great as that awesome “46 Days” from Merriweather last year.) And yes, getting a mid-first-set “Slave to the Traffic Light” is necessarily a highlight. And the first set also included the Phish debut of “Cold Water” by Tom Waits and fan-favorites “Poor Heart” and “My Friend My Friend.” But the show overall seemed to lack spirit. Mike’s new tune, “Idea,” however, debuted in the second set, and is noteworthy. It begins with a delicately melodic hook, vaguely reminiscent of “Leprechaun,” an instrumental that Phish only performed a few times in Summer 1993, and which many fans wish Phish would bring back. “Idea” then proceeds almost like a gumbo-soup that incorporates elements from Mike’s solo work and classic rock hits. This Portsmouth show also closes with an excellent “First Tube,” which is similarly worth a listen.
The first show in Hartford on June 17 was “typically great” Phish and would have been unremarkable, but for the mighty return of “Walk Away” in the first set, and the second set’s compelling “Down with Disease,” that segued beautifully into “Sand.” Although the ending of “Sand” was weirdly awkward, with Trey beginning “Horse” while Mike and Fish continued to belt out “Sand” for several measures, the first half of the jam was excellent. The show also had the tour’s strongest “Alaska,” and closed well with a good-enough “Mike’s Groove” followed by a “Shine A Light” (Rolling Stones) encore.
The second Hartford show on June 18 was also an above-average show for the tour. While there were no “must hear” versions of anything, almost everything was well-played and the jamming at times in “Wolfman’s,” “Reba,” “Light,” “Tweezer” (even though the opening segment is a bit sloppy), “Harry,” and “Theme” was pretty good. The show also included arguably the tour’s most magnificent encore (“Sleeping Monkey” and “Tweeprise” x2), discussed above, and the debut of “Summer of ’89.” This new tune is more or less a love song from Trey to his wife. Like a sped-up, happy-go-lucky “Let Me Lie,” it has a closing jam section that has potential to melodically soar in an enchanting, soulful way – so long as Trey doesn’t summon Moby Dick on his ‘doc.
On June 19 in Saratoga Springs, Phish continued the “Tweeprise” joke by sandwiching the show with it. The opening “Tweeprise” was the first time the song had opened a show since 11/9/95 (482 shows earlier), and the show-closing “Tweeprise” – which was the third encore tune after “Coil” and “Character Zero” — was the first time that the same song had closed two consecutive Phish shows since July 16, 1993, which “Freebird” had closed. This show was consistently well-played (par for the course from Phish), with a strong “Fluffhead” in the first set and an engaging, heavily-spacey, yet still note-heavy, jam out of “Rock and Roll” to open the second set. But the highlight may have been the debut of “Halfway to the Moon,” which – like “Beauty of a Broken Heart” – is another fantastic song from Page. While it features Page’s playing, it also has groovy bass and drums from Mike and Fish, almost like “Undermind” meets “Black-eyed Katy.” Hopefully Trey will comp and solo as well on these Page tunes as he routinely does on so many other intricately melodic tunes, like “Moma Dance,” “Tube,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” and “Bathtub Gin.” The second set of this SPAC show ended with the most inspired version of “Show of Life” to date.
The second SPAC show on June 20, one of the more musically diverse shows of the tour, opened with “Brother,” which also had opened 2009’s Father’s day show (6/21/09). The band’s and Kuroda’s kids apparently climbed in and out of a bathtub on stage during the version. The first set was very well-played, with good versions of “Back on the Train” and “Undermind,” and a strong version of “Roggae.” The first set “Gotta Jibboo” also featured Tony Markellis on bass, while Mike played guitar along with Trey. This is believed to have been the first Phish show at which both Mike and Trey played electric guitars. They both apparently had played acoustic guitars during the acoustic songs in the first set of 12/28/98 MSG. The second set of this SPAC show opened with Carini and was highlighted by a very “Type II” jam out of “Drowned,” the lengthy, improvisational arrangement of “Steep” (which debuted in Miami on New Year’s last year), and a “Makisupa” that included improvised lyrics from Trey that introduced brief solos by Mike, Page and Fish. The second set closed with a good “YEM,” and the “Frankenstein” encore (with Page on keytar) was a fitting end to a show that was above-average, despite the lack of any bust outs or “must-hear” versions.
On June 22, Phish opened a show in Mansfield, Massachusetts, with a cover of “Lit O Bit” (Rita Clarke and the Naturals), which has a Cajun shuffle rhythm and is heavy on Page on piano. It’s a great opener that is similar to The Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way.” The first set was relatively standard, typically great fare, although “Kill Devil Falls” was longer and even more fierce than normal. The set also featured the debut of “Dr. Gabel,” which I presume concerns a doctor who helped Trey deal with his unhealthy addictions (“…Doctor will you help me change my ways… You have really helped to work things out…”). This version is very rough – it seems to be a work in progress. Its music reminded me in spirit of quirky “classic rock” tunes from the late 1960s, like Pink Floyd’s “Scream Thy Last Scream.” Trey profusely thanked the audience after this version for their applause, which surprised him (“You’re amazing … You’re too kind, too kind.”). The second set of this show opened with a “Mike’s Groove” and closed with a “Slave” and “Loving Cup,” which always makes for a good set, but musically this set was at best average-great Phish fare — even though the Weekapaug was one of the better versions of “Phish 3.0.”