Phish’s Summer Tour 2010, Continued: Great Songs, Less Jamming, But Does It Matter
There had been so much hype about the Greek and Telluride shows that many wondered if Phish would be able to still “bring IT” for the Creek. Before Phish had ever played here, Deer Creek had a deservedly-mythical status in the early 1990s, given its peaceful, scenic beauty (despite an occasional gate-crashing incident). Phish began playing at Deer Creek on 6/19/95, and it was just as attractive then as it had been in previous years. Phish has played some amazing music in this “shed” since 1995 (e.g., check out the stunning 8/10/97 show, one of the best in Phish history, with remarkable versions of “Cities,” “Bowie” and “SOAM”), and many fans were quite optimistic about these shows.
The first Deer Creek show on August 12 had a wild setlist, with an awesome, crazy-fun “Fee > Nitrous -> Kung > Fire” encore (with Trey employing the megaphone on “Fee” no less), but the quality of the music was all over the place. The first set was hit or miss, containing straightforward, “solid” versions of tunes like “Runaway Jim” (the opener), “PYITE,” “Cars Trucks Buses,” “NICU,” “Horn,” and “Wolfman’s,” but a somewhat rough “Sugar Shack,” a version of “Roggae” that had so much pitch-shifting from Trey with the whammy pedal in it that I’d swear one of his strings went flat, and the worst version ever of “Time Turns Elastic” to close the set. I am one of those fans who enjoys “TTE,” and feel very fortunate to have seen it performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in May 2009. But if it is going to be played like this, then I hope it is never performed again. (It isn’t very popular among fans in any event.)
Although the second set opened unsurprisingly with a “Drowned” that had a mesmerizingly melodic groove (albeit short), it was followed by a decent “Gotta Jibboo” that segued smoothly into a short-but-sweet “Bathtub Gin.” While “Buffalo Bill” was an amusing treat to be sure, it followed a weak “My Friend My Friend,” and the remainder of the set was just ok. Admittedly, I may be unreasonably disgruntled, because there once was a time when a second set “Split Open and Melt” really meant something (see e.g. 7/3/94 or 7/15/99 ), and this version seemed to me to be aimlessly monotonous, and obnoxiously so — even though I appreciated the slow, delicate segue into “Dog Faced Boy” quite a bit. In any event, the set ended with a decent “Harry Hood” > “Golgi” and the show concluded with one of the most entertaining quadruple encores in Phistory, as noted above.
On August 13, the second Deer Creek show opened very “old school” with “Chalk Dust Torture,” “Guelah Papyrus,” “My Sweet One,” “Axilla,” and “I Didn’t Know,” with a hysterical vacuum solo from Fish. While great to get a good “Walls of the Cave” next (the first since Coventry), the subsequent and short “Stash” that followed was a bit disappointing, because like so many other “Stashes” from recent years, the jam just didn’t really gel. The remainder of the set, which included “Train Song” and “Curtis Loew,” ended as solid and old school as it had started, with “Wilson” > “Possum.”
Second set opened with “Haley’s Comet > Light,” and the jam in “Light” — like so many other versions — contained a “Type 1” jam (think of the typical jam in “Chalk Dust,” “Possum,” “Sample,” etc.) followed by a “Type 2” jam, where the improvisation transcends the customary path into new (or at least atypical) territory. While the first section of this jam in “Light” has a lot of pitch-shifting, whammy pedal action, the final four minutes or so involve repetitive, but melodic, spacey jamming, and the band returns to the chorus again as well, which is uncommon now. The “46 Days” that followed was short, but strong, and even went a bit weird and “Type 2” in the final minute or so, as Fish changed the rhythm for a bit before dropping out for a measure or two and then starting-up the hi-hat intro of “Maze.” Every version of “Maze” tends to sound best-ever-awesome (like “Julius” and “Character Zero”), and this one was no different. The rest of the show was also standard, “average-great” Phish fare, aside from the insane segue from “Meatstick” into “Mango.” Trey started up “Mango” after sustaining a note as “Meatstick” wound down, and Mike joined him just as Page launched into “Dave’s Energy Guide” on the synth (I think). Page then played “DEG” for a few measures, took a diversionary improvisational turn for a measure or two, and then returned briefly to “DEG” before playing the “Mango” chords. An unusually entertaining and long true -> segue to be sure and, frankly, it’s the musical highlight of this show as far as I’m concerned, as odd as that is to say. It isn’t a work of art by any stretch, but it’s cool. Trey butchers “Mango” at one point, but the “Fluffhead” and “Julius” to close the set were “typically great.” A good “Contact > Slave” encore closed the show.
The August 14 Alpine Valley show is one of the best shows of the tour. The setlist is wonderful, from the “Tube” opener through the “Quinn the Eskimo” encore, and every song is well-played, which is precisely what you’d expect from an “average great” perfunctory version of a Phish song. First set featured a very good “Reba,” the second “Fuck Your Face” of the tour, a good “Back on the Train,” and another short-but-tight “Antelope” set-closer. (“Antelope” closed FOUR of the eleven first sets in August, and in fact has closed the first sets of eight shows after having been performed in the second set of the tour opener on 6/11/10.)
The second set opened oddly enough (thanks to a sign from a fan) with “The Sloth,” followed by an excellent “Down with Disease” with a raging jam that segued magnificently into “What’s the Use.” This very powerful set also included a very good “Scent of a Mule,” a version that reminded me of how good the song can be, as well as a funky “Sneakin’ Sally” (with only a very brief vocal jam) that followed a “Mike’s Song > Dirt” and preceded a good “Weekapaug Groove.” And as much as “Bug” may borrow from Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin,’” I love that song, too, and it’s a great set closer. Closing the show with “Quinn the Eskimo” was a good call, not only because it’s a great song, but also because The Grateful Dead had encored with it at Alpine on both 6/22/88 and 7/18/89. (It had also closed the Dead’s final show at Deer Creek on 7/2/95, which was the last time that they would ever perform it.)
The second Alpine Valley show on August 15, despite opening with “Tweezer” and featuring a good setlist and a quadruple encore (“Oh! Sweet Nuthun’ > Cavern > Joy > Tweeprise”), was run-of-the-mill. “3.0’d,” as some say. Nice to get “On Your Way Down” in the first set, every song in which was performed just fine, but with the musical highlight being an average-great “Bowie” set-closer, it’s no wonder some thought the band had phoned this one in. And while the second set is played well, opening with “Ghost > Theme > BBFCFM,” the versions performed in the set were typically great (aka “solid”) Phish versions. “YEM,” “2001,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Character Zero” were good, and the mid-second-set “Piper” jammed very well and had a brief tease from Trey of the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” theme during its spacey, gorgeous, “Type 2” section. As noted above, Phish is a great band, they play great shows, and this is a great show. It is also below-average as I hear it.