Phish: The Compass Points to Dick’s
Now what? After four incredible shows and a career defining jam, Phish came out and offered yet another complete set of music. Interestingly, set one had more flow and pop than set two, but when you change venues to San Francisco and throw an indoor Phish vibe into the mix anything’s possible.
“Free” has only opened a set three times since the MSG New Year’s run back in 1998. Toss in a “Meat” to follow up “Free,” Vultures” and a “Halfway to the Moon” and there you have some deeper pulls from the catalogue that saw play in set one, night one in San Francisco. The double R’s of “Roggae” and “Reba” were the real standouts in this set, especially the “Reba,” a song many fans still cite as a favorite, but has failed to provide the take off it was once renowned for in the earlier days of the band.
Set two was fun. “Punch You In The Eye” got things off and running as it always does when dropped as a set opener, and “ Down with Disease” provided yet another springboard of memorable improvisation that’s worth another listen. “Seven Below” was a highlight for night one in San Francisco, which was ultimately a quality all-around show.
Several rare songs were dropped on night two at the Bill Graham Civic Center, even though as a whole the show didn’t pop like the previous five. That said, when you look at what individual songs were played in set one and listen back to the two amazing jams in set two, it speaks to the utter brilliance of Phish in the now. Kicking things off with an a capella “Grind” and moving right into “Alumni Blues”>”Letter to Jimmy Page”> “Alumni Blues”, Phish was once again clearly stating you have no idea what the band will choose to play at any given show, at any given time. The sixth “Lengthwise” since 1993 followed right into a “Maze” that brought the first high peak of the evening. Another infrequent offering in “Jesus Just Left Chicago” continued the set of rarities before “First Tube” brought the energy back up before set break.
Second set might be best characterized as one more Saturday night. While a huge “Slave to the Traffic Light” brought things to a brilliant end and another entertaining take on “Steam” was well received, it’s “Rock and Roll” that’s arguably the brightest moment from the only three show run from the second leg of summer tour. It’s another standout moment from the leg as a whole, one that needs to be heard again to properly appreciate the intricacies of a song that’s brought more than one memorable jam in Phish’s most recent era.
The final show from San Francisco was shaping up to be “the one”. The thing is in the first four shows unique type I jams, leaving standard song structure, and what song would get jammed were all over the place. In San Francisco the jams and the regularity of jamming seemed to trail off. The first set boasted several well-played, tight tunes, but nothing extraordinary was offered even though song choice continued in the vein of leg two with well thought-out, lesser played choices. However, set two was something else. “Rock and Roll” from the previous night got some competition from the opening frame from set two, night three in “Energy”> “Runaway Jim.” One of the top jams of the summer showcased a return to a deep improvisation in “Runaway Jim,” which was once a given. Also, the hope that the new cover, “Energy” might be yet another chance for intergalactic Phish brilliance looking ahead, was funded in full with a standout jam that bled into “Jim.” Overall, the set was solid, and the encore of “Sanity” and “Bold as Love” left the crowd satiated and stoked on a well-played three-show run.
At this point, after seven quality shows, Phish had just one more night to bookend their most far-reaching tour in recent memory.
The Gorge, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco have what in common with Hollywood? Not much is right, but the Hollywood Bowl is a pretty rad place to take in a Phish show. It’s very So. Cal, very L.A. and completely different from any of the other leg two tour stops. But with Kuroda manning the out-of-this-world lights, the show took on a new dimension. Kuroda knows the music as well as anyone and brings his A-game to each and every show. The backdrop in Hollywood was so incredibly different. Blending a visual odyssey with classic Phish was a perfect way to end a truly memorable tour.
Musically, the show was very much a standard offering, catering to a large, metropolitan crowd, many of whom were catching their one show of the tour/summer/year. That said, the energy was high, positive and seemingly filled with gratitude all night long, simply because Phish was in town. The first “Scent of a Mule” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” of tour were highlights for the first set. Especially during “ Mule” when the “Mule Duel” showcased the whole band moving over to Fishman’s drum kit and sculpting a jam from outer space. With Mike Gordon holding his bass up for Fishman to smash with mallets, Trey and Page started picking on different drums, captivating the audience and reminding us all that even in the midst of a largely standard set, the extraordinary is never out of the question at a Phish show.
Set two was rocking, but didn’t leave much in terms of memorable moments except for an absolutely stunning take on “Harry Hood.” “Hood” has always been a fan favorite. It was during “Hood” when the first glowstick war took place in Limestone-something that’s now largely a given at most Phish shows. The song’s blend of sound is something new and old fans tend to feel very good about. The Hollywood Bowl version is unlike anything Phish has ever offered. You expect exploratory jams in “Bathtub Gin” or in “Rock and Roll”, but the “Hood” jam is usually somewhat contained, anticipated and hoped that’s its intricate, tightly woven jamming sequence is nailed. Add this to your list of must listen to beasts from second leg of summer tour. It’s really not like anything you’ve heard or would think would come from “Hood”.
On the heels of a truly spectacular West Coast tour the anticipation for Dick’s and Fall Tour are at a boiling point. Some longtime Phish fans are stuck on the “peak” decade of the band, believing nothing will touch those nights ever again. While the arguments of high caliber music during that era are certainly true, to live in the past and take anything away from what Phish is doing in the now is criminal. Those will always be favorite years for anyone that listens to Phish with a passion. However, in understanding that it’s 2013 and the band has remained close to the same core four for so long (thanks for “Possum” and “Camel Walk” Jeff Holdsworth), Phish is bringing a uniqueness to the stage on a nightly basis that is unmatched by any live touring act in the world. Not many bands have such a critical, diehard fan base and I’ll be one of many to share that listening to 90’s Phish is still something special. It was a remarkable period of time and the hallowed sub periods (winter 95, fall 97, etc.) were bright. I can still see myself in the 90’s, fixated on Trey, sincerely believing he could do no wrong. But in the now, it’s not a one-man band-it’s more of a collective. What just went down on the West Coast is truly a collection of eight elite shows that can all be listened to as one seamless chunk of Phishtory. The current state of Phish is incredibly exciting and bright right now, and the light is only growing brighter.