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Published: 2009/11/29

Phish: Still a Jamband

Above: Phish at the Times Union Center, Albany, NY. Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2009. From Phish’s From the Road Section

Phish closed its two-show run at Albany, NY’s Times Union Center with one of its most exploratory, jam-friendly shows in recent memory. The evening opened with a pair of newer songs—title track off Phish’s new album Party Time and a high-energy “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan”—before moving deeper into the group’s canon. Like Saturday night’s Albany performance, the Vermont Quartet brought back a number of songs it has not played since reuniting, including the first version of the bluegrass number “Uncle Pen” since 2000 and the first take on the dark “Vultures” since 2004. In addition, the group offered a few rarer numbers like the Junta oddity “Sanity,” which Phish has only played one other time since 1998, and the second version of the James Gang’s “Walk Away’ since 2000. Clearly comfortable with some of its signature complex compositions, the musicians also offered exceptional, exploratory versions of “Foam” and “Split Open and Melt.” Standards like “NICU,” the Party Time number “Alaska,” the increasingly well-received new ballad “Joy” and a rocking “Backwards Down the Number Line” rounded out the set.

The group’s second set proved to naysayers that the group is capable of the long, open-ended jams Phish explored in its later years. Opening with a 24-minute version of “Seven Below” that segued into a 22-minute take on “Ghost,” Phish settled into a loose, spacey groove that moved into Type II-style jamming “Phish 3.0” has rarely explored.

Though the jam centered the band’s rhythmic grooves and was colored by a series of often minimalist guitar plucks and keyboard weirdness, the improvisation rarely approached the dark textures characteristic of the band’s post-hiatus period. After wrapping up “Ghost,” the group offered a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Cool It Down” that moved into a 9-minute “Gotta Jibboo.” Oddly, though Phish’s decision to cover Velvet Underground’s Loaded in 1998 felt controversial, more songs off that album remain in the group’s regular rotation than any other Halloween album. Saturday night’s version of “Cool It Down” was met with a hero’s welcome.

Phish’s take on the solo Trey Anastasio track “Let Me Lie,” reworked with a new beat on Party Time, was met with a less positive reception. The Hoist pairing of “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Julius” closed out the set. Pushing the night to its curfew, Phish returned to the stage and offered a lone encore of “You Enjoy Myslef” for the first time since the Shoreline Amphitheater performance that kicked off its hiatus in 2000. The band will perform in Portland, ME this evening.

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