Vida Blue, Toad’s Place, New Haven, CT- 4/13
April 13, 2003 was my third Vida Blue show. I had seen one show of each of the previous full tours. When this amount of talent is plucked from its normal surroundings the final product is not usually as good and sometimes not that great at all. Vida Blue, however, is successful at the very least in crafting a unique sound, as each member abandons much of what he typically plays in order to mesh with the other two members of the band.
There is always excitement regarding any member of Phish, whether sitting in with another band or going out on tour with a side project. At times it seems like any of the members could do anything in the public eye and the entire fan population would know about it within minutes. This is not to say that everyone who likes Phish likes Vida Blue; in fact, that is far from the truth. Vida Blue is not Phish, and if you want to see Phish you should go see Phish and not Vida Blue. But perhaps that's just me lashing out at the person screaming for the Phish fan- favorite, "You Enjoy Myself" for a majority of the Vida Blue show. This is more a message to those who are not familiar with the band and instantly assume that because Page is in Vida Blue, Page will take the Phish sound and recreate it in the trio setting. In fact, the other two musicians drive the sound just as Page does, and although the style of Page in both bands is somewhat similar, the overtones of his playing are quite different.
This was only the band's third full tour, and the future of the band is always up in the air after a particular tour comes to a close. April 13th was the last show of the trio's five-show tour, and it was in the small and intimate Toad's Place, a club with a capacity of around seven hundred and fifty. This is a change for all of the performers, especially Page, for he had not played there in thirteen years, another reason why fans of Vida Blue did not want to miss this opportunity.
The club was packed, and the only way I could think to describe a large portion of the audience would be to say it was as if a group of fans had gotten together and camped outside of Page's house, as if getting a glimpse of the keyboardist would be satisfactory. The masses got their first look at the keyboardist when the ever-humorous-and-entertaining Trainwreck, featuring Tenacious D's Kyle Gass, invited the keyboardist on stage. This was the first time I realized that Page was at times embarrassed with the reaction he received from the audience. Perhaps the "I love you, Page" screams would make a person uncomfortable, whether familiar with the lead role or not.
As the power trio emerged it was clear that a majority of the audience was there because of Page, but the first half of the concert was the Oteil and Russell show. The show started with the first track off the album, "Most Events Aren't Planned" and although Page's vocals are featured on the song, as Oteil stood front and center on the small stage, he commanded attention not only through his physical presence but through his performance as well. The vocal capabilities of Oteil are seldom noted, because his abilities on the bass are enough to overshadow most aspects of a musical performance, but when watching him demonstrate his vocal range as he scatted, perfectly matching each note, from the highest to the lowest notes on the bass, it was quite impressive (no matter how many times some people have seen it).
At times the more slow paced songs began to drag on for a bit, and it would be easy for the band to settle in a mildly paced groove, and sit there for a majority of the performance. However, just when this happened, Russell sent the band into a furious pace. In such a small setting, Russell's powerful style came through loud and clear. Russell's style challenged both Oteil and Page to stray from the modes in which they are comfortable, creating a fresh feel for the band.
The trio kept on that furious pace until Oteil and Russell left the stage and a small upright acoustic piano was rolled towards the front. For me, and for what seemed to be a majority of the crowd, this section of the show was the highlight. Page began with The Who classic, "Getting In Tune." What stood out on this one were Page's passionate vocals, which do not come through on all of the songs he sings on, whether with Vida Blue or with Phish, as they did with a subtle piano in the background. The song that followed was also a cover, but had far more significance for Phish fans. "Ballad of Curtis Loew" is a song that Phish has not played since 1993, and is one of the most popular requests made by the audience for such songs. And like "Getting in Tune," this was a vehicle for Page's vocals, as well as the excited crowd's vocals. It seemed that this mini-set was a gift for the Phish fans in the audience, for the song that followed was Phish's "Strange Design," and then a new Page song, "Army of One," which he specifically pointed out had no connection to current events.
When the band reemerged to join Page, another John Lennon tune, "Instant Karma," quickly followed. "Electra Glide" came next, which is my personal favorite on the Vida Blue album, because it combines Page's vocals and the musical abilities of all the members. Still, the band is good at playing covers at times exploring these in more depth than their originals as they did with Pink Floyd's "Sheep." The group demonstrated the same principle during the encore as it played the Led Zeppelin classic, "No Quarter."
Of the three times I have seen the trio, this had to have been the best. Although other factors contributed, such as intimacy of the venue and overall crowd excitement, the tightness of the band has become greater as they play together more, and I think that chemistry will only heighten as the band works together more and more — I hope that each member can make time for each other in the future.