Phish, Cricket Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ & Coors Amphitheatre, Chula Vista, CA – 7/7&8
Step into the Heater (or, who’s got my miracle Aquafina?)
There's a kind of madness that exists among those who live and work in the valley of the sun (Phoenix to you and I.) They seem to simply ignore the fact that it is too damn hot, every day, for about 5 months out of the year. I think back to the day after the Phoenix show in 2000, it was a "mild" 99 degrees when a resident mentioned to me, "fall is in the air." Madness I tell you. The same madness I attribute to that overheated denizen is surely the same mental illness co-workers, family and friends must think I possesses in spades when I tell them that I am, indeed, going to Phoenix, for a concert, in July.Weather and Phish bias aside, it was tour opener time gain, which means giddiness, rustiness, and surely even some crankiness (raise your hands high jaded oldbies!) The weather was as advertised, and the crowd was small. Phoenix might be the only tour stop where water is the most sought after thing in the lot. The Stash opener brought back memories of my first Phish show, also in Phoenix some 8 years ago. I remember that Stash opener being particularly mind-blowing, while this one was rather short and fairly standard. Perhaps the hot weather would be the difference tonight. Sample in Jar kept the crowd moving, and Page really seemed to want to stretch his vocal chords a bit. Billy Breathes was sweet, and highlighted what must have been some practice on vocals and harmony over the gap between winter tour and summer. I was surprised at how happy I was to hear the opening notes of Waves. This tune is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine, and apparently others, as it was well received by the crowd. This one was fairly standard, but I just love this song's potential. Spices was the first new song of the night, and this one sounded like a work in progress. I had heard the Trey versions from his spring tour and was looking forward to hearing it this summer. Presumably it will be in full form by IT. Anything but Me seemed poorly placed here as the energy seemed to lag during the spacey Waves and untested Spices. However, Fishman's Bowie drum harbinger started up and got the crowd back on its feet. Bowie, like the Stash opener seemed a little flat, and ended without much of a jam segment. Dirt was played well, and the vocals and whistling on this version were as good as any I've heard. The Possum closer got the crowd rocking once more and left hope for some higher energy in the second set, as the first one seemed a bit tired.
The Birds of a Feather set opener was airy and not really rocking. This song would have faired better in the middle of the first set then as the much needed energetic second set opener that it wasn't. The opening notes of Wolfman's brought salvation for the energy deprived, while the jam that followed finally hinted at the new sound that seemed to be developing throughout winter tour. At a few points about 10 minutes in, the boys sounded downright like electronica, and left me wondering how this type of jam will sound come August. Scents and Subtle Sounds, (or Colors in the Void as we were calling it that night,) has the most potential of any of the new songs I heard in Phoenix or San Diego. There's some nice sounding composed parts, some spacey jam segments, the basic requirements of a potentially good Phish song. TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu was an old school treat for many, (though many around us didn't know what they were hearing) and Gordon really nailed his bass solo in the later. Walls of the Cave was played to death during Winter Tour (like so many other songs in Phish's catalogue to come before,) so it should come as no surprise that this song is rapidly becoming Phish's signature piece and was the best played song of the night. The intro featured brief solos from each band member, with the lights framing each one. The composed parts were played with clarity and precision, and the jam was nothing to sneeze at (or sweat at, as the case was.) Caspian was it's normal, vilified self, though the energy seemed to be higher later in the show than it was earlier. And the Character Zero encore was great to hear and see, as Trey really loves playing this song.
Phoenix was hot; the show was mild and short. Perhaps the 111-degree heat had something to do with the sluggish tone of the night; perhaps the boys are still knocking off rust from their two-year hiatus. Or perhaps Phish, like their fan base, is suffering from a shortened attention span, and like their fans, waiting with anticipation for the next big thing.
Discerning Phish (or How I had better seats than Bill Walton)
It seems appropriate that Bill Walton, one of the most critical basketball commentators and fans in the world, was sitting a few rows behind me in brisk and refreshing Chula Vista. You see, after Phoenix the night before, I was in a critical mood myself. I could only imagine Walton commentating about the show along side me the previous night, in the way that only Walton can. "Those licks were TERRIBLE Trey!" "Throw it DOWN Fish-man!" etc… Had I turned that page? Was I now a jaded oldbie? I shuddered at the thought and took some solace in the knowledge that at least I wasn't standing behind Big Red.
The Guyute opener was met with mixed reaction by the more preppy than usual looking crowd. It made me giggle, but only because it made me think of the shrill PETA group in the lot, wearing pig suits, and how good a Guyute, lettuce and tomato sandwich sounded at the moment. Horn always sounds the same to me, the unwavering ballad of love scattered, and so was it with this version. My Sweet One got the crowd fired up, the vocals were great, and left one extra large tie-dyed fan to the rear of me screaming "throw it DOWN Leo!" The dirty opening chords of Tweezer kept the crowd going, and well they should have been. With the sun just having set, Big Red banging his head, and the other red head smiling and doing his favorite chicken neck thing, all seemed momentarily right with the world. It seemed as if this Tweezer might go somewhere cool, or at least into another song, but instead they boys just set it down nicely. I had threatened to punch one of my distinguished touring partners if they played Limb by limb the night before, so when they went into that he was understandably worried. This was a really good version however, and warranted no such violence. Frankie Says was its hypnotic self, though the boys seemed to flub the lyrics a bit. I would have preferred to hear Taste come out of Tweezer instead of as a set closer. The vocals were strong, the playing was tight, but the song itself, like many tonight and the night before seemed short. "Where's the effort?" I could imagine Bill Walton saying.
The opening dissonance of DWD is unmistakable, and this was a really great version. The composed part was very rocking, and you can just tell how much Trey loves playing this song. The jam segment was interesting to say the least At one point during a particularly bluesy jam it sounded like the boys were going to break into the Real Me. Instead they went into more of an ambient jam, and then nicely back into DWD. This was the highlight of the night so far. Vultures was a surprise, and seemed a bit risky given that, in my opinion, the boys were still knocking off some rust and the vocals on this one are challenging. They nailed the vocals however, and sounded great. Secret Smile, like Spices, is another Trey song that I prefer as a Phish song, though I might be in the minority on this one. Harry Hood, in the past, had merely been a fun song for me to hear. That is to say, I have never heard a hands down, gut buster version live. That all changed for me, for good, during the jam segment. The beginning of the song sounded great, but standard. However, the jam segment of the song was so powerful, so interlaced with both funk, ambient, and tension and release jam elements, that it literally left me speechless. I had one of those blissful, gut-wrenching moments, that only Phish can deliver, and it made all my other questions and opinions regarding the future of Phish seem, well, clichInstead of me screaming at Phish in my bad Walton impersonation to throw it down, it was I who had instead thrown down my expectations in favor of accepting that 1993 happened and it won't happen again, but there is a lot of great music that is still happening. Phish kept the energy and groove high with a mean version of Carini. Ever since winter tour Carini seems to be getting nastier and nastier, and this mother was no exception. Discern, another newbie, started off with a beautiful Page solo, which had that going for it, which is nice. The rest of the song seemed like it needed rehearsing, but it should be in high form come Limestone. Waste is a great set closer, and a reminder that even a mediocre phish show is a better waste of time than complaining in front of your computer. The Bouncing>Tweezerprize encore was about what I call textbook Phish, a perfect way to close the night, and great reminder of why I started listening to Phish all those years ago.
I'd like to return back to the subject of Bill Walton and criticism for a moment. Bill is recognized as being on of the more cynical and critical commentators around today. However. That is only because he loves what does, he still loves basketball, both for what it was, but also for what it is and continues to be. In contrast, on the way out of the show I stumbled across a crestfallen looking kind tour brah. He was saying how disappointed he was, and was still waiting for the big breakout show. "I feel like Trey's bitch," he told me. "But look at Pizza guy," he went on, referring to the man selling French bread pizza a few yards away, "he's made enough to buy a house while I've still got my finger in the air." I asked him what exactly the big break out he was waiting for happened to be. "You know, like My Friend, my friend," he said. "Isn't your opinion of what constitutes a big break out, purely subjective though?" I asked. Without answering, and still looking disappointed he trailed off into the lot, unable like many, both still on tour or complaining online, to discern between their expectations from the Phish of the past and living in the present.