Phish, Meadows Music Theater, Hartford, CT – 8/14
There is a reason to go see Phish as often as one does, and “Stash” is just one. Besides that, there are of course many reasons to see The Phish from Vermont live. The atmosphere is always intoxicating and the prospect of seeing friends you haven’t seen in some time is a net positive. At the end of the day though, you go for the music and for those who forget this central idea, Friday night’s show at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford, CT serves as a potent reminder.
With an excellent first set already in the books, one that included the first “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent->Fly Famous Mockingbird” since 2000 and an exploratory “Stash,” Phish returned to the stage for the perfunctory “Down with Disease” opener. What had already been established by this point was the fire and energy with which the band was playing. Trey Anastasio has returned the famed Ross Compressor to his pedal board and the results speak for themselves. While his guitar is now characterized by a slightly thinner sound than one traditionally associates with the Languedoc, the “crunch” from earlier in the decade is gone and while the Ross may not be the sole, or even major reason, the sound is better off as a result. This has been evident, more or less throughout the tour, and was evident over the course of the Hartford show.
Weaving its way through the jam section of “Disease,” the band entered some interesting territory before finding its way into a distinct jam reminiscent of the ending section of “Reba.” Eventually, as is often the case, Trey ended the jam a bit earlier, striking the opening E chord of “Wilson.” “Slave to the Traffic Light” followed at which point the energy in the crowd noticeably advanced a notch, putting the band and the entire building in an all too familiar position; a second set which starts off as well as one could hope only to have Phish dash your hopes. Too often (although not often enough to stop one from attending the concerts) Phish drops the ball in these situations but on this night, the opening refrain of “Piper” dispelled such worries in a quick fashion. The band has always loved this song, serving as a starting point for some of the more memorable jams of the last ten to twelve years. Tonight’s “Piper” is not in that category but it was certainly fun nonetheless.
However, after a brief breather by way of “Water in the Sky,” it was the remaining portion of the second set that leads so many of us to drive many hours and many miles. A too quick entry into “Ghost” was quickly forgotten thanks to an interesting and bass heavy jam that eventually found the band, Trey specifically, harping on a powerfully distorted A chord on top of Mike Gordon’s thumping bass, the combination of which alerted the more astute listeners that “Psycho Killer” was forthcoming. Having not played this song since the famed Dayton show in 1997, the band can be excused (again) for not getting the change correct however the energy was undeniable and their joy was obvious. Perhaps on a normal night, such emotion and energy would be the high point but on this night, it was merely an appetizer.
Two songs later the band broke out “Icculus,” one of its most beloved “songs” for the first reading since the summer of 1999. Trey scolded the crowd for spending too much time on iPhones and not enough time reading books as the energy in the building built and built. It was, and is, the very reason to attend more than one Phish show and those in attendance at Hartford were rewarded for their dedication. To say this song is loved by Phish fans would be quite an understatement.
The band could have ended the show there but the opening notes of “You Enjoy Myself” were greeted by approving cheers from the crowd. The musical jam was non-existent as the band chose to instead go right into the vocal jam, but nobody cared. The second set had provided more than enough for the enthusiastic crowd and as one wondered into the warm Connecticut night, not a complaint about the music was heard. These days, that’s really saying something.