Phish, Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto, ON – 7/22
Photo by Bill Kelly
Canada waited thirteen years for its latest Phish show, so what difference would an extra thirteen days make? The weather-plagued opening leg of the band’s 2013 summer tour was interrupted in dramatic style, when flooding and power outages forced a postponement of the original Toronto date – July 9th. Going above and beyond their obligations to fans, the Phish organization quickly scrambled to secure a make-up time, softening the blow significantly upon announcing the postponement (as opposed to a cancellation). While some potential visitors may have been dismayed by the travel implications of a delayed performance, Torontonians needed only wait another two weeks for their date with jam-rock destiny.
By the time that Phish returned to town, more storm trouble had interfered with the preceding three-night Chicago run, and the rare fan favorite “Harpua” (which contains a reference to relenting rain) already had been busted out. Add in the sizable gap between local appearances, and the “greatest-hits” setlist that materialized made perfect sense. The x-factor, as all Phish devotees know, would be in the band’s ability to transcend through improvisation. As luck would have it, the stars were aligned for a night of exceptional musical connection.
The energy at the lakeside Molson Amphitheatre was gloriously high when Phish took the stage. Page McConnell relayed the band’s thrilled state of mind, and the opening combo of “The Moma Dance” and “Chalkdust Torture” promptly announced that the creative juices were flowing. The funky and fun “Undermind” was coupled with album-mate “Army of One” – a McConnell original with timely lyrical content (“Northern dilemma, call of the cold”) – as swaths of friends old and new rejoiced in the surreal fruition of this heavily-anticipated soiree. A brief jam on “Twist” set the table for the centerpiece of set one – the patient groupthink release of “Stash”. Ripping versions of “Ocelot” and “Suzy Greenberg” then signaled intermission, as night fell over Lake Ontario.
The predictable set two opener selection of “Down With Disease” abandoned all predictability early in its exploratory section, the band veering outside the lines, led by Trey Anastasio’s inspired guitar work. Jon Fishman injected an aggressive drum pattern, before McConnell joined Anastasio on some psychically-potent interplay, and the jam peaked along with the ecstatic audience. A silky smooth segue into “Also Sprach Zarathustra” easily qualified the set as above average, and there was still plenty to go.
“Piper” shed its skeleton, slipping immediately into deep improv, and finding gorgeous results in the process, before being abandoned for “Tweezer”. This version of the classic jam vehicle stayed within the song’s breezy/bluesy confines, but with all the communication between players of a top notch take. Mike Gordon’s bass went from slap to phaser, it’s electronic tilt pushing the band towards a rare offering of the textbook “Tweezer” slow-down outro. With precious time ticking away, Phish left room for one more adventure – the Anastasio-driven glory of quintessential 80s cut “David Bowie”. Weaving his way through breathtaking licks, and shifting into major key for a blissful middle section, Anastasio was in the pocket. His bandmates and adoring fans were right there with him, joyously breathing in the waning gasps of rarified Canadian air. The long-awaited occasion was a roaring success, and so the wait begins again.