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Phish, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA- 10/29

Photo by Kevin Kenly

While Phish have played a concert during a championship game before, this time was different. With the local team playing, there was frisson in the air, especially because the public viewing area was right across the street from the venue, causing tour pins and Giants hat vendors to compete with each other. Thousands of people were cheering every hit. Even going inside the building was no escape from the excitement. As Phish came out for their set at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, a chant of, “Let’s Go Giants,” was echoing throughout the building. They just needed three more outs to clinch a title!

Phish came out swinging with an intense “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan,” but by “Moma Dance,” it was obvious that most of the crowd was just following the game. The Royals put the tying run on third but a foul out ended it, leading to a loud cheer completely unrelated to what the band was doing. They immediately put a stop to “Moma Dance,” broke into an instrumental abbreviated version of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” before returning where they left off.

Even after the hat tip, there still was a buzz in the crowd. After a “Back on the Train” – which hit a rather nice peak – ended, there was a “Let’s Go Giants” cheer. There was another one a few songs later, one that led to some interesting banter. Page was called out for being a Mets’ fan. According to a perhaps not completely truthful Trey, he watches every game, even when he’s on stage. Page took the ribbing from his bandmate and the audience in stride. He knew his team wasn’t all that but, as he said, “We can’t all be world champions all the time.” This banter led into a song about sports failure (“The Line”) and a fiery “Wolfman’s Brother” with an intense peak to round out the first set.

The break gave everyone a chance to reorient their minds away from Kansas City and more towards the stage. To complete that effect, “First Tube” opened the second set for the first time since fall 2000. The dance riff and Trey’s stage manner (bouncing around, doing his rock star poses) make it feel again like a Phish show instead of a team rally. The “Down With Disease” that followed was definitely interesting. It might have suffered from a few too many ideas; instead of developing any one of them, they bounced around a bit.

Fortunately that problem would not persist. After a very solid “Theme From the Bottom” that saw a chance for a reprise of the Pink Floyd sounding jam played in Santa Barbara, “Split Open and Melt” dropped. Unlike the early jam, this found a dark and intense theme and ran with it, being both pretty and a little scary. This focus continued through the “Heavy Things.” Page has been experimenting a bit with a new sound in his mid song solo, one that is akin to a hockey organist. During that section, Trey moved next to him and they flirted with the idea of a stop/start jam. For a brief moment it felt more like “Tube” than “Heavy Things.” That’s one of the things that separate Phish from other bands in their gene; many can have a huge improvisational session, but few let that attitude kick in for other songs in the catalog. Fishing the late show trifecta, “Light,” was a great arrangement. While the jam became spacey, Fish did a great job of keeping a higher tempo underneath the effects, keeping the jam going instead of just segueing into the next song.

While this show might make few best of lists, it can be best to look back at Page’s words. We can’t be world champions all of the time, but the jam this night at least showed a path towards some transcendent music. With the Vegas Halloween run coming up in two days, it looks like there’s a chance at least for some amazing songs. Let’s all hope that it happens.

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