Thoughts on the First of Three from Phish at the Greek
One couldn’t help but feel some sense of joy walking up to the Greek Theater Thursday afternoon knowing Phish was taking the stage at the historic venue for the first time since 1993. Berkeley is usually an eclectic open-minded city as is, although Thursday brought an even higher energy to the scene as heads from far and wide converged for the opening show of Phish’s second leg of summer tour. My problem? Besides the fact that Phish has been known to blow the “big ones” or let’s call them the more hyped shows on any given tour they’re on, they hadn’t played a live lick since the well received July 4th show in Atlanta.
In reality, over the years I’ve tried to quiet my mental critic for our beloved boys in Phish because sometimes it’s just a little much. I find myself thinking, “Oh they haven’t played in a month so song selection will be bland, jamming won’t be as tight,” and other random banter. Yet my consciousness pumps away thinking I’ve learned something about Phish over the years, which allows me to know what’s going to happen on any given night. But then I remember to quiet my thoughts and let them do their magic rather than bother listening to the drunk guy telling you, “For sure, the opener will be such and such,” and “they’re definitely going to play x, y, and z tonight.”
Okay. So throw that crap out (except the fact that it was a joy to be walking with many heads to the venue Thursday) and let me just say night one was impressive. I wouldn’t say it was the best show I’ve ever seen, but it was certainly far from the worst. The boys came out hot and played a first set that if “Kill Devil Falls” wasn’t there, it could’ve been from a show in the mid-nineties. And “Kill Devil Falls” was a welcome addition. As was the funked out jam in “Wolfman’s” during only the second song of the night, and Trey’s soaring guitar on both “Funky Bitch” and the set closing “Antelope.”
The fog started rolling in for set two as my mind drifted into “Phish Mode” and I contemplated the fog that surrounds. I also noticed although packed of course, the Greek felt loose. Generally, I think most phans were adamantly stoked to be seeing the boys in a 8,500 person capacity space when exactly a year to the day earlier we had shared a great night of music in a venue holding 22k.
My dancing space for the second set improved dramatically, thanks in no small part to the cadre of pretty girls found in our crew. After all these years, yeah, I still think it’s a riot that cute girls can really just own the show whenever they want. It’s also super funny to watch other dudes think, “sick, cute chicks”, and then notice me and other dudes accompanying them before a dirty look flies and they take off.
Our spot was Fishman side, right above the pit. It not only let us have a more intimate connection with Kuroda and his mind bending light show, but it turned the sound up as well as let us check in on the boys more visually. Although my evolved stance on where to take in a show these days matters only for adequate dance space and good sound, for Phish, there’s no doubt checking in on facial expressions during jams, how they use signals to communicate with each other at times, as well as take a moment to have a discussion during a set is a phun treat to take in. I feel the experience, when available, is a totally added bonus to the night, and it certainly upped Thursday nights show, just in time for a rocking second set.
Giddy and smiling, Trey starred at Mike as a clearly excited Gordo banged his bass for the opening notes to “Down with Disease” (DWD). Another of the bands 3.0 staples, somewhat following the trend from set one, but the jam was liquid and bounced in and out of light and dark before bleeding right into a rocking “Free”. Funny, just last year at Shoreline, my phriend and I thought they were going into “Free” from “DWD” although it fell short and went into “Limb By Limb.” We shared a smile last night both thinking the same thing as “DWD” did go into “Free” and Trey killed the opening notes before the groove section in the middle of the song showcased Mike absolutely dropping bombs.
After a nicely played “Alaska,” “Get Back on the Train” kicked in and offered another fairly tight jam that had several longtime phans talking it up after the show. I thought it was good, actually, pretty tight for a song I don’t have much of vibe with, but in my opinion, it didn’t touch the rest of the set. Minus “Joy”, which was nice but not brilliant, “Maze” was as high energy, especially in the closing jam, as a “Maze” from shows of past. In sync with Kuroda, the Greek was on fire as Trey just ripped into those high notes causing the whole place to swirl in unity.
The end of the set was somewhat of a surprise as personally, I just wasn’t expecting a “Tweezer” so late. Nonetheless, it was a fully funked out version and although short, the welcome beats temporarily made me forget the venue’s 10:30 pm curfew was fast approaching. Then abruptly, the jamming stopped, which I for one am still trying to accept in this new era of 3.0 Phish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to still be seeing shows and I love the new energy, but how many jams have you heard during this era that really sound like they could or are even about to take off and explore so far of the nether world, and then the band just turns on a dime and stops? I guess it could be worse, and I bet some of you love it, but I was literally saying in my head, “here we go,” before the opening notes to “Fluffhead” ran through the theatre. A welcome end to the set, “Fluffhead” basically got the whole place back in unity like the “Maze,” with the Greek almost in total belting out the chorus together.
The encore started with Trey grabbing a sign that read “Prep School Hippie” on one side and “Stage Banter” on the other. Having seen the sign and knowing the band has busted out ridiculous material on the first leg of tour, I thought they were going to play it. As far as I know it’s only been performed four times and the last time was in 1986. Instead, we got some stage banter that showcased Trey talking to the crowd about Paul Languedoc and how crucial a role he’s played in the band’s career. Trey told us every guitar he’s ever played in Phish came from Paul, and he asked for a full audience cheer to thank him. Trey also explained he had just got a new guitar from Paul, one made from “a magic piece of wood.” He then joked as he said something to the effect of now we’ll “play a bad guitar” before dropping into “Loving Cup”. And of course, we got the throw down of “Tweezer Reprise” before filing out of the venues with huge smiles from a more than solid night one.
Pre-show questions and problems quickly vanished with most people I spoke with smiling and saying “It’s only Thursday”, the real question that remained is what do we have in store for night two?