Thoughts on The Final Two Nights at the Greek
Here is the second report from Brennan Lagasse on Phish’s Berkeley shows.
Friday night, round two, the bar was raised. After a solid performance Thursday night, especially for the tour opener, the boys came out hot and delivered a tasty first set. Filled with a song selection of old and new, Phish was clearly having a good time playing at the Greek and as the initial notes to “Chalk Dust Torture” rang through the theatre getting just about everybody rocking right out of the gate. We got an “Ocelot,” which Trey had made mention of the previous night when speaking about his new shred stick, followed by a tightly grooved out “It’s Ice.”
However, the real meat of the first set came in the form of “Cities” > “Moma.” Or rather than the real meat we’ll just call it what is was-the funk. It’s only during times like these I remember that epic show from the infamous Island Tour in 98’ when Trey talked about “The Funk.” We got a solid hit of it on Friday and with Kuroda locked in as always, barring the rest of a really good Friday show, this segue was a huge highlight and worth another listen. It’s also worthy to note Talking Heads tunes provided out pre-show stage music, which meant we were going to get at least a little something. Last summer at Hartford several friends and I distinctly remember “Psycho Killer” being turned up on the PA before the boys took the stage. Of course that may or may not had anything to do with that bust out in the second set, but hearing the Heads music Friday caused us to wonder what would get thrown down.
Settling into set break and the half-way mark for our run complaints were far from present. It was a noticeable glow, even amongst the fog, where many people were still reveling in the venue Phish had chose to play for their only West Coast shows of the summer. One friend of mine who made the trip was able to check one of his “to-do in life” objectives off his list. He beamed, “yeah, Phish at the Greek, what more could you really want?”
Beyond the growing glow of happy concert goers were the interesting signs and symbols many phans brought Friday to try and coax the band into playing something extraordinary. I mentioned the “Prep School Hippie/Stage Banter” sign from night one, which was seen again in the same place for night two. Another group had brought several dozen roses that were strategically placed on the sides of the stage hoping for a “Roses Are Free”. The Ween vibe was for surely at the show though as Phish sound checked “Homo Rainbow” perhaps acknowledging the recent ruling in California to strike down the hate focused law to outlaw gay marriage. My favorite example came from the people who blew up orange balloons with “Peaches” written on them. At first I figured there was just one, but because it was bounced around the pit it actually made it right in front of Trey where he noticeably got a good look at the message. I for one got unnecessarily stoked as “Peaches” would have been an amazing bust out and I loved the method of delivery. But in reality these phans had multiple balloons so as each one got bounced away from the stage another one surfaced. We didn’t get the song, but bravo to those that tried. “Spock’s Brain,” “Mound” and “Lizards” were other song titles that graced several signs. While we only got to hear one of those songs during this run, I’d definitely like to hear a show where Phish played either a set, or better yet, a whole show composed of audience requests taken directly from signs (or balloons, roses, etc.) at shows.
As set two kicked in Friday, “Rock and Roll” started the charge and led a slew of songs that were some of the tightest of the run. “Ghost” had a sick transcendent jam that bent from funky to spacey while an avenue towards exploration was paved. There was a brief mix-up with the transition into “Mike’s Song” but it seemed the boys stepped up the song because of the slight mix-up. “Simple” was a surprise. It sounded like the transition was forming into a usual “Hydrogen” jam, but “Simple” came out and showcased a melodic light jam that had that airy quality where dancing on concrete feels more like dancing on clouds.
As the Mikes Groove sandwich continued “Show of Life” rocked and “Seven Below” saw a brief appearance. I have no solid stats here, but I wonder if it was the shortest version of the song they’ve ever played? Trey seemed to call it out, then changed his mind before Mike started firing into “Weekapaug”. A huge, tight, rocking “YEM” closed the set much to the stoke of attendees. “YEM” continues to be the staple of all Phish staples, especially when it’s played so ferociously and ends with a psychedelic cocktail of Kuroda’s swirling lights and an improvised vocal jam. Only one encore tonight, but at least it was a raging “Good Times Bad Times.”
Two down, one to go, stoke factor high. Thursday was great, Friday was better, and Saturday turned out to be the best. We didn’t get any huge bust outs, particularly when juxtaposed with the crazy array of tunes that got played during the first leg of summer tour. However, we got what most people would want; a happy band, solid playing, intricate jamming, and a few choice treats.
Of course the minds of many were contemplating that no Gamehenge tunes had been played yet. It’s almost as if I’ve heard the same conversation taking place ten years ago that, “if such and such happened, and they’re about to play this venue, and they haven’t played this in this many shows.” Still, I thought about how cool it’d be, but the “AC/DC Bag” show opener laid that thought to rest and simultaneously brought the Greek to a mid-show sort of level with all four band members hammering away at their instruments for this classic gem. “Gotta Jiboo” had a solid jam section before the phan favorite “Reba” followed in its place. The Reba jam was tight, nothing too crazy and still somewhat shorter than days of old, but an always welcome combination of notes to hear at any Phish show in my opinion.
A few shorter tunes were played well before the energy level turned up tenfold for “46 Days”. I talked to at least three or maybe four people during set break who all spoke about not really loving the song so much, but really loving how much Phish lays it out. And it’s true. In the past many of us have found this song to be an exploratory vehicle where free-flowing improvisation and liquid psychedelic groves continually spout from the stage right before some major power cords send phans through the roof.
A major set one treat followed “46 Days” with “Tube.” For me, it had been since Deer Creek in 04’ since I’ve heard this live, one of my all-time favorite Phish jams. You don’t get much of a shorter version than the one played Saturday night, but coming off a huge jam in the previous song, the combo made for welcome transition keeping the energy level at a steady high before “Character Zero” added some more fist pumps.
And just like that, you blink your eyes and five sets are gone while only one remains. It always amuses me how at the beginning of a run you have this canvass. Here it was six sets. It seems like there’s such an endless array of things you can hear, that’s possible, and then all of a sudden there’s one set left and if you’re lucky, you just want more and more. That was a collective feeling Saturday, even though the late night parties were stacked on all corners of the Bay area, where it was at was Berkeley, at 9:30 ish p.m, awaiting the final set from Phish.
The boys did not disappoint with arguably the best set of the six coming in the final spot. The “Wilson” opener created a sort of pattern feeling with “AC/DC Bag” having opened the first set. Everyone screaming as loud as they can, “WILSON,” brought us into the moment as the rocking classic bleed right into the song “Light,” which has quickly gained a reputation as a new favorite. “Light” has shown itself as one of the bands tunes that can be a vehicle for mass exploration, improvisation, and lucid jamming. This version was no different in that it had a rocking jam initially, that gradually faded away into a dark deep place where we all got lost for at least a minute of two. The “Hood” was all good, and allowed all the glow stick holders to initiate that celebrated ritual of the glowstick war much to the delight of the capacity crowd.
“Theme from the Bottom” was solid and had a nice wrap up jam as it usually does, before out of nowhere a brief break in the music had Fishman start the drum beats to “2001.” I heard the trademark notes dropped, but because the rest of the band was sipping drinks and not attentive, I almost wondered if it was something else. No way. Kuroda again, master that he is sent the spaceship lights swirling, and the dance fest that’s always facilitated from a groovy “2001” ensued.
Was “Suzy Greenberg” the highlight of the show? Maybe so, maybe not, but no one can deny this was another jam that brought the energy of the Greek through the figurative roof. Fishman’s animated “neurologist,” Trey’s scorching high notes. Page’s smooth rhythms and Mike’s perpetual bombs made this a throw down. So much so that as the band was finishing the song Trey just started whaling on his guitar as the rest of the three looked on, took in what he was doing, and just jumped right back into the jam. Sick. A textbook “Salve to the Traffic Light” brought the Greek run to a close.
Actually we weren’t done yet as the encore was another high point to the night, and the run in general. You just don’t get that many “Lizards” anymore, and I know for me, I’ve never heard the song as an encore and thought it was definite treat for all of us to get this as one of our final songs. Played beautifully, “Lizards” is lathered in Phish’s roots and was a choice tune for the boys to play at the end of three very well played shows. One more before people scattered to their late night shows, a bar, sleep, or even Telluride, “First Tube” sent us all out in style. Trey was noticeably having fun as he danced around loving each power stroke as we all had one last breath of brilliance before the reality of our shows closure was upon us. Satiated, we sat and stared, talked with friends and neighbors, and then stumbled out of the venue. With not a care in the world after the amazing musical experience we had just shared for the last three days.