Having not seen Phish since their (underwhelming) end to the “post-hiatus” at Coventry, there were naturally lots of thoughts going through my mind driving to St. Louis yesterday… ranging from a personal interrogation into justifying this continued behavior to the fond memories I have of all the friends I miss and wish could also be there to, finally, how I felt that they were even back on tour now 5 years later…
What’s evident is that unlike their previous return, this time they appear to be taking it on with more of a focus on the quality of their live product, which is to say that they aren’t up there lollygagging (see also Bull Durham) and doing whatever they want to just b/c they are who they are and they can basically get away with it. Of course, there’s a fine line between experimentation and structure, but I guess the best way to put it is that they appear more disciplined altogether.
At least that’s the impression I had from the setlists and reviews of their first several shows. And it’s something that I’m comfortable endorsing now that I’ve seen them again.
Standing a quarter of the way up the middle balcony inside the magnificent (Fabulous) Fox prior to the show, I was sort of unable to mentally process the gravity of the fact that I was about to see a band play that had not played such a personal environment in, well, since I was old enough to drive and see them. Seriously, an amazing treat… gawd I love Phish.
Although admittedly, at this juncture in my musical evolution, I find that I rarely listen to Phish at all anymore. I don’t really crave them like I used to… I still consider them my favorite band, but in the absence of seeing them live – which is the true addiction – I’ve simply gotten older and moved on.
And that is precisely why, as show time neared, I flat out could not wait to see them just blow it up at the Fox. I think that was everybody’s vibe, which – as always – results in crazy anticipation and subsequent discussion re: the Opener. Naturally I thought they would show up with a tap-in par, some kind of fashionable, tasty intro. Something unexpected, but classy, and excitable. The other half of me thought they’d screw that notion and walk right out there and slam a monster right off the bat, like a YEM or a Reba or a Ghost…
So the place is just dripping with adrenaline, ready for the roof to just fly off, and they come out and drop two duds right off the bat:
But they completely exuded sync and discipline. Sharp, crisp. Trey wasn’t hiding behind the nasty ass post-hiatus distortion. I think that I read (or heard) that they were going back to their old amp rigs, so old sound and equipment. Old stage setup, too, with Fishman back on the right side of the stage, which I think is cool.
The rest of the first set was pedestrian in terms of what they played and how they played it. Highlight was probably Ya Mar for me, just b/c I love that song… lots of Page, too… and they really let him jam out his keys for that as well. And it’s pretty much impeccable sound inside that venue. The Possum was also huge. The Reba I’d rate standard, but really well done and I forgot how sweet Kuroda is with the lights, too. Uncanny how much he’s able to add in that capacity.
Brian and Robert (gentle and reflective, I love this song)
Sample in a Jar
Slave to the Traffic Light
So from a personal standpoint, I wasn’t gaga over the first set, but still, pretty cool to see the overwhelming assemblage of prowess at work again… easy to take for granted until you go 5 years without really hearing that kind of cohesive awesomeness.
Second set was indeed Fabulous. More energy, funk and power. Less structure. Halley’s Comet right off the bat… this would probably be on my ultimate setlist. They go right into a good Runaway Jim and then a Frankie Says only to drain all the energy out the of building with another new song, Time Turns Elastic, my only objection to the second set. My first impression – unlike the two they dropped in the first set – was negative on this song, which kind of sucked b/c it lasted for probably 15 minutes.
But after that they completely ripped it up. One of the better Mike’s > H2 > Weekapaug that I can recall seeing… so much energy; the place was really ready to let it out, too. Tremendous F# Mike’s Jam… totally rocking and dominant baseline, not all that funky per se, but kind of dark and spacy, enough for me to wonder if they’d turn it into a Simple Jam. Really really good. Followed by an outrageously heady Boogie On Reggae Woman, Page driving an awesome laser-funk sound throughout that jam… I could have sworn that they were teasing the Macarena, which would have been a badass full-fledged segue. They finished with a powerful Character Zero, a perfect example of a song that depends on how and where they play it… and they killed it.
Time Turns Elastic
I am H2 >
The Star Spangled Banner
While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Choice encore. Very solid way to end it. A totally playful and perfectly executed a cappella Star Spangled Banner into the rare gem of the night: McGrupp and The Watchful Hosemasters. I like to think that when the band comes across a special moment or place or juncture in some capacity, then they decide to mark it with a small slice of Gamehenge, which I was actually expecting/hoping to see at some point in the night, and the encore was the perfect slot – totally tranquil and serene and batty.
Overall, they sounded about as good as they ever have, which is probably the most significant takeaway from this resurgence. I would say mostly average setlist, but certainly special to see them at such a classy, intimate joint. Only 4300 people, which is quite the excellent departure from raucous “productions” at much larger venues…
Going into it, I was debating to what extent I’d go out of my way to see them and re-embrace them at this point… not just with respect to my own life and where I am along the musical path, but at this point in the band’s existence.
Coming out of it, it’s hard to not walk away wanting to do it again.