Monday, December 14, 2009

And Then There Were Three

When fall tour was announced there were only three shows that got circled for me.




Of course, lotto did not pan out that way, but with a series of swift craigslist moves, i ensured myself entrance to all three shows at the historic (and hometown) arena.

There is literally no other place like it on earth.

With a jubilant excitement reminiscent of 15 years ago, we geared up for what we all knew would be killer shows.

While one disappointing aspect of these shows was the utter disappearance of the "scene" outside of MSG, likely into the surrounding bars that none of us were old enough to drink at previously, little else differed from feeling of the great blockbuster shows of the past.

If there was ever a time that I had to choose one venue to see Phish play in for the rest of my/our careers i would choose MSG.

This year alone I've been to Hampton, Red Rocks and The Gorge, all legendary venues in their own right.

But nothing compares with MSG.

I pretty much galloped down 32nd street every night, wading into the sea of miracle needers, up the stairs and into the cavernous arena in what felt like seconds.

Including all of the outdoor summer venues with massive lawns, MSG is ALSO the chillest venue on the planet. As soon as the lights went down it was all good. The staff was helpful but didn't interfere with anything.

Coming off the best improv of tour in Albany and a one night jaunt to Maine for an intimate old school gathering, MSG was setup to be nothing short of spectacular.

Opening with a strong AC/DC Bag>Chalkdust combo and then dropping a deliciously funky Wolfman's signaled that they were firing on all cylinders. A long reach into the closet to pull out Peaches and a boisterous Divided Sky capped a nice first set back in the Garden.

A second set full of monsters highlighted by an exploratory Light>Slave>Tweezer and a tight Suzy>Antelope closing left us feeling good about the next couple of nights.

Beginning the second night with a song sacred to these hallowed grounds PYITE got the crowd fired up and when they kicked into BDTNL, i thought the roof might literally come down. Unfortunately, this version went nowhere, even after a few attempts to take off. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but i appreciate the effort. Nonetheless a good first set placement of this new tune.

Continuing the high energy with Axilla>Taste, a thumping Boogie On that was cut too short my taste, and a torrid Stash, the rest of the set lacked the same punch, though Time Turns Elastic did NOT kill the set as i imagined it would.

Then the dance party started. Before the set, Wurtz turns to me and goes, "I'll find a slow song to take a leak." At the end of the encore neither one of us had moved an inch.

3.0 jam monster DWD lived up to its rep in maybe the best jam of MSG as it landed perfectly into Piper. I haven't loved the force with which Trey has been pushing Piper this year, but there could not have been a better fit, similar to Slave the night before out of Light.

A strong Piper melded perfectly with the opening strum of Fluffhead in another perfect placement and the crowd was lifted into another stratosphere. Fluff provided one of "those" moments for everyone at the show.

Where many expected a ballad, the band launched into a groovefest for the rest of the show.

Cities was thick as molasses and just as they started to take it in an interesting direction, Trey called for Free, with similarly gooey layers.

A very short Halley's led to a short and powerful 2001 and then the climactic Bowie to cap off a set that rivals Cincy night one set two as best set of tour.

I'll be honest. I called dance party part deux for night three. I was wrong. My friend craig got it right in calling MSG3 a rockfest. As i've previously mentioned, it just wasn't my type of show, but upon re-listening i've found some neatly tucked away moments that i didn't catch the first time as well as some of the truly great peaking moments that notched the show up a little in my book.

A disjointed first set, with a few peaks in 46 Days (jam cut short) and Reba (oooollld school) really came together with the closing combo of Maze and the most energetic moment of all three shows, First Tube.

The return of Scents and Subtle Sounds, yet another good piece of 2.0 that i have neglected in the past, didn't lead to any mind-blowing moments, but it was nice to hear.

The inevitable Rock and Roll and Albany killer Seven Below (underrated jam IMO) explorations pettered out a bit too quickly into Twist, before the Mike's Groove provided a bit of textured funk. I'm still waiting for Weekapaug to go off one of these days.

Always great to catch a Horse>Silent and YEM went in a nice direction, but we were truly showered in glory with Shine a Light. If you had asked me before the show, i would have guessed Loving Cup encore, but this newly learned Stones classic was a fitting end to a powerful run of shows.

These shows met expectations and then some. Long term bust outs paved the way for some really interesting improvisation and tour regulars were nailed with precision.

Much as this entire tour was a re-establishment of Phish's arena rock creds, the first trip back to MSG since 2002's mistake laden slop-fest left a new impression on fans. Once again it has become clear that complex songs will not stand in the way of terrific shows and while there will be flubs, it will be because the band is pushing themselves, not holding back.

Still buzzing, i headed for Charlottesville on the last stop of 2009 tour for me. Would it be a continuation of MSG or a standalone southern celebration?

Friday, December 11, 2009

What C'ville could have looked like...

I was not expecting the show the we got at C'ville. I thought the only show in the south would be a tour capper for the ages, with bust outs and big jams. While we did get both, they came from the opposite places i was anticipating.

While trying to stick to a 3.0 formula, i figured we'd end up with something like this:

Set I

Tube, Runaway Jim, Moma Dance, Foam, Lizards, Stealin Time, Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Gumbo, Funky Bitch, Wedge, Sugar Shack, Split Open and Melt, Antelope

Set II

Ghost>Theme From the Bottom, Undermind>Sneakin' Sally, Light>Sand, Squirming Coil

E: Bold As Love, Loving Cup

Harnessing the "Energy"

Mr. Miner did a great piece on the energy that was so prevalent during the indoor fall tour, which got me thinking about what we heard indoors that differed so greatly from the outdoor throw-downs of late summer.

Summer gave us such great hope after the organic improvisations of Red Rocks, Gorge and the East Coast that we assumed this would carry over into the high intensity bowels of the indoor arena.

But tour started, and while there were great moments, more often than not jams seemed to fade away or follow easily identifiable formulas and build to deafening crescendos instead of textured paradises.

While the causes are plenty, many are focusing on Trey holding back, either due to needing more comfort on stage or because of some mental association of type 2 jamming with drugs.

I'd like to take a different view.

I think Trey wasn't holding back at all. If you were at MSG, there's no way you could say that Trey was laying back or taking it easy. He was bouncing from minute one through the last note of the third show, peaking with First Tube.

The problem, as it seems to me, may be an inability at this moment to properly harness the power of an indoor show.

The vast audience lawns and lush landscapes of summer provided a perfect backdrop to let the band reacquaint themselves with sonic exploration. The first leg provided peeks and snippets, but they tore loose in the mountains of Colorado and never looked back until the last notes of SPAC.

Fall tours have always been powerhouse events full of dark and murky dance grooves and psychedelia, but with the band's new focus on finding the happiness and JOY in their music many of the formerly evil turns the music would have taken in the past turned into soaring major chord progressions or choppy funk-ish rhythms as they weren't sure where each other intended the jam to go.

By C'ville (my fourth show in a row) it was clear that Trey was relying on a small set of riffs and licks that attracted audience applause and usually were in combo with a powerful moment of lighting from Kuroda.

At the same time, the creativity rediscovered during the late summer tour continued to evolve. Though more predictable than ever, if its going to take them playing Light every three shows to regain the magic, then so be it. At some point it will all click again.

Not many of us have ever been in the position of doing something the same way for 20 years, having our crutch, or whatever you want to call it taken away, then trying to make it be the same.


A note on MSG 3:

MSG3 just wasn't my type of show. Lots of great playing, a terrific setlist, but perhaps just a little too straightforward. I was expecting a legendary destruction of the Garden, and when leaving the show i felt like the moments where the show could have taken off into another stratosphere never materialized and we were left with more of a "here's what we need to play before the tour ends" show. Lots of people disagree, so what do i know...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The End Of Tour

While the last notes of C'ville replay in my head, I can say for certain that this was a great tour.

Highlighted by terrific exploratory jams in Cincinnati and Albany, incredible energy at MSG and an instant classic of a tour closer that included a Naked Man, this tour certainly brought us back a few years in mind and spirit.

I said it after Hampton3 and after Summer Tour, but Phish is back. It's not 94, 97 or 2000, but the band is making high quality music on a nightly basis and we all should be glad.

Would i like Trey to stop cutting jams short? Sure. Could Fishman change up the beats a little more often to open up jams? Sure.

Were Mike and Page playing out of their minds exploring their instruments in new ways? Absolutely.

Mike was clearly the MVP of this tour, with Page a close second. Trey's re-emerging confidence may have played a bigger role in their overall sound, but in the four shows i saw live, Mike's melo-rhythmic bass lines (yes, i just made that up) anchored nearly every improvisation.

Quick Thoughts Before Full Reviews:

  • Best set I saw was MSG2 Set II (DOWNLOAD), C'ville Set II close 2nd (DOWNLOAD)
  • While the Garden is untouchable, JPJ Arena was a great place to see a show
  • Good opening sets at MSG1 and C'ville