The onset of summer tour has certainly produced a lot of conversation here on the blog and in the forum. First and foremost, thank you for your participation! Please don't let my conviction deter you from telling me I'm a dumbass, which I am. That being said, there has been an overwhelming discussion on what makes a good review and what doesn't. There's no real answer to that, but all I can say is that for me what follows is my opinion. It's critical in nature, but I'm not attempting to say that this is the de facto version of a show's story. We all have different experiences and we should engage in discussing our opposing viewpoints, not questioning whether they are correct. So please, let me know what you think. I feel very strongly about these ideas, but it's not a doctrine I'm putting forth.
With three shows in Bethel, NY to open the 2011 summer tour, Phish provide several standout moments over the course of last weekend. As the tour moved south to New Jersey, I was interested to see whether they pick up on the momentum of the first two shows or get sucked into the mid week vortex.
After an energy building Chalk Dust opener at PNC in Homdel, things took a dramatic shift into the second song with Roggae. I, for one, love this combination. There are times when the energy builds so high in the first three or four songs that the eventual come down feels like a lead weight. Placing up-tempo and down-tempo together creates an amazing balance, not to mention that Roggae is one of the best choices in this category. When PYITE begins, there’s a sudden uptick right back to post-CDT. Great setlist orchestration by Trey here. By the time that Sand rolled around, everyone took the opportunity to stretch out the jam a little more. Trey provides some pretty little repetition and scale work by Trey around the 6 minute mark, but listen to Page. The layer he creates here is indicative of how awesome he is playing right now and demonstrates an addition to things that I don’t think he was making previously. After this however, the wheels come off the set. While Tube was finely executed, I wholly expect it to be the next popular battle-cry for “song most in need of extending” now that Halley’s has gotten the treatment. From the beginning of Divided Sky, Trey seemed uncomfortable and at the 2:38 mark he loses the handle and just takes a break. Remarking to the crowd “I did that on purpose”. In what had to be a cathartic moment for such an irregular trouble, Trey just lets the rest of the band proceed to a point where he can easily come back in. This is one thing that makes Trey so endearing. At his core, he is still just a guy entertaining a crowd and at certain moments that speaks more to his ability than any extended jam can.
When Phish began the second set, they picked up right where Sand left off. Using After Midnight as a jam vehicle the band pushed the improv led by Mike through most of the first half. As was heard in Sand, Page and Trey slowly begin to take their own turn with the melody shortly before turning into Possum. After Midnight was well executed treat and felt like an appropriate time for the exploration. Possum is quickly becoming "one of 6 choices in a jukebox" annoying. I don't care how hard you danced, the song is lacks any real interesting facets and doesn't need to be played every third show. Drowned features a nice little synth segment at about it's midpoint, with Trey building a corresponding eerie melody that almost foreshadows moments we will find in the following show. You Enjoy Myself closed the set and while it was perfectly fine, it was overall another uneventful version.
When the second show opened First Tube, Stealing Time and Camel Walk it was yet another blistering opener to a show. Heavy Things was a relatively odd choice, but the Gotta Jibboo really got the show moving with a slow groove that Trey settles comfortably on top of for several minutes of very nice soloing. Shortlly there after came the second Kill Devil Falls, a version that shrugged right back to its roots leaving the fantastic improvisation behind in Bethel. The first set highlet however, was the Split Open and Melt that followed. With a slow build and magnificent tension and release, this is a version you want every time. A good set with good flow and no let downs as Page slayed yet another breakdown in Suzy to close the set.
Second set began with absolute fire. An opening tweezer ... which led into an absolute throwdown bustout cover, Led Zeppelin's No Quarter. The song which finds its Phish roots in Page's Vida Blue arsenal was perfectly executed in ever fashion conceivable. Zeppelin is in some ways the perfect sound for Phish when they put the time and effort into getting it right. While every Halloween costume has been amazing in its own way, Zeppelin still feels like the missing piece. This was another great example of them killing it once again. Back this up with a powerful opening to Carini there was the sense that this set could be an quintissential rager. But the Carini jam quickly fluttered with an awkward transition into Piper and things started to unravel. Just as Piper began to have movement, it was chopped off for Twist, which got the same treatment for Ghost and then finally BDTNL. These songs lasted approximately 6, 6, 9, 8, and 11 minutes long respectively. To be honest, I'm shocked they were even that long, because the vibe of actually listening to them is much more stunted and abrupt. I am subscribing to the theory that this was 100% a creation of the early curfew time. Phish, reportedly, blew threw curfew on Tuesday and if so lost some money as a result. By the time Carini got cooking, it's almost as if Trey looked at the setlist and thought "oh shit, we better get going to get through this". The result was hurried and sloppy and begs the question, why not just remove a song or two there. If they play a set that looks like:
E: BDTNL, Tweezer Reprise
They would have been heralded for their patience. Instead the overwhelming reaction was one of criticism and questions as to why a set could be so choppy. Which isn't to say that there's poor playing in here, there isn't. This is completely a matter of taking time and crafting a complete performance. After 5 shows, we're seeing results in the first set that are far above average for 3.0 and second sets that have no ability to maintain energy for the entire time. I think it's just a few wrong turns, but I'm looking forward to writing about great sets this weekend instead of trying to identify what's wrong.
Current 2011 show rank: Bethel 1, Bethel 2, PNC 2, PNC 1, Bethel 3