Phish’s summer tour set up under the big-top of Darien Lake on Wednesday, providing fans with a double-header of wild rides: first in the theme park that was open only to Phish ticket holders, then with a diverse and wide-ranging gig itself. Their fifth performance here, Phish sought to expand on a history with the venue that includes the epic 8/14/97 gig with Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters “Forbin’s” -> “Camel Walk” madness, as well as 9/14/00 that contains what is widely regarded as one of the best ever versions of “Suzy Greenberg.” The park’s roller coaster imagery was appropriate for a tour that to date has had amazing highs, alongside some going-through-the-motions valleys. Let’s go to the videotape.
Signs Signs Everywhere a Sign. This gig’s fun started before the first note. A fan was front and center with both a “Jennifer Dances” shirt and sign. Trey immediately spotted the sign and asked for it, held it up, offered a spirited fist pump and said “Finally! Finally somebody got it right with the signs!” Apparently there are campaigns forming all across the land to end our long national nightmare and have Phish perform “Jennifer Dances” by bringing more signs and by having the crowd sing in unison before each show: “A little less salt in the gravy tonight!” The opener, “Nellie Kane” was also played in response to an enterprising group that literally had fifteen signs for the song! Phish, the all-request band!
After a drooping, bouncy rendition of Bob Marley’s “Mellow Mood” (a comparatively rare one-two opening sequence that did not contain a Phish original), the crowd was treated to a short version of “Buffalo Bill,” surprisingly making its first appearance in the Buffalo area. Settling into the set we witnessed a strong but otherwise standard sequence of “Kill Devil Falls,” “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Rift.” “Undermind” follows, a song that varies so often it is hard to peg down what a “standard” version might look like. This one was as “traditional” as the song ever gets but featured viscous attacking lead lines by Trey, very strong! “Ride Captain Ride” was next, thrilling the crowd but causing a mild earthquake in southern California as @lemuria, entering his third decade of missing Phish perform the song, exploded in jealousy. One day, Ellis, one day.
A respectably precise version of “It’s Ice” was next, followed by the comparably underplayed “Dog Faced Boy” and “Brian and Robert” (the latter, apparently, also in response to a fan sign). Picking up the tempo, the roller coaster descended into a stock “46 Days,” a pleasant “Limb By Limb,” and an obligatory “Character Zero” rocking closer. Overall a diverse and unique set with many first-of-tour performances, almost-rarities, and selections from a broad spectrum of the band’s deep repertoire. The jamming jets were in deep cold storage, but overall Phish delivered a very enjoyable set in which most every fan could find something to love. We’ll be back in... fifteen minutes.
Having our appetites stirred with the hints of “Golden Age” in the GoldenGinTeca at Bethel, the second set opened with this TV on the Radio cover as if shot out of a cannon! This bright, fun and engaging tune that Phish debuted in Albany on 11/27/09 made its third appearance in the Phish setlist and was thrilling the crowd, when Trey bailed in favor of “Mike’s Song.” Let’s hope “Golden Age” sticks in the rotation and is allowed to run free like wind next time. Strong and fun, but keeping the 3.0 tradition of the “no jamming in ‘Mike’s Song’ rule” going, this version was precisely rendered. For the first time ever, “Fast Enough for You” followed “Mike’s” – an interesting and pleasant if not especially bold choice, but props for mixing things up. “Weekapaug” saw Mike, perhaps feeling the missed opportunity of the set opener, leading a “Golden Age” tease and the whole band continued the “Golden Age” theme throughout the above-average “‘paug.”
The fan-favorite instrumental “What’s the Use?” from The Siket Disc follows, setting in motion the middle portion of the set that was extremely well-played and enjoyable, but also safe and firmly within the lines. “Theme from the Bottom” and “Backwards Down the Number Line” were both excellent if lacking any genuine adventure. “2001,” however, was stellar and infused with “Golden Age,” “Happy Birthday” (possibly to the late Les Paul, whose birthday is actually 6/9) and “What’s the Use” teases; not rising quite to the level of, say, the Michael Jackson-drenched 6/25/10 Camden masterpiece, but strong, innovative and fun. A beautiful if “typically great” “Harry Hood” closes the second set, and the always rocking “Good Times Bad Times” encore sends everyone home happy. Load the trucks, Camden awaits!
Much as was the case the night before @ Great Woods (recap), this gig was quintessentially “Phish 3.0” – strong, competent, tight, proficient playing, with diversity achieved more through Phish’s ability to reach into a very deep catalog rather than leaping-off-the-cliff improvisation, sprinkled with a very early-90s-style of thematic teasing throughout the second set. The big jamming guns never left the truck for this one, but that type of playing is clearly an optional and not compulsory element of the Phish program these days. Good times, and there isn’t a better entertainment value on the summer shed circuit, or anything close. The weekend is here, Camden and Merriweather await, let’s get it on!