Sunday night, MPP1 is in the books, and you know the drill so let’s get right to the action.
Phish Destroys America. Phish Severely Bruises America. Tour of Signs. Phish, The All-Request Band, continued their march down the long-neglected east coast on Sunday by staying put at The Pav Known as Merriweather Post. Phish opened with more “sign language,” this time with a crisp and punchy “Buried Alive.” Dipping back into their 1998 musical costume, The Velvet Underground’s Loaded, Fish assumes one of several leads of the evening with “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” the first in 141 shows (7/30/03 Camden).
Fish’s literary masterpiece “Ha Ha Ha” is next and leads into a stock “Sample.” The first substantive highlight of the night, “Divided Sky” follows and continues to mature like a fine Bordeaux, combining decades of depth and tradition with ever new and innovative spices. On par with the moving Great Woods version of a week earlier, let’s just say they have this one nailed at the highest level... great work!
This already smoking first set gathers even more steam with “typically killer” versions of “Wolfman’s” -> “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” a heaping of extra mustard on each, please! A totally legit “->” segue, the “middle” courtesy mostly of Michael “Soft G” Jordan, with an especially strong outro to “Boogie On.” “Gumbo” and “Halley’s” follow and are sure to please fans of 3.0 precision and brevity.
“Bathtub Gin” is up next, a song that continues to bring IT, and in this case Phish wastes no time getting the the heart of the jam: ~four minutes on the theme and then, bam! No radical Type-II here but a killer and focused full jam with Trey dancing along the tree-tops! A rival to the GoldenGinTeca of Bethel? Perhaps not; but all heat, all the time. Strong if “typical” versions of the recently infrequently played “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and the über-frequently played “Character Zero” round out this excellent first set, on a tour chock-full of same. Even if you are “all about the jams” that typically reside more in set II... set I matters. It’s almost half the damn show, it matters a lot! This one crushed, bravo! Fifteen minutes.
Act II. Can we sustain the momentum of Act I? Roll tape! [WARNING: if you can’t handle nuance and mild but good-natured criticism, please just skip down a few paragraphs. Bring the pets inside].
“Party Time” opens, returning to the ancestral homeland of its 8/15/09 live debut. The rare Fishman Exacta of “Ha Ha Ha” and “Party Time” paid $27.60; please check your tickets before leaving the venue. “Crosseyed and Painless” follows. Great news, if our heroes follow form. Rocking? To be sure. Innovative, exploratory, and risky as it so often used to be (see 10/31/96, 11/2/96, 12/31/99, 7/29/03, 9/14/00, 7/31/09, etc)? In a word: no. “C+P,” a song that has so often provided the loading dock for a truck-full of kick-ass has of late disappointed (and yes, I’m even looking at you, 1/1/11). Honesty moment: this song has gradually but clearly lost a lot of steam in 3.0 compared to earlier versions. Big deal? Nope. Does even the most crusty and “jaded” fan still think the circa-90s glory can be around the next corner? You betcha, eh! As it stands, it is just filler dance track. Sorry!
Tom Marshall’s latest contribution to the Phish canon, “Steam,” makes its second appearance after the debut @ Blossom. While many fans are on the fence on the actual “steam effect,” this song is pregnant with possibilities, there is a lot going on here musically and lyrically so let’s hope it sticks around and gets some play. The work-horse 3.0 jam vehicle “Light” follows, and sadly falls almost incomprehensibly flat, one of the only true duds in an otherwise shining albeit brief history (try 8/7/10, 10/22/10 or 10/26/10 to witness “Light” soar at its interstellar best). “The Wedge” is up next and brings back a brief interlude of energy and spark to a set that really is in need of a shot in the arm at this point.
Right about the time this set is screaming for a “Ghost,” “YEM” or really any song with some serious improvisational punch, Trey turns things in the opposite direction with “Alaska.” A perfectly fine Phish tune that make me laugh and smile just thinking of the endless trove of Sarah Palin jokes, let’s face it: this is a horrible call in this spot. I’m all for mixing up the setlist, and I loved “Tennessee Jed,” too, but this one is a total energy killer. Dear Trey: please reconsider, this is a first set song if there ever was one. The wonderfully sweet “Halfway to the Moon” is next. Page nails this and it is a great and welcome song... but again, the placement. As a sublime interlude between rockers? Absolutely a great call. Following “Alaska?” In the prime cut of the second set? I’m as patient as they come but someone grab me a puppy-upper!
A by-the-books “Harry Hood” is followed by a “Backwards Down the Number Line” that finally injects a little spark into the set, with great lead work by Trey. Not a “top-x” version or jumping out of the song’s core structure but an excellent version. “Loving Cup” gives set II redemption one final bid. Rocking to be sure, but no extra mustard here. So what do we have here in set II? Not a whole lot to write home about. Basically we have Bethel3 II: Phish are pros, 1x,000 people forked over a good chunk of scratch, and Phish plays a perfectly respectable, professional rock and roll show every time, so bravo! Worth every penny compared with basically every other act on the shed circuit. But this set... for Phish? Weak sauce. Go ahead, tear me down in the comments, tell me how I “don’t get it and should get out of the game” etc. I can take it... hater, please! I’m a fan-boy not a critic, but I call them like I hear them.
Apparently the guys may well have agreed with this assessment, because they came out for the encore with a bag of kick-down. “Sanity!” It never came my way, either, and a perfect kick-down in a surprise spot. Boom! Pow! Keeping the surprises coming, “Makisupa” is up next and keeps up the fun and the “WHAT?!?” “Bundt cake... with essence of lemon and stuff!” lolz, you slay me, Trey. Nobody messes with PAGE’S HOUSE! WHAT?!? “First Tube” takes it on home in typically rocking fashion.
Verdict? I’m not the judge, just a fan who loves The Phish. You. Make. The. Call. I’m a big fan of set I and the encore and let’s just... leave it at that. What a set I and encore! :-) Having missed all previous theater and webcasts (because I was in attendance at all), I’m enthused to get into fan-boy mode and rock the living room for the Alpharetta webcast. Get your dancing shoes on... WHAT?!?