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Portsmouth Recap

Posted 3 years ago by pzerbo - 12 comments Link: http://phi.sh/b/4dff7081

All in the Family

Portsmouth, VA. The end of another long, strange trip. The final show of this summer’s first leg, on Sunday Phish arrived at by far the most intimate venue of the tour (~7,000) on Father’s Day. This tour has been somewhat unconventional in that its strongest shows (Bethel2, Pine Knob, Blossom) were bunched at the beginning, whereas most tours tend to gather strength as they progress. The phenomenal Charlotte gig threw a huge kink in that narrative, but Raleigh, while fun, failed to fully capture Charlotte’s momentum. Their signature festival event of the summer, Superball IX, is just around the corner. Would Phish coast to the finish line, or go out with a bang?

The previous two Father’s Day gigs (6/21/09, 6/20/10) featured “Brother” show-openers, and some of the band member’s children could be seen side-stage, so the first song seemed a lock. Not so fast. Arriving on stage with each of their dads (Bob Gordon, Len Fishman, Ernie Anastasio II, and Dr. Jack McConnell), Phish opened the festivities with “Harpua!” “Oom-pa-pa, Oom-pa-pa, Oom-pa-pa, Oom-pa-pa!” Trey: “Welcome! You know, we had to start with this song, because this is the very town where IT all went down. This is the very town where IT all went down before your 31st birthday” (a fan held a sign asking for a “31-minute Walls of the Cave for my 31st birthday!” Quite the call-out, followed by a “Happy Birthday” tease). The “yes, dad” sequence included hysterical call-and-response between “Jimmy” and the actual dads! Great stuff! We are then lead into the anticipated “Brother” with the genuine “Phish kidz” hopping in the tub, with full introductions following the song and a “Leave it to Beaver” tease. What a wonderful family tradition! If you can’t love this opening sequence, your heart is simply made of stone.

The set then settles into a more standard sequence, with a compact “Down with Disease.” The middle portion of this set is comparatively uneventful but all-energy, all-the-time, with “typically excellent” though well-within-the-box versions of “Back on the Train,” “Funky Bitch,” “Timber,” “The Wedge” and “The Moma Dance.” The very sad occasion of the passing of one of the greatest side-men in the history of rock, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, provided the backdrop for a moving tribute, the Phish debut of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” Trey assumed the vocal duties and tearfully channeled The Big Man’s traditional saxophone solo on guitar. Was it perfect? No. Does it matter? Hell, no! R.I.P., Clarence.

Following crowd chants of “Bruuuuce” Trey said “Are people saying ‘Bruce’ or ‘Tube’? We better play ‘Tube’!” A brief yet punchy “Tube” is followed by the return of “Alaska” to its native home in the first set, offering Trey a languid soloing canvass to explore. “David Bowie” concludes this excellent first frame in stellar fashion. Phish offered a wonderfully crafted set that explores a full range of human emotion, one that reminds us to love our own families, every day. Let’s all exhale and take a break... for fifteen minutes.

Crosseyed and Painless” opens the money set in a strong up-tempo fashion that was sure to thrill the audience, but a version that was essentially interchangeable with any of the other versions from 2011. Welcome to heavy rotation, “C+P” (25% – 5 of 20 – of all Phish versions have now been performed in 2011); it is a place that has its benefits and its drawbacks. Not a “complaint,” just an observation. The sign-holding birthday boy was next granted his wish with the brilliant Tom and Trey composition “Walls of the Cave.” Not a “31-minute version” as the fan had requested but a satisfying offering in a perfect spot in the set, with an especially fierce “Silent Trees” segment. A sublime “Slave to the Traffic Light” is up next with a “typically” great jam segment, providing moments for quiet reflection, as this already very pleasing set is then cleared for takeoff.

An extremely well-played “Fluffhead” is next, dropping a composition-heavy anchor in the middle of the set; I don’t always praise Trey’s setlist construction, but when I do, I chose Portsmouth set II! Then what is likely to stand out as the highlight of a show chock-full of same, “Sand” is on deck. Trey had this totally new (at least to my ears) swirly-guitar loop effect on – perhaps someone with more effects-knowledge than I can fill us in? A delicious, funky excursion follows, what a jam! Given the stiff competition I’m sticking to the 72-hour rule and will not claim this is the “jam of the tour,” but this jam encapsulates everything that is great about Phish jamming in 2011 when it gets “there.” The clarity of Trey’s tone and playful spirit of attack, some almost ‘97-esque start-stop jamming with Mike and Fish completely locked in, Page offering waves of spice on top, and a mini “silent jam,” this is IT!

Sneaking Sally” keeps the house rocking and even this short version makes room for a swinging vocal jam before giving way to “Light.” Not quite living up to the anchoring jam position it held for much of 2009 and 2010 on this tour, this version wastes no time in leaving the nest of the structure and jumping out on a melodious limb; not an “all-time” version but jam-packed with the high-quality adult entertainment. “Backwards Down the Number Line” follows and while sticking mostly to script briefly adopts a quieter, more reflective tone. The always-rocking “Suzy Greenberg” takes the set home with plenty of “WHAT?!” and “Page’s HOUSE!” After a few end-of-tour offerings of thanks from Trey, he noted that his oldest daughter, Eliza, made him tell the story of how she crushes her dad in Rock Band competitions on “Wilson!” A spirited “Julius” encore and it is time to pack the trucks... for Suberball icks.

So, this show was slightly below-average, I give it a 4.5... WOW! Lucky me, I get to write up Charlotte and Portsmouth, clearly two of the best if not the best shows of the tour, providing a monumental exclamation point to summer ‘11 leg 1. This show has it all from the wacky, the heartfelt, the serious, the silly, and the straight-up heat! If you were on the fence about the Suberball, GET OFF. Or you won’t... get off! Full tour recaps and highlights are coming to a phish.net blog near you, so allow me to close with thanks to the band, their families, and especially their fathers. Bob, Len, Ernie, and Jack: thank you for raising The Phish From Vermont. We owe you, big time.

See ya at the track!

Comments

joechip Reply
joechip Nice job pzerbo. I've really enjoyed your writeups on this leg, hope you continue to find time to grace us with your observations.

Agree with your assesment, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the closing sequence of Light> Numberline> Suzy, though Light was short it did resolve naturally and as you pointed out, the laid-back, contemplative approach brought a different feel to Numberline. I expected to hear the end of the set as rushed when I looked at the tracklisting and times, but it worked very well. Nicely constructed set, and WOTC is very welcome indeed.

Not much to add about the Sand, I've gone a little overboard already, but I do think it's a cut above all the other outstanding Sands we've gotten over the last several months. Top shelf.
Score: 1
Forbin80 Reply
As for the "swirly-guitar loop effect" you're referring to, he does use some kind of envelope filter at some point, but I think what you may be hearing is the pull-off triplet that he looped at the very end of Fluffhead and turned on at multiple times during the Sand. Pretty awesome to hear him using the Boomerang a lot again!
Score: 0
kowphish Phish.net Staff Reply
kowphish Excellent recap of a night that in essence is the primary reason why we continue to see this band. We sometimes get caught up in compiling our own personal show stats, chasing that one elusive classic Phish song that seems to be played at every show but ours, analyzing 'best evah' versions or other secondary reasons that seem to have overtaken our original joy for the band, that core element that got us started from the beginning. But last night's playing, where every song was not only appreciated by the crowd but actually reveled in by the concert goers (like a baseball playoff game where fans anticipate every pitch, we sat on every note) is why we keep letting Phish entertain us tour after tour after tour. As written in the recap, this show had it all, so did Charlotte where we witnessed a damn good rock and roll band (a band you'd want to play your ROTC party). For some reason the Thanksgiving 1992 PortChester, NY run gets overlooked in the historical references of essential Phish shows, but if now a days two setlists like that came along in back to back shows we'd be discussing it for weeks, oh wait, it just did (6/17-19 just one day apart). Charlotte and Portsmouth gave us some essential, what they are all about, Phish. It's only Rock and Roll but I like it.
Score: 6
Gumbo_Guy Reply
Gumbo_Guy Slave to the Beach Burger
Score: 2
mikh2wg Reply
mikh2wg I am in total agreement with you on this one, pzerbo. I really enjoyed this show. The first set had everything you want from a first set: good danceable tunes, some stuff that was totally out of left field, and a very memorable opener. The second set had plenty of fan favorites and some really good jams. I was glad to hear you mention that the BDTNL had some extra emotion in it because that version actually moved me to tears. Granted, a lot of what I was feeling had to do with personal memories of a friend who has passed on, but I don't think I would have been feeling it if that core of emotion hadn't been there in the performance.

You asked me the other day if I thought Phish really was moving forward these days, and I think this Portsmouth show might be my answer to you. I think Phish is moving forward emotionally. They are more willing to bring real heart and emotion and pain onto the stage than they were in the past. Thunder Road is a good example. Watching Trey squeeze his eyes shut and sing that gave me the feeling that I was watching something really personal. It was like when you're at a party and a guy picks up a guitar and goes off into a corner to play. You can see that what he's doing has a lot of meaning to him. He misses a few chord changes, but you can hear the emotion in his every note.

I saw David Bowie play in 2004 and I was blown away by his ability to live inside the words of every single song he sang. He sang each lyric like it was a revelation coming to him for the first time. I hope this is what Phish wants to move toward. And I think the songwriting of 3.0 reflects it. There are more lyrics about real pain and love than ever before. "Summer of '89," and "Number Line" are particularly poignant. "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan" is a very dark and honest look at addiction.

So how cool would it be if Phish could make you dance and laugh and blow your mind with jams and make you tear up a little bit too? Can't wait to see what happens next!
Score: 2
bertoletdown Phish.net Staff Reply
bertoletdown @mikh2wg said:
You asked me the other day if I thought Phish really was moving forward these days, and I think this Portsmouth show might be my answer to you. I think Phish is moving forward emotionally. They are more willing to bring real heart and emotion and pain onto the stage than they were in the past. Thunder Road is a good example. Watching Trey squeeze his eyes shut and sing that gave me the feeling that I was watching something really personal. It was like when you're at a party and a guy picks up a guitar and goes off into a corner to play. You can see that what he's doing has a lot of meaning to him. He misses a few chord changes, but you can hear the emotion in his every note.

I saw David Bowie play in 2004 and I was blown away by his ability to live inside the words of every single song he sang. He sang each lyric like it was a revelation coming to him for the first time. I hope this is what Phish wants to move toward. And I think the songwriting of 3.0 reflects it. There are more lyrics about real pain and love than ever before. "Summer of '89," and "Number Line" are particularly poignant. "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan" is a very dark and honest look at addiction.

So how cool would it be if Phish could make you dance and laugh and blow your mind with jams and make you tear up a little bit too? Can't wait to see what happens next!
Please don't mistake me for a 3.0-hater as I'm not. But Phish regularly improvised with incredible emotion in 1997 and 1998, and even sporadically into 2000. There is raw, naked pathos in jams like the 11/21/97 Ghost -> Bag; the following night's Halley's; Lemonwheel IV; the 10/30/98 "Ring of Fire" jam out of NICU and leading into Caspian; the 10/31/98 Wolfman's; the 1/1/00 Roses; etc. If you like your Phish harmonically unleashed and with emotional overtones that range anywhere between bittersweet and desperate, check some of those out.
Score: 0
cbaratta Reply
Great review! This site has consistently had the best reviews of this tour. Keep it up.
Score: 5
tweezer Phish.net Staff Reply
tweezer Nice write-up Phil. I have been accused by many of being a wee bit jaded at times but I had as much fun as I can remember having at a show last night. Great venue, great crowd, bustouts, the Sand jam. Just a great night.

As for the Thunder Road, I am not the hugest Bruce fan but have a huge appreciation for his music. The highlight of it for me was the guy two rows in front of me. He absolutely lost his shit. From the first note to the last, he was completely beside himself with joy. Kept putting his hands on his head, then to the sky, then back on his head.

I don't think he would have been any more shocked if Bruce had walked down his aisle and handed him a bowl.
Score: 4
BigPimpinNYC Reply
BigPimpinNYC Anyone else want to go out and buy rockband and see how hard Wilson is?
Score: 0
ckess22 Reply
ckess22 @BigPimpinNYC
Don't know about the Wilson rockband, but I can tell you the DWD on guitar hero from 12/1/95 is intense. LOL
Score: 0
momabug Reply
I'd like my Eliza and his Eliza to go daughter-to-daughter on that, mine's 5 and would destroy it, too

Nice write-up, ... I'm overwhelmed with gratitude at this point. Thank you, Phish.

Now, MR. Chris Kuroda, made that SAND something to talk about. Swirly loop? HA. Did you see Chris whomp him with the swirly lights? The ones in the middle that looked like sparkly pinwheels. BRAVO!!!

I was very vocal in set 2 and got to sport my new red/white/blue headband with PAGE'S HOUSE written on it ~ see y'all at the BALL!
Score: 0

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