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Essex, VT Recap

Posted 5 years ago by bertoletdown - 85 comments Link:

All right, raise your hand if you're gonna miss Couch Tour!

This event, as absorbed via the Information Superhighway in my computer chair, must have been wonderful to attend. Even the webcast was permeated with a sense of community and homecoming, and it's just a shame that it took a horrendous force majeure to make it happen. If Phish is playing, I'm either there or wishing I were, and this was most certainly true tonight.

Of course, it was the kind of night (last announced show this year, rumors afloat about another mini-or-quasi-hiatus, first show in Vermont since Coventry, loose and loping soundcheck) that stirs up disproportionate and even mythical expectations among fans. Tonight's show, while entertaining, was a reminder that expectations are best kept small.

"Chalk Dust", a song that has been far more interesting mid-set than it has in the leadoff slot since the comeback, didn't exactly find the band pouncing, and the "Moma Dance" that followed felt a bit like a second icebreaker. While many were expecting topical nods like "Water in the Sky" or "Drowned" - the latter of which would have meshed perfectly with the gallows humor of Fishman's "Hurricane Muumuu" - this "Moma" would suffice. The SS "Moma" served as metaphorical counterpoint to the way Vermont absorbed the energy of Irene, taking wind and water into its sails to achieve velocity rather than buckling or crumbling.

"NICU" arrived somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, but was capably delivered. Then "Funky Bitch" - a time-honored cover that seems to pull up just shy of its historical summit these days, and did tonight as well. "Sample in a Jar" felt its 1995 oats a bit, surprisingly, tacking on the bonus chorus that the "Bitch" jam felt to be lacking. A genuinely popping "Sample"!

My favorite "Cavern" of all time is the one that I heard at Jazzfest in 1996, primarily because the "take care of your shoes" line dropped at the precise moment that the skies puked up silver-dollar rain that quickly turned the Ray-Ban Stage infield into a pond. Tonight's "Cavern" recalled that moment for me and... well, that's one of the many reasons I love this band.

The moisture theme persisted into "Bathtub Gin". The most notable part of this "Gin" was the "Tweezer"-esque intro, which found Trey dropping out to build some long-overdue tension before the whole band landed on the one. The jam proper was about as linear as "Gin" jams get these days - if not by-the-numbers then certainly not for-the-books. "Alaska", much as I appreciate the Band-like chord changes and whimsical nature of the lyrics, dropped few jaws. The "Possum" that followed did little to remedy the set's flagging momentum.

Of course, leave it to Phish to stick the landing, as they did with a really nice "Wolfman's" > "Julius" combo. A few minutes into the "Wolfman's" jam, Trey made the first hard left turn of the night, modulating into a very unexpected harmonic space. The rest of the jam didn't quite realize the potential that was suggested in that moment, but it did signal an awakening of sorts in the arc of the set. The "Julius", though, provided the arguable highlight of the entire evening. and will gain a reputation as one of the best if not the best "Julius" of 3.0. The jam segment began like many strong "Bowies" or "Rebas", retreating into quiet ambience before patiently building to a well-earned peak. No 8/3/97 or 10/31/94 to be sure, but head and shoulders above the rest of the set, and you can quote me.

Setbreak music was "The Entertainer", deftly played by my daughter on our living room piano. [Did I mention how much I'm going to miss Couch Tour?]

Okay, I'll get this out of the way now - I loved what happened in the first half of the second set tonight. I've already spoken with a few folks who were not especially enchanted with the "Carini" but they can all get bent. When you dedicate "Carini" to Carini, you are rather obligated to deliver the goods, and tonight's "Carini" jam is precisely why I still geek out on Phish. Motion, a juxtaposition of light and dark, and a willingness to (if only occasionally) throw caution to the wind. A connoisseur's "Carini" in my book.

"Down With Disease" was perhaps most notable for a tease of the legendary Vegas "Piper". Think I'm joking, noob? Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Of course, that jam in itself references "Disease" several times, so the karmic scales are now re-balanced. Very enjoyable "Disease" even if it followed a somewhat worn trail without blasting a hole in the stratosphere.

Truly great "Slaves" couple grace and power. The 4-chord progression of this jam makes that possible, but not always achievable. We heard a particularly good "Slave" tonight in that regard; while not on par with 11/21/97 or 7/4/99, for example, this version was unrushed and finally explosive. Until I have a chance to compare formally, I'll call it a gratifying leap forward from the Tahoe rendition I saw about a month ago.

"Rock and Roll" managed to sustain this set's impressive momentum, but fell far short of this summer's consistently high watermark. [Let's all enjoy a tangent here and appreciate where this song has taken us in the last few years - peaking with the transcendant Gorge version. If that hosedown doesn't send tingles up your spine, you're on life support.] "Twist" featured some especially fleet-fingered soloing from Trey, but resolved all too quickly, bleeding into a passionate and appropos "Number Line". My inner metal-head wants to despise this song, but my unconscious won't let me and my foot won't stop tapping. The other night I had a lucid dream that I watched Phish play this at a water park, while each and every bather signed along to the lyrics in American Sign Language. Because why not.

The final three songs of the second set hardly fell short of the mark in any way, but delivered little to write home about. There's a recurring issue, it seems to me, with setlist construction. Perhaps Trey doesn't know how much time is left in the set, and makes a conservative call by decking up several (2-3) set closers in a row, where that space might have been more aptly filled with a bona fide jamming tune. For instance, I would have much preferred to hear a set-closing "Split" - a song that's slowly clawing its way back to glory and may any day break on through to the other side once more - than the unfortunately rote "Suzy" > "Zero" combo Phish chose to play tonight instead. I've said this before and I will say it again - it's time for Trey to start scripting setlists again, instead of leaving flow to chance every time Phish takes the stage. I realize it flies in the face of Phish's Power of Now aesthetic, but why not give it a try?

"Loving Cup" encore, folks, and that's all she wrote. Lovely way to spend an evening. and I extend my sincerest thanks and admiration to everyone who worked so hard to pull this together. Phish and the people who work for them are some of the finest human beings on this rock, and that's in no small part due to the "freezer" from whence they came. Please, dig deep, and give all you can.

Until next time...

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5errr Reply
5errr well said, bert. thanks for the recap.
Score: 0
Bobbohh Reply
Well put, especially the part about the community and home coming vibe. I just got home, had a blast. Thought their energy was great and the whole scene was so chill for modern day Phish. Thanks boys!
Score: 2
drucifer Reply
drucifer The four of the genuinely looked like they were having a good time tonight. They all were smiling the whole time, and to see them enjoying being on stage in VT again is priceless. I hope the guys keep having fun.

As long as the boys are smiling, we're destined to do the same.
Score: 4
forbin1 Reply
forbin1 didn't get a chance to see the webcast tonight...thanks for giving a breakdown of this show...looking forward to listening to it...
Score: 0
Live_Eels Reply
Live_Eels Not the setlist I was hoping for ...predictable throughout but good energy
Score: 0
boymangodshiiiiit Reply
boymangodshiiiiit the show was fine. not bad. not great.

once again confirming if phish is "supposed" to do something, they wont.
But if a show is out of the ay...or barely sold out..or has terrible weather will rage.

ah well.

Score: 0
boymangodshiiiiit Reply
boymangodshiiiiit i honestly think part of it was the crowds fault.

keeping how/why this show came together.....the high price people paid for tickets (either literally, or including hotels, travel, days off of work etc.) you would think itd be a LOUD raging crowd.

I saw a very mellow quite one..that didnt seem to jump on the few real moments this show had
Score: 1
Range Reply
Raising my hand very high as one who is going to miss my evenings checking in on Phish from the couch!

For the next tour I'm going to be mindful to check my expectations at the door. I had a blast last night watching the stream, but it definitely wasn't the show I was anticipating.

Highlights for me were Sample, Wolfman's, Julius, Carni, DWD, Slave. My "inner metal-head" has always embraced BDTNL, and Trey seems to consistently play some oh so tasty licks in the mid section that punctuate for me just how natural and fluid a player he is. I always enjoy when they pull it out, but last night I could have done without it due to it reinforcing for me where the second set wasn't going starting with Twist. I had high hopes for set II, and thought that after the first 3 songs they were going to continue to bring the fire throughout the rest of the night. It felt to me that the set plateaued after Slave and then returned to set I excitement level - which was definitely fun, but nothing that would inspire me to text those i know who weren't watching to rub it in and let them know what idiots they were for not dropping the cash to tune in.

Still it was a very enjoyable night, the band was tight, consistent, having a blast, and bringing us fans yet another wonderful experience while doing a great deed for their beautiful state...all of which I am very grateful for!
Score: 1
cirrus Reply
Older fans should stop using the word "noob", it puts off newer fans.
Score: 9
kowphish Staff Reply
kowphish Great review, I now know what I missed while webcasting. I have to admit my hand is not raised for missing couch tour. I find myself a bad couch tour goer, there are way too many distractions in the house or should I say I can distract myself in many ways while Phish plays on my MacBook which is usually on the couch by itself. This was my 4th webcast (NYE MSG, 1 Tahoe, 1 Denver) and the only one I really paid any attention to was NYE. I find listening to the audio the next day allows me to appreciate and capture the vibe of the show much better. I knew there were good things going on last night, but I only was able to appreciate them in pieces and glimpses from the kitchen, TV, emails, desk, other website, etc....I was happy to participate in this one, bought the t-shirt as well, figured it all goes to a good cause but I think I will retire from future webcasts, I learned they are not for me. I did stop what I was doing for Moma, Julius jam (that was a good one no argument here), Carini Jam, Traffic Light, Number Line which I always like the solo and thought this one was solid as well.
Score: 0
wrinkledraisin Reply
wrinkledraisin didn't see any mention of theme in the recap, which due possibly to it's less frequent rotation this summer, had some extra sizzle for me. my crew, who in the comforts in couchland, and compete first-timers with the stream, were totally blown away by how cool it is to live in this time period. hd close ups of the band, with audio coming out of the home theater--that is pretty fucking cool. show for the ages?? not really. but i never really thought that would occur. solid show with a much larger agenda, i.e. raising huge cash for storm ravaged vermont, check. cirrus, don't be put off by being called a noob. it's a sign of affection. til next time. peace.
Score: 3
waxbanks Reply
waxbanks Really nice recap, mr letdown. Now I definitely need to hear this alleged Vegas Piper jam...I'm prepared to be vocally annoyed if it is mislabeled. EITHER WAY WHAT BLISS
Score: 0

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