We take a decent amount of heat, here at "Ye Olde Phish Blog," for our unbridled honesty when it comes to providing opinions on a night's worth of music. Our detractors usually are most offended by our inability to see the forest for the trees and levy spurs usually beginning and ending with some form of "fuck you jaded vet." But here's the thing. Rarely, if ever, do I feel our opinions venture into the unfair or unwarranted categories. Nearly every criticism you'll read comes from this place of undying love and the hope that someday we'll all have that personal pinnacle of a show experience eclipsed. It's greed, plain and simple. Before the popularity of twitter and blogging, the tapers took all this shit. The most stalworth of reviewers, they saw the most shows and had the greatest of opinions. These days tapers don't even get spoken of (which is a shame...go download an AUD of this show right now) and bloggers take all the heat. Putting your opinion out there for everyone to consume is dangerous and not for the meek.
But a funny thing happened at the beach/water-treatment-plant last night. Phish played the show that everyone who ever made some bullshit claim about how they picked the wrong song or fucked up the composed part has been waiting for. They played a near perfect show. Period.
If you were at the show or watched live from the comfort of your home, you don't need a song by song recap to reaffirm how awesome it was. You certainly (for once) don't need a list of reasons why it actually wasn't. What transpired was an inspired performance that found all of the honey holes that Phish has hidden away in their collective capabilities.
From the opening "Skin It Back," a song that hasn't been played by all four members, together, since 1987. It was the bustout of nearly all bustouts. And the best part is that song sounds remarkably similar to "Spanish Moon", so when the lyrics to that song never started it was as if there was a surprise within the surprise. Couple that with the first rendition of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" since Halloween of 1994 and the first set shot out of the cannon. The first set was unlikely to top these moments of history, but carried on with a perfect mix of old and new keeping the entire feel fresh and never trite.
While the first set was driven by surprise, the second was fueled by majesty. Beginning the crescendo with "Chalk Dust Torture", Trey led the band into "Sand," a particularly strong song on this tour. Highlighted by some classic teases of Jimi Hendrix's "Izabella" the surprises continued as the jam took shape. Firey and melodic "Sand" gave way to "Golden Age" and a jam that pushed through several distinct segments, and drove through and beyond the typical points where Trey usually pivots into a new song. Ambient and beautiful this jam rivals only the Worcester "Carini" in its success. It was well timed and interesting throughout, proving the theory that in this day and age the band (specifically Trey) is becoming very adept at knowing when to press on and when to pull up.
Not ones to take a break and rest on their laurels tonight, the four pressed into what turned out to be a rather compact version of "Wolfman's Brother," but exploded into a version of "Walk Away" that showcased just how rock and roll they can be and provided the ultimate contrast with the style displayed previously. From TV On The Radio to the James Gang. That takes a special breed. With such a spectacular beginning of the set, I began to recognize just how special this show could potentially be. During the "Walk Away," I tweeted "4th Quarter." This phrase has been volleyed around the back office here at Phish.net with nearly every show. This concept that the band somehow loses steam after a pinnacle moment at mid-way point of Set 2, Trey even commented "we're catching our breath" after "Walk Away." My comment was intended as one of inspiration, playing the role of the imaginary waterboy who wants so badly to feel like he's helped the hero quarterback during the timeout.
As they retook their positions they ground out that "4th quarter" performance that so many felt was sitting right on the edge of reality over the past week. Skipping the litany of jukebox favorites for a run of "Bug", "Fluffhead" and a shockingly placed "Wedge," the songs contained soul and purpose at every step. "Fluffhead," in particular, has a beautiful interlude which cemented in my mind what I would inevitably write about the show. And then, In a "fuck you" gesture aimed at the anyone who's ever written some bullshit criticism of the band, Phish ripped off an absolute killer version of "Run Like An Antelope." Devoid of gimmickry, the version will undoubtedly garner "best of" discussions mainly because it was just so classic. The perfect dismount, if you will, to a show that was already receiving high marks from the toughest of judges.
Regrettably, I watched this all transpire via technology. The technology that has made this band a lightning rod for criticism but also provides opportunity for participation that would have been unimaginable in the previous century. Just over three years since they took the road once more, Phish has produced a show that throwing abject criticism towards should warrant public humiliation. It was, in many ways, the most perfect show they've played since Hampton. But, I wouldn't remain true to myself if I didn't think they could do even better tonight.