I just looked at the calendar and, indeed, it is not 1997 any more. I suspected as much, given the way my back feels when I get out of bed, but it’s good to double check sometimes. It doesn’t seem like it should be 15 years since Phish destroyed America. I want to call it a few years ago, five at the most, but the gray on my head and in my beard, like Mike, says no. So it must not be that Phish just played DCU last week; it must be true that the last show of the summer took place just hours ago. I was feeling old going into the Dick’s run, and I felt that the promise shown by Long Beach and BG3 had faded as the second leg went on, and I was wondering where the band was at and where it was going. I did not, however, forget one of the original commandments: Never put anything past Phish. These guys will make you throw out your preconceptions and will melt your face at the drop of a hat. This weekend was a jaunt in the WABAC Machine, three shows that will be talked about for years while they find a place among the greats. Debating how exactly to rate Dick’s 2012 can wait long enough, though, for us to appreciate that Phish closed out the summer in classic style, with a series of fist-pumping peaks in the first set and deep, inspired type-II jams in the second.
“Cars, Trucks, Buses” takes us around the block a few times to get our motors running, with Trey showing off how well he can drive this vehicle built by Page, and is paired with another traditional opener in “AC/DC Bag.” “Bag” features more dexterous soloing from Trey, builds steadily to the climax, and sublimates just as it should, but it quickly condenses again into the ominous Gordo growl that announces “Down With Disease.” It’s a fantastic segue that sets up a contained but confident “Disease” (with a lyric flub like a Persian Flaw) that Trey just manages to keep from becoming a monster. “Bathtub Gin” steps to the plate like a cleanup man and knocks home the opening tunes, thanks to Fishman’s shift to a higher tempo that combines the disco feel of Riverport with the “Ridin’ in the Bathtub” segment of Murat. It’s type-I all the way, but powerful and satisfying, too.
I love “Nellie Kane” and love its placement here as a cool down. “Sample in a Jar” is its old, reliable self and pumps the energy back up for “Back on the Train,” which rolls down the line a short way without getting too far off track. “Rift” is almost pristine and leads us cleanly into “Free,” which I will admit to being frustrated by as version after version is played with essentially no jam, but Phish leaves me little time to grouse. “Ride Captain Ride” works as a wonderful bait and switch when its feel-good vibe is plugged directly into the paranoid ticking of "Maze," and a Page vocal spotlight becomes a Chairman organ explosion. Trey doesn’t quite match Page’s punch in “Maze,” but the fist-pumping isn’t over yet. “Halley’s Comet” perfectly sets up a screaming “46 Days,” and “Possum” finds Trey employing some serious tension for one final climax before the set break.
It is impossible, under the space and time constraints of a post-show recap, to adequately dissect and explore the awesome and beautiful art that was created by Phish during each of the second sets at Dick’s. I fully expected “Sand” to open this last set of the tour, and tried to prepare myself for where it would take me. The spaces where for two years we have talked about ripcords and shuffle play, at least for now, have been replaced with patience and room to grow. “Sand” touches on many themes, at times hinting at “Bathtub Gin,” “46 Days” and “Prince Caspian” without ever sounding rehashed. Then, as the jam is about to die away, we are treated to a reprise of the main “Sand” theme with dark, plinko-infused funk that effortlessly morphs into “Ghost” in what might be the best segue of the year. “Ghost” gets right down to business, breaking down and putting on the mantle of rock regalia before dropping into another delicious funk groove and, ultimately, basking in ambient afterglow. This leads to another seamless segue and a “Piper” intro which takes more time than it has in years. In “Piper” we soon find ourselves in a quirky but delightful realm where all four band mates tinkle in the upper registers of bliss. It’s the last stroke on a fifty minute masterpiece that will be explored by my ears again and again in the cool months to come.
I don’t want to spend too much time on negatives. I’ll just say that “Twenty Years Later,” while an interesting call coming out of “Piper,” didn’t grab my attention, and the “Character Zero” encore was something of a disappointment for me. I didn’t necessarily expect a “Harpua” encore, but something more meaty than a 6 minute rocker would have been great. On the other hand, the “Harry Hood” may not be legendary, but I think it deserves to be listened to with headphones on and eyes closed.
Also, please permit me a moment to acknowledge Trevor Jackson. Trev, a devoted fan and dear friend of many .Netters, passed away one year ago tomorrow, before the final night at Dick’s. Yet even heavy hearts get a lift with the knowledge that Trev had a spot on the rail last night to hear “The Lizards,” his favorite song. The joy that flows from the music is joined with his spirit, and reaches me daily through the love of the people whose lives he enriched.
I look forward to the nitpicking and arguing about how great this show and the whole Dick’s run truly are. It’s the kind of obsessive geekery that turned me on to Phish in the first place. For now, though, I can only stress my renewed optimism and undying love of this band who, after all these years, still finds ways to blow my mind. The jams of the past weekend take the mature skill I’ve heard over the last three years and apply it to classic Phish risk-taking, and the payoff was enormous. It was beautiful to hear, and it leaves me with only one question:
When do they announce New Year’s Eve?