Hang with me a minute...
If you stipulate that this tour ends at the Hollywood Bowl instead of Dick’s (which happens three and a half weeks later and is... well... Dick’s) then we’re nearing the halfway mark of summer tour 2013, with tonight being the 10th show of 22. Wow. Time flies when you’re having fun, and it’s safe to say that tonight’s show in Alpharetta had fun in spades. In fact, each successive outing now feels more playful and sure-footed than the one before it, and that can only be a good thing, right?
Tonight’s first set kicks off with a “Runaway Jim” that meanders through a breezy sonic meadow before being propelled to a quick peak by Mike Gordon’s insistent bass lines. [“Jim” is typically on the shorter side when played as an opener and this is no exception.]
“Moma Dance” shows up in the #2 slot – its perennial happy place, it seems – and then we’re treated to the second “Funky Bitch” of the tour so far. Page has been made of money every night since Bangor, and he brings the house down with his B-3 solo. Church on Wednesday.
“Divided Sky” nods to the severe weather passing through, and the crowd responds with a deafening roar during the pause. Trey’s solo segment, much like so many of his solos this summer, is very chord-based, which is unusual for this song. But it works. Some Garcia-style fanning at the climax.
A brisk type-I “Gumbo” follows, then a galloping and perfectly played “Nellie Kane”. The Trey ballad “Frost” makes its Phish debut, auspiciously, before the band offers its first “Alaska” since NYE 2012 and the first “Guyute” since Long Beach. Trey is fleet-fingered and plays cleanly throughout this “Guyute” – a song that will forevermore make me think of the Walt Disney Concert Hall (my happy place) when I hear it. A typically explosive “Stealing Time” gives way to a funky, fast “Suzy Greenberg,” which buttons up a straightforward first set full of deft playing but very little in the way of setlist-related or improvisational fireworks to speak of.
A crisp “PYITE” christens the second half and leads into “Drowned” – which segues into “Water in the Sky” just as it’s getting very interesting. A classic ripcord moment, alas. To the band’s credit, they’ve been doing less of this of late, but this one is a head-scratcher for me. Moving on.
All is well, because now “Energy” makes its second appearance on a Phish stage and heads straight for far-the-fuck-out. I did not see this coming. A melodic, enchanting, deep space conversation develops, and eventually Trey and Page drop out while Mike trades phrases with Fishman (who’s on the Marimba Lumina). While it’s over quick, it’s a delicious morsel that suggests “Golden Age” potential for this new cover. Another pure segue into the tour’s first “Fluffhead” and suddenly this set is developing nicely.
Trey teases “Heartbreaker” between the “lump block clod” verses and the crowd erupts in appreciation. Then he lays down some reggae chords in the chase segment, and Fish responds with a reggae beat. Calling audibles like this in the context of black diamond compositions like “Fluffhead” is the hallmark of a loose and dangerous Phish – and they are undeniably feeling it right now. The band takes a few extra laps during the outro and reaches an incendiary peak before collapsing on itself and surrendering, unfinished, to “Piper”.
The intro to “Piper” is very truncated, lending it a somewhat rushed feel, but as with the “Energy” whose lyrics Trey quotes, we find ourselves immersed in a field of controlled chaos for a few electric moments. Trey reins things in with some rhythmic chording and eventually steers toward a delicate and elegant “Fast Enough For You” – a song I would be glad to hear at every show.
“2001” fires up from a dead stop, and features numerous teases that sound like the core “Flashlight” riff. Whatever this vamp is, it fits this song like a glove. These quotes spill over into the “Mike’s Song” that follows – which otherwise paints by the numbers as they mostly do these days. “The Wedge” stands in for a second “Mike’s” jam and segues somewhat clumsily into a down-tempo “Weekapaug” that gathers steam slowly but finishes pretty damn strong.
“Quinn The Eskimo” is a nice bow to slap on any memorable performance, but like nearly everything in this carefully curated and lovingly played set, it just seems inevitable in the best sense of the word. Despite the lack of any “best of” jam contenders whatsoever, the band delivered a brilliant second set tonight that arguably establishes a new high water mark for the tour (not to mention a high bar for Chicago’s upcoming shows).
Bring on Northerly Island!