Greetings sports fans and welcome to the final Phish.net recap of the 2013 Summer Tour. The tour has been a strong one, both in terms of strong jams (first and foremost the Tahoe "Tweezer" but also the PNC "Crosseyed," Hollywood "Hood" and Saturday's Dick's "Chalk Dust") and consistently well played sets (the second sets from Jones Beach, Gorge2 and SF3 particularly stand out). What's more, in 2011 and 2012, Phish saved arguably their best set of the Dick's run for last. Regardless of your view on the merits of comparing one Phish show to another, the band has played some undeniably strong shows at Dick's. Would Sunday night continue the tradition? Lets dive in...
Leading off with "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing," seemed to be a statement of intent. "ASIHTOS" is rarely played and an atypical opener. Although this version, like the Jones Beach performance from earlier in the tour, did not receive extended treatment, it, nevertheless, seemed to portend good things to come. "Kill Devil Falls" followed and, other than perhaps eliciting some extra cheers at the "stand at the base of a mountain" line, stayed entirely within itself. The familiar shuffle of "Back on the Train" followed. Often Phish reviews approvingly cite instances of the band starting a show with a string of songs from the early days ("none of the first five songs debuted later than '89"). I tend to get more excited by the opposite situation and appreciated that the opening trifecta of songs all debuted in or after '99. "BOTT," though short, featured an engaging solo from Trey.
After a standard "Rift," the band started up "Meat." Though perfectly enjoyable, confining the song to four and a half minutes simply didn't afford them much room to stretch out. This would become a theme. But not for "It's Ice!" Page and Trey managed to find some room to jam in the breakdown section and the result was a highlight of the first set and one of the stronger versions of "Ice" in recent memory (rivaling the MPP rendition back in July). Of course your view on "It's Ice" serving as a first set highlight is likely a good barometer of your degree of optimism when it comes to Phish. The optimist is excited they played a good version of the song. The pessimist sees big problems when a highlight of your set is 90 seconds of Trey/Page interplay in "It's Ice" (and why won't that guy in front stop waving that god damn Colorado flag?).
Before we move on to the rest of the set, let's take a moment to discuss Mr. Colorado. There has been some debate on the internets lately over the merits of ranking versions of Phish songs. We can tackle that one later (maybe even in this recap!), but for now can we all just agree that whether you paid $15 to watch the webcast or got into the show as soon as the doors opened to secure prime real estate on the field, the guy waving the giant flag and blocking the view of 80% of the audience isn't "bringing positive energy" to the show? He's creating negative energy in the eyes of multitudes of people, who feel he is compromising their experience for the sake of his own. Lots of it. Moving on...
"Guelah" was up next and was its usual self. The "Divided Sky" that followed likely caused fellow .net admin @ericwyman to shed a tear . . . of joy . . . that he was in New Hampshire and not Colorado at that particular moment. Joking aside, "Divided Sky" is one of the songs that got me into Phish (and also the first song I ever saw them play live). Though it may vary little from version to version, I'll always enjoy hearing it. Page's solo in the ensuing "Funky Bitch" brought serious heat and delivered another obvious set highlight.
One of the more dismaying trends of shows in 3.0 has been the tendency of the band to run off a series of "closers" at the end of a set rather than opening up more songs earlier in the set. This is actually a notably infrequent occurrence in 2013, though last night was an exception. Either of "Cavern" or "Stealing Time" could have provided the exclamation point to the set but neither did. In any event, we can tackle that phenomenon later (maybe in this recap!). The "Bowie" that did close the set did so admirably, even if the upward trend of strong "Bowies" in 2013 seems to have leveled off after peaking in Toronto.
Before we get to the second frame, I'd like to jump back in time a year. After the FUCK YOUR FACE show on 8/31/12, several of us began discussing the fact that Phish had played (to that point) four undeniably strong shows at Dick's. After following it up with two nearly as strong efforts, we began to joke that each of those shows were "wins" and that Phish was 6-0 at Dick's. The six shows are all very different and, frankly, some are more deserving of repeated listenings than others. But all six, as shows played before an audience, were incredibly strong, rewarding and engaging performances. I'm sure that analogy will offend some who, justifiably, see all Phish shows as wins (which is true in many respects). Just know that it's done out of love and excitement in discussing the band we all love. It's also worth mentioning that what seemed notable in 2011-12 (that Phish would run off six consecutive standout shows at a single venue) seems almost commonplace in 2013.
Returning to 2013, after Friday and Saturday Phish entered last night on an eight game "winning" streak. Or, as we joked at the show, nearly halfway to matching the '72 Dolphins. However, continuing with the sports analogy, Phish entered the second set down by a touchdown. Still, hardly an insurmountable lead, especially at Dick's. "Carini" opened the set and our prospects looked good. At several points in the jam, the band seemed to have trouble finding direction. But, like a veteran quarterback converting a series of key third downs, they continued to explore new avenues and ultimately scored a touchdown in the form of a glorious last few minutes of "Carini."
Compact versions of "BOAF" and "Golden Age" failed to capitalize on the gains made by "Carini." When "Caspian" emerged where the rest of "Golden Age" should have been it felt like we fumbled on our two-yard line. However, the "Caspian" really was a good one featuring inspiring work from Trey. "Piper" provided the second jamming highlight of the set. The band first settled into a groove reminiscent of "Guy Forget" before switching gears and ending up in the land of "Woo!" More compact versions of potentially fertile second set songs continued with both "Boogie On" and "Saw it Again."
Phish was not playing poorly, but they went into the half trailing and now they were running out of time. "Mike's Groove" came next and the Dick's perfect season seemed to be riding on its shoulders. That's a lot, maybe too much, to ask of "Mike's" in 2013. The "Mike's" itself was enjoyable, if typical. Trey found a nice little theme in the middle, but it left as quickly as it came. As the closing chords rang through Dick's, though, an unfamiliar reggae beat emerged. In a nod to Colorado's progressive marijuana laws, we got a Phish debut in the form of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It." Obviously this was a crowd pleaser, whatever you think of it on strictly musical merits. Phish had just converted 4th and 26. A strong "Weekapaug" and solid encore choice could yet put Sunday night in the win column.
Alas, remember that whole parade of closers phenomenon? It returned in the second set. "Weekapaug" could hardly have been shorter and they followed that with "Show of Life." The "Suzy" that actually did close the show was really well-played (no need to see a Flubologist, Fish!) but by then victory was just out of reach. I should also mention the truly touching "Thank You" from Trey and say that it's us who need to do the thanking. I'm sure some will find that ironic in the context of this particular review but, really, THANK YOU to Trey, Mike, Page and Fish. Not just for this summer, not just for the past five years, but for the past thirty years. I wouldn't write this many words if, on a very fundamental level, I didn't truly love every Phish show I've ever seen. I just love some more than others. Anyway, did they encore with "Character Zero"? I suppose they did.
So Phish is now 8-1 at Dick's. That's ok, though. It was still a great time and a great weekend. There's no place id rather be than a Phish show, even when everything's not coming up Milhouse. And I can still say just as emphatically on Monday as I did on Friday, I LOVE DICK'S!!!!!