IT never gets old. Nothing quite like the thrill of a tour opener before its opening notes. What will they play first? Will it be a debut? An original? A cover? Will it jam in a style complementary of the summer’s highlights? How will the set go?!? Will it simply continue their rehearsal, their soundcheck!? Will it hint at the album to be covered in AC on Halloween? Simply put, will the tour begin with music as equally legendary, and historic, as the Coliseum? As Phish?
(Photograph by Erik Axdahl)
Tour openers almost never match the pre-show enthusiasm. (But see 11/13/97.) There’s a whole tour yet to be played, after all.
And if you’re the fan who only cares about very well-played, "must-hear" Phish, get the “Carini” from this show. As explained in greater detail below, “Carini” is worth multiple listenings, and will likely even earn Phish new fans. It is also sufficiently powerful to move a demonstrably below-average show into slightly above-average territory. (Think of a show that’s looking like a 4/10 on the “Scott Jordan Concert Review Poll Scale,” but then, after a magnificent jam that you know you’ll be listening to for years, launches the show smoothly into above “average-great” territory.)
That said, the first set opened up quite well with versions of “Wolfman’s” and “Runaway Jim” that soared into the… whatever. You can just download or stream them when they're available if you haven’t heard them. They will take you less than 20 minutes to listen to. It’s not like in the 1990's when you had to find someone who would dub for you, buy 90 and/or 100 minute Blanks to cover both sets plus (E), procure return Postage and a (non-lint-filled, bubble) mailer, and then mail the “B&P”… and wait a wholly indeterminable amount of time, possibly months, to receive the dubbed tapes (if you were lucky enough to receive them) in order to listen to the music. "The good 'ole days."
Suffice it to say that Fall Tour opened well, and in certainly a more compelling manner than the Summer Tour did in Bangor on July 3 (“Possum,” “Runaway Jim”). And while the “Stash” and “Ocelot” in this Hampton1 first set are already overrated (“Ocelot” has been hot all year, and Trey continues to bring the heat in this version), the first set ended impressively with “Walls of the Cave.” Even if you ordinarily and customarily dislike first sets, this one has much to like.
Second set opened up in a weirdly subtle way with “Twist” (the first time it had opened the second set in years), and it’s a beautiful version. It’s jam eventually undertook overtones (not teases) of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Obscured By Clouds.” Yes, it’s that good, though admittedly, it’s not as good as either live or studio versions of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and “Obscured By Clouds.”
“Free” featured Mike slaying-It, as he always does, even though it’s an otherwise imperfect version. (Mike’s tone has never sounded better—he is going to continue to be a superhero.) “Roggae” isn’t all that pretty in its composed section, but the jam is wonderful. It is a gem to be sure. All fans of this song should hear this version (and if you disliked it, you’re not a “Roggae” fan… and that’s ok).
The highlight of the show by far, and what I hope is a harbinger of immortal improvisation to come in the next few weeks, is the “Carini.” The opening composed section is not a load of shit, but it is pretty loose, in that you might need to wipe some walrus off your face after listening to it. The jam segment, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. IT is why we all spend substantial time and money trying to see Phish at every possible opportunity. (And, by the way, where were you people? You couldn’t GIVE tickets away outside. No one was looking, not even for a miracle (NO ONE!), and seemingly everyone had extras.)
The “Carini” at this show, akin to the “Tahoe Tweezer,” reached transcendent peaks, bespeaking “HOSE” of the rarest caliber. It is the longest version since its debut. This is improvisation that sounds like melodious, composed music (not like “improvisation” at all), and there are subtleties in the glorious themes that comprise this version that will inspire repeated listenings. Do you hear hints of “Alive Again” in the final four minutes, and the ending of “Twist” in the final minute or so? (You're not alone.) This spectacular “Carini” more than made up for the shit-ton of songs in this show that you’ve heard before, that you will hear again, and that are unlikely to change in any appreciable way at all, making them the last things you want to hear after having spent hundreds of dollars and many hours traveling to see and hear Phish. But I don’t mean this in a bad way.
Perhaps you’re hoping that Phish will perform this fall in a way that is sufficiently powerful, and soulful, to justify the crowds, the smoke, the lines for the bathroom, the spilled beer, the spilled beer on you—and your loved ones. Well, you’re right to be hopeful. Hampton1's “Carini” made it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Phish is going to continue their pioneering spirit, and compose and create in a genuinely gorgeous way.
Phish reunited and began performing together again in March 2009 in Hampton. This was a blessing. And it is even more of a blessing that we’re all back in Hampton again, more than four years later, enjoying Phish’s music for another set of shows. If for any reason you’re on the fence about seeing Phish this fall, remember one thing: fences will only support you for so long, and when they give, you’re in the dirt on your ass.