Expectations for a New Year’s run haven’t been this high since...well, since 2012, following the Dick’s face fucking. But instead of three amazing shows, Phish is coming into the home stretch in 2013 having unleashed what was arguably the best tour of 3.0. So let’s not mess around, let’s get to it!
The run kicks off with “The Wedge,” a song that has made several mid-second set appearances recently (see BGCA 3) but which seems much better suited, IMO, as an opener. It allows us to ease in and move smoothly to cruising altitude. “Stealing Time” simultaneously blazes and teases with promises of jams yet unrealized. “Mound” is the first sign of rust. It’s a messy version, but three songs in after a two month layoff, I think we can allow time to adjust to game speed.
“Birds of a Feather” is a great sign for this first set. It stays close to home and doesn’t sport the sharpest talons, but there’s definite muscle being flexed, and excellent communication taboot. Now that we’re good and loose, it’s time for The Phish to get positively lycanthropic on yo’ ass. This isn’t the “Wolfman’s” we’ve become used to in 3.0, with a smooth build and a big peak. This beast gets way way down and shows how all four musicians sound when bitten by the same monster. It’s fat and furry, dirty and sexy, just a touch psychedelic, and THEN it rips out the fangs and roars! Without a doubt the star of the first set, and you can bet it will be on the highlight reel for this run.
After a “Wilson” misstep from the crowd and a laughing, secret language “D’oh!” the first Wingsuit song of the run appears. “Monica” rocks hard when she goes all electric, and also leaves room for Page to pound some ivory. It will be interesting to see if “Monica” allows more improvisation or if it’s destined to become a ripping set closer. We’ll check back on her in 2014. For now, “Seven Below” seems like a nice choice for more first set jamming, and at first it sounds like we’re headed for something interesting, even before the “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” tease. But a little stumble around the 4:45 mark pushes this frozen flower to an early bloom, and it gets gently but firmly pruned. The rest of the set is pretty standard fare, with a small funk injection via “Tube,” a quick bass solo lesson in “Free,” and the swinging blues of “Julius” to take us to the break. Not a bad first set by any means, and the “Wolfman’s” is a keeper.
Dropping in to kick off set two, “Sand” takes quite a while to make it’s mark. In fact, it’s not until close to the 10 minute mark, where they pass up an ambient off-ramp and latch on to a nasty riff that this version develops a personality. The jam culminates with some intimidating synth space, but “Piper” segues out of the dunes and takes off. Like “Sand,” “Piper” at first seems to be grasping for ideas, but quickly the red worm decides it wants to rock. Nothing fancy here, just some balls out shredding followed by a righteous breakdown which becomes increasingly delicate while searching for a new direction. It’s “Back On the Train” that rambles by to pick the jam up again, but this version has its booty-shakin’ wheels planted firmly on the track. Suddenly “Tweezer” jumps in the fray, an exciting prospect in light of the three recent stellar versions. Unfortunately, this “Tweezer” follows the script of this set rather than that of Fall tour. It moves along without finding a purpose, and the “Number Line” ripcord is both telegraphed and appropriate.
The early theme of “searching for an identity” turns out to be appropriate because “Steam” has struggled to define itself as something other than a sick groove and a special effects gimmick. Aided by Fishman’s Roger Waters-esque screams, this “Steam” builds the pressure until it blows out walls, windows and minds. “Huge” doesn’t begin to do it justice; it’s a must-hear for fans of the song and the highlight of the second set. A segue into “Silent In the Morning” follows, though I think the subsequent “Waiting All Night” would do just as well in that role. The second Wingsuit tune of the evening was one of my favorites from Halloween, and I liked the addition of “ooohs” over the end, but I think they still have some work to do on “Waiting.” A typically strong “Antelope” closes the set, followed by a typically fun “Suzy” with extra mustard and shenanigans on the Rage Side, and a typically awesome “Tweeprise” to cap the night.
This is a quality start to the run, no doubt. Lots of energy and lots of fun, not a lot of rust, and a couple of really outstanding jams in “Wolfman’s” and “Steam.” With the way the band is playing right now, the next few nights seem guaranteed to yield untold treasures. If you are somehow on the fence about tonight, let me give you some advice. DON’T BE A FOOL. SEE THE PHISH!