Merriweather Post Pavillion may not be a shed that is much loved by most fans – particularly those relegated to the lawn – but it has been the site of some fantastic Phish shows. Their first headlining show here on 8/8/98 contained two beloved cover debuts, "Sweet Jane" and “Sabotage,” along with a fantastic “Piper.” An epic spacey dark “Mango” on 9/17/00. A great "Rock and Roll” and "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” bustout on 6/26/10 and the “Saw It Again” fest the next night. 7/14/13 featured one of the best first set jams of 3.0 in “Stash.” This great venue history with the growing legend of the summer 2014 tour made anticipation for the MPP run high. Let’s get this show on the road!
The show started at a very early 7:35p with “Sample," which in my mind is a much better first set opener than a second set closer. When I find myself getting jaded with this song I try to remember how I felt hearing it after I had skipped school to buy Hoist, and I get excited all over again. Maybe Phish's finest pop song?
Unfortunately it is hard for me to give latter-day “Momas" the same benefit of the doubt, because as we all know they could be so much more. This "Moma" did have a slightly different and cool breakdown from Trey and Mike during the frothy cap/steady slap portion, with Fishman playing around a bit with his vocal rhythm as well.
A short discussion and a bit of help from Trey's guitar tech Brian Brown followed, then in keeping with its crepuscular nature, “Wombat" crawled out of its burrow. I can't have been alone in hoping this would be at least half as good as the 7/18/14 Chicago version. The short but funky jam was not on that level, but featured some fantastic clav playing by Page, sweet pornofunk licks from Trey and awesome Claypool-style bass slapping by Mike.
"Number Line" was up next, surely in honor of Chris Kuroda's birthday which was on Friday. I'll never get tired of hearing "Roggae," the way the whole band gets a line of the lyrics in the first verse will always put a smile on my face. The plaintive guitar solo at the beginning of the jam is some of the most emotional stuff Trey does on his guitar. I'm not a huge Dead fan, but it gives me a vibe of Jerry at his best. This particular jam was no exception, one of those where my heart was just reaching out to the band hoping it would continue forever. Beautiful stuff, and well worth a listen.
"The Wedge" was another song in the "we played it better in a second set in Chicago" slot. Always hard hearing the next version after the best version ever, wondering what could have been, but this stands as a good first set version, with a smidgen of extra mustard.
One thing I love about couch tour is the up close views you get of the band members playing their instruments. It's just fascinating to watch Page and Fishman in particular at work – and their work in both the composed section and jam of “Wolfman's" was great to see and to hear. Some great syncopated jamming in this tune, with all the band members taking turns on and behind the beat, which then slid into a ripping solo by Trey to bring it back home. "Wolfman's" has been a 3.0 first set all star and nothing here would make anyone say otherwise.
I don't know what changed their mind, but the band decided to play the first "Nellie Kane" of 2014 next. Seemed a bit rusty, but played with love. Maybe for some people seeing page do his "Lawn Boy" schtick gets old, but not for me. I laugh every time. I'm not sick of "The Line" yet but this summer is testing me for sure. I kid - I kid because I love. I want them to write more topical songs about years-old athletic failure, don't you? Scott Norwood is still out there, waiting for a jam band tribute. Don't let Umphrey's beat you to the punch, Trey.
I can't be the only JadedVet™ who want all you wooks to stop clapping during “Stash" so Fishman's woodblocks can come back, can I? I am? I'm a horrible misanthrope who hates a genuine and cool interaction between the band and the fans? Come on, I was cool with the "woos" in the Tahoe “Tweezer," I'm not all bad, ok? The “Stash" jam was a bit noodly for my taste, but Kuroda's work on the lights was spot on – I do love the backdrops. Trey also leaned hard on the whale whammy during the final riffs - he should probably "stash" that effect back on the tour bus.
Thankfully they came back to close the set with a rocking “Suzy," with some fun work by Page on the talk box, and cool riffs that some people (not me!) will call "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "Living After Midnight" teases. A group bow and a Trey balloon punt segued into a hilarious set break slide show concerning the name of the venue (the source for the title of this post). The highlights of the first set for me were “Wombat," “Roggae" and “Wolfman's," with “Roggae" being the belle of the ball. But I should point out here that one awesome thing about Phish is that you can like something I didn't and hate something I liked!
Little vocal mixup at the beginning of “Carini" to start set II, but more than made up for by a bloodcurdling scream from Fishman after the "people all were screaming" line. Following the composed portion of the tune, the band immediately launched into a driving jam dominated by some trilling by Trey and then modulated into a more melodic portion. Very cool finish that seemed to threaten to segue into “Twist" before changing key and dropping into “Ghost." The increased segues this summer have to be a conscious decision, right? I'm not saying they all seem forced but it definitely seems like the band is looking for opportunities to segue where in the past they may have let a jam peter out. The “Ghost" jam had a brief chill interlude before coming back with a riff driven classic rock style groove, with Trey using a watery effect and CK5 matching it on the backdrops. The jam then built back up triumphantly on the back of some fantastic playing by Trey and great Hammond work by Page before breaking down again with some great guitar delay loop work over a bed of a steady but ever evolving beat from Fishman.
A slightly herky-jerky end of the fantastic “Ghost" jam lead into my favorite tribute to House Stark, “Steam." Do you all wish “Steam" had been on Fuego as much as I do? I would have loved to hear what Bob Ezrin could have come up with on the production end. They amount of fog Kuroda pumps out in this song is so fun to watch, especially in some of the close ups – Trey and Mike must hit pedals based on muscle memory. "Steam" featured a great Mike solo utilizing the envelope filter in this one that sent the crowd into a frenzy – I could have listened to him solo forever, but Trey had other ideas, kinda forcing the opening riff of “Mango," the tune that spawned a million high school yearbook quotes in the 1990s (well, that and “Cavern"). A ripe “Mango," it finished with some haunting sustain from Trey as the band discussed their next move: "Sing Monica." I am an absolute sucker for puns, so I love the lyrics in this tune, and Trey clearly has an absolute blast playing it. Surely if they had written this in the 90s when Friends was still on it would have been their biggest hit, right?
It's at this point in a show where I start to worry that they are just going to play out the string with a bunch of non-jamming tunes and encore with “Julius," but thankfully we were shown the “Light”. "Light" starts way better from a dead stop – often when coming out of another song the opening chords are really jarring and almost dissonant. The part where Kuroda makes the lights grow brighter as "the light is growing brighter now" is so on the nose it should be cheesy and annoy me, but damn if I don't love it every single time. And not just that part – Kuroda really used this song and jam as a showcase. Some nearly “Manteca"-like playing by Page during the jam while Trey played with some echo effects that were reminiscent of some fall '13 jams. Page was phenomenal in this jam, with Trey providing fills and texture, almost Animals-era Floyd-like, and a smooth as silk (and rare!) Page-led segue into “2001." But it was to be a very short “2001" that ended with some layered loops from Trey and jumped into "Harry Hood."
Can we all agree to stop yelling "Hood"? Thanks. Fun pre-lyric section, with Trey laying down some funk before stomping on a bunch of his pedals. Mike starts off the jam unconventionally, repeating notes and building the tension before dropping into the typical bass progression. Trey played an inspired solo, hitting upon a theme and evolving it note by note as the song climbed toward its peak, and then breaking it down a bit, and finding a different theme. While not as exploratory as the Great Woods “Hood" that opened the tour, this was an excellent version that brought the fire and closed the set to an ecstatic crowd.
You know what would be awesome? If we all could all love “Julius" encores and that they make us dance like crazy and send us to our cars in a bouncy fun mood and all we would talk about driving home was how awesome the “Julius" encore was. Oh “Julius," we could have had such a good time together. Isn't it pretty to think so?
Highlights of the second set for me were “Ghost," “Light” -> ”2001" and “Hood," but it certainly had a fun flow that should be listened to straight through at least once (and maybe many times if you roll that way). Overall, a great show (definitely no Saturday Night Special here) that slots in nicely with what is becoming a theme this summer: segue-filled sets with riff-based jams that have a very classic rock feel. I for one am loving the return to sets as a meaningful unit of measure and a fully enjoyable group of songs to listen to, and I hope the trend continues. Can't wait to see what the rest of tour (and 2014) brings!