On Tuesday night Phish rolled into Great Woods, home of many a classic Phish gig, for their only performance this year in New England proper. On the heels of a smoking hot weekend (Pine Knob and Blossom in particular), the comparatively modest performances at this shed from the past two summers (6/6/09 and 6/22/10), and the brilliant summer sun, anticipation was high and the crowd was pumped.
The workmanlike first set was light on improvisational exploration but not without highlights. A rocking, high-energy “Llama” opened the proceedings, and the energy stayed high through an enjoyable if interchangeable series of “Moma Dance” > “Possum” and “Cities.” While “Moma” is perfunctory by nature, hopes for a pattern of jamming emerging on the heels of the brilliant “Possum” from Blossom and the well-above average “Cities” from Bethel were, unfortunately, dashed. Nevertheless a fun sequence. The return of “Instant Karma!” for only the second Phish performance (6/12/10) added some unexpected spice to the set; way to go, Page! “David Bowie” followed in an unusual mid-first set slot. Kudos for the placement, but this version was apparently ordered “no extra mustard” as it never really got off the ground.
The Phish debut of Al Green’s “Rhymes” – a standard in the Mike Gordon Band repertoire – was a welcome addition and hopefully a harbinger of more songs from the rotation of Mike’s “other band” seeping into Phish setlists. The real meat of this set was indisputably “The Divided Sky” that was both precisely rendered and soaring in intensity, laying a punishing smack down to the jaded vet loser who used the occasion to cycle liquids. But to be fair I only missed half of the song. :-) “Stealing Time” finished off the first set proceedings, taking a sharp step back from the highs of “Divided,” but rocked, compactly, as it is obliged to do. Overall, the jamming jets were mostly in the closed position but it was a perfectly enjoyable set with a mini-rarity, a debut, and a spectacular “Divided.” We’ll be back in fifteen minutes.
“Back on the Train” opened set two and was relaxed, lilting and a bit funky but (you knew it was coming at least once) Trey cut the jam a little short, opting for “Rock and Roll.” In this case, nice choice! Wow, just wow! For a 16+ minute version it wasn’t “exploratory” but it was absolutely dense-packed with power and energy. This was far and away the highlight of the night; do yourself a favor and download this show if only for this “R&R,” you don’t want to miss it. Great stuff! “Mango Song” follows and was a fantastic choice to bring down the energy level without crushing it entirely. Then “Bug,” that personally I love but the placement was questionable and there was a palpable deflation of crowd energy. Oh well, it doesn’t matter!
“Pebbles and Marbles” didn’t do much for the energy flow of the show, but is such a great song that Trey can be forgiven for mild misjudgement in the setlist arrangement, and the performance was excellent in any case. After the fantastic version in Bethel, “Halley’s” reverted into the 3.0 shell in which jams hide. “Meatstick” was fun, as always, though several commenters have noted that this song works better when deployed less often and I tend to agree, but at least a few of us still actually do the dance. “Antelope” was great, and in a “OK kids, let’s review what we’ve done today” approach included “Meatstick,” “Bug” and “Divided Sky” teases. The “Suzy” encore was stock rock fun, and that is a wrap.
Overall? Sorry, phish.net co-workers, but you can’t make me use the numeric scale! My mind doesn’t work that way with Phish. I’m there for the fun, the friends, and of course great music in the moment, and there was all of that and more, a fantastic night of entertainment in my home venue. The venue was fantastic, as always, no issues anywhere, excepting the shit-show traffic on the exit, but we weren’t in a big hurry so no worries. My “categories” such as they are: There are maybe ~5% of shows that are outliers on the low end, 10% of shows that are outliers on the high end, and the remainder are “average,” i.e. rock solid entertainment. In that light this was an average Phish show. It was not a home run and excepting the “Rock and Roll” the jamming jets were on cool, but worth every penny and more. Good times!
On a final note, I will use a numeric scale to describe Squidda, the lower Cape’s premier jam outfit that played in the RV/Bus lot before and after Phish: 10! Out of 10! (OK they are friends so please forgive me one innocent plug).