The Northeastern Review
Since we were unable to provide reviews after each show, today we will provide a look at all four shows from Darien to Saratoga, and their impact on the whole summer tour (check out our article Phish 3.5 to see the progress earlier in the summer).
Starting in Toyota Park actually, Phish made a direct statement, “busting out” rare numbers that had been on wish lists since June. It was clear, another notch was under their belt in the already-legendary 2009 summer tour. With the renewed sense of confidence instilled in each member of the band after the Red Rocks and Gorge shows, everyone knew another leap would be made. As the band delved into some of their more complex numbers (Dinner and a Movie, Forbins) there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the tour had come to a climax.
June was comprised of similar, contained setlists with incredible jams speckled throughout each show. Every night we were offered a glimpse at what would become of the band once they had fully shed their rust. Rather than starting with too much on their plate, the band attacked a smaller roster of familiar songs allowing them to regain their comfort with each other. These songs quickly became the highlights of the summer tour, offering gems at numerous shows (Tweezer, Hood, Ghost, Drowned etc.). During their time off, each member evolved their sound in a new direction. Old songs are played in new ways now, with rearranged sections to suit the players’ new styles (most notably Mike’s complex new baselines). After the band attempted to bust out some rare tunes in Chicago, the next step was clearly on its way.
The past four shows were the culmination of the journey the band has already traveled this year. Think of how far they have made it thus far. Trey was flubbing the intro to YEM in March, almost unable to make it through. Now, he’s laying it down harder than ever with ’95-esque precision.
At Darien Lake on Thursday night, when the instantly noticeable intro chords to “Dinner and a Movie” began, any song in the bands catalogue could follow. Going back to one of their first complex numbers that defined the early stages of their career, it was clear there was nothing left to hold back. The song was played with incredible precision providing the energy the band needed to deliver the stellar set 1 at Darien Lake. Funneling this energy into one of the new songs that the band has been working hard at (it was soundchecked that day, with specific focus on the “carnival” like part), the “Sugar Shack” turned out far more polished than any previous version. The second set continued to ride the energy from the first set and the band came out of the gates with a rocking version of “Drowned”. Altogether, Darien was a very enjoyable show, with two equally enjoyable sets.
Hartford was a rare night, in any Phish era. Playing perhaps my favorite setlist of any show this summer, and delivering each song with incredible precision, it was definitely one of the best shows the band has played in quite a long time. Hearing the intro diminished chords to “Col. Forbins Ascent”, it was confirmed, the band had brought back something that was so integral in their early years of touring. Practice. “Forbins” and “Mockingbird” are not songs that an unpracticed band plays. That is the reason these songs were not attempted even once in the post-hiatus ’03-’04 era. The band nailed the “Forbins” perfectly, and followed it with an incredibly melodic rendition of “Mockingbird”.
Perhaps Phish knew that the true fans had made the journey for this one, because the setlist was ripped right off of every single fan’s “dream setlist”. The entire show flows with improvisational energy that has otherwise appeared sporadically throughout the summer. Unlike other shows this summer, it is impossible to name only a few gems from this show. Every jam embodies the new direction the band is heading, exhibiting amazing playing from each member. Anyone who was in attendance needs no reminder, this was one to remember. In Hartford, Phish was as funky as James Brown on his worst night.
The show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion was far more contained than the previous night in Hartford, but still kept with the new step the band had taken. Playing six major bustouts and one brand new song in the first set, the band pleased the fans who had been waiting the entire tour to hear them. Again, played with precision and accuracy, showing the obvious time and practice they have been putting in, this set took off to a very good start. However, when the second set improvisational energies normally begin to flow, many of the jams began to resemble the shows in June. Marked by exteneded solos that rarely leave the of the songs borders, most of the jams were rock-based, fun jams. The “Tweezer” which has been such a highlight this summer was a bit lacking considering the other versions the band has played this summer (check out Camden’s “Tweezer” if you haven’t already). The band finished the set with a bang, playing a fiery, extended “46 days” before leading into another “Oh! Sweet Nothing”. The “Hood” closer, again, did not compare to some of the earlier versions this summer. Altogether, the show was very well played. However, the jams resemble the ones in June, with a far more rock-based focus.
The show at SPAC was a great way to finish off the tour, except for a few exchangeable moments (heavy rain, Katie Perry and ACDC covers). Keeping in line with the previous 4 shows, the band continued to bring out rarities, satisfying those who had stayed on until the end to catch them. I had been hoping for a “Llama” opener since the start of the tour, so to finally get one was very nice. The only problem was, the sound in the pavilion was absolutely atrocious for the first song and a half. Either way, the effect was there, and Phish launched off the rocking opener into the always funky “Moma Dance”. The tour really came full circle when the band opened the second set with the new standard “Number Line”, and took it for a real nice ride. The song that Mike and Trey first played together last summer at Rothbury finally culminated in the epic jam of the night. Featuring some very tight playing that leads into an melodic ambient section, this jam is one of the finest of the tour. The jam goes on a full journey, with a very outside section that eventually leads into “Twenty Years Later” which I thought was very well played. The “Harpua” was rewarding to us all, but I think Jon got a bit carried away this time. It was funny, I’ll give the man in the dress that much. The experience was there, and it was very Phishy. So, I don’t think anyone minded while Jon galavanted about.
As the band played the final “YEM” of the summer, the leaps the band had made since March were obvious. There is no more angst surrounding a particular section of a song anymore, and rare songs can be brought back at any time. The encore provided us the final cut off the new album Joy, which was a very fun number in line with the album’s title. The closer “Highway to Hell” is not a favorite of mine, and I would have loved to see it replaced. Nonetheless, it was fun, and a nice way to close things off. SPAC was a party of a show, with energy pouring out the rafters. Phish left us off on a good note this time, and only excitement remains until they return.
Listen to the “Birds of a Feather” from Hartford which features a great example of Phish’s new improvisational direction.
Here is an excellent video of the “Forbins>Mockingbird” from Hartford.