The Midwestern Review
Over the course of four nights in the Midwest Phish continued to display two different sides to their musical coin. One side showed a willingness to dive deep into psychedelic jams; the other, a more contained form of straight-rock. Phish displayed both styles of playing in Deer Creek and in Alpine creating a run of shows that stand up to any since the reunion.
After what many considered to be a fairly tame run of shows in Telluride, there was once again some uncertainty as to the direction the band was headed. Two of the three shows in Berekeley had contained some of the best jams of the year. However, the shows in Telluride failed to produce anything of that standard. It’s doubtful that the decision to play a straight-forward rocker is predetermined, but rather a matter of feeling that seems to largely come from Trey. What is clear is that the band still shows a willingness to explore their music even if it’s not taking place on a nightly basis.
On the first night in Deer Creek anticipation ran high as Phish returned to the corn fields for their 19th and 20th visits to the venue (a stat held by few venues other than Nectar’s). However, in the first set the band rarely hit the note, and flubbed their way through several lyrics and notes. Highlights came during the first “Runaway Jim” of the tour, “Roggae”, and a “Cars Trucks and Bus” that features some nice interplay between Trey and Page.
As if to make up for their lackluster outing in the first set, the band stormed the Creek in the second with an engaging set from start to finish. The set began with a guaranteed jam vehicle – “Drowned” – that featured close communication between all four members. Following a chunky rhythmic section, the jam unfolded into an ambient groove perched above Jon’s Tony Williams-esque drumming. A near perfect segue came between “Jibbo” > “Gin” adding a sense of fluidity that has been missing in many shows in the modern era. Mike seemed to be constantly attempting to take the song outside of its structure, which was achieved for a brief moment, before Trey managed to reel it back in – a theme that would occur several more times throughout the night and weekend. In addition to the welcome bust-outs of “Buffalo Bill” and “Dog Faced Boy”, the band delivered two more engaging jams in “Twist” and “SOAMelt”. The dream-like encore featured the first “Fee” with Trey on megaphone in many years as well as “NO2″, – a nod to the helicopter flying above -”Kung”, and “Fire”. A very engaging second set that includes more than one highlight worth a listen.
On night two, Phish flipped the coin turning out more of a straight-forward rock show. The show was well-played, and featured a more engaging first set than the night prior, but failed to reach the same level of exploration. The first “Walls of the Cave” since its opening position at Coventry, “Stash”, “Ocelot” and “Possum” were first set highlights.
In the second set, a brief section of psychedelia emerged during “Light” where you can actually hear Trey playing a lick similar to the intro of “The Mango Song”. However, it was not until later in the set that the band moved into “Mango”, with a brief “Dave’s Energy Guide” tease from Page during the segue. At setbreak I ran into the guy from Bittersweet Motel who is asked if Phish can only be seen on drugs. He asked me if I “go to that place too”.
Following the trend since the return in Hampton, as the tour progressed so did the band. In Alpine Valley, Phish once again raised the bar in a spectacle show that had all 40,000 fans hanging off the band’s every note. Night one was one of the most cohesive shows since the return and perhaps even much before that. The first set was packed with memorable moments, including a divine rendition of “Reba”, the extremely rare bust-out of “Fuck Your Face”, a fiery “Antelope” closer, and more.
But what occurred in the second set will be remembered by all who were in attendance as a moment of pure musical satori – a flowing set from start to finish where each song weaved through a web of psychedelic energy. Few moments since the return have achieved a level of transcendence comparable to that which occurred in the combination of “DWD” -> “What’s The Use”. “SOAM” featured one of the best mule-duels in years that saw Page and Trey gunning through phrygian riffs in classic Klezmer style. “Mike’s Groove” featured a welcome landing point in “Dirt” that brought the show back to reality before launching into a funked out version of “Sally”. This show was one to remember, and features one of the best jams of 3.0. A must-listen.
“DWD” -> “What’s The Use” (8.14.10)
The next night, Phish brought the heat again while keeping a rock-focus for most of the show. The first set opened with a surprising “Tweezer” – the first since Hampton ’03 -that remained true to form and acted as more of an energy-builder than a jam vehicle. The set closing “Bowie” featured machine gun guitar work from Trey on his new ‘doc – a theme that carried on throughout the second set.
The second began with the engaging combo of “Ghost” > “Theme”, both including jams that remained close to the songs’ respective structures. “Piper” provided the exception to the rock-based set with an extended section of ambient psychedelia that eventually segued into “2001″. The band closed the night with a four-song encore that included the first rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” in 2010.
(audio to come…)
While I didn’t have the chance to attend the show in Jones Beach last night, what I’ve heard has been great. It seems we are averaging a highlight every other night or so at this point.