Phish Still Has Fun
Well, it’s been just over a week since I promised you an article explaining my take on Phish’s recent progress. Unfortunately, I fell ill and was unable to deliver on that promise (or my plan to roll out a new series of weekly posts). But, your humble narrator has returned, ready to pick up where we left off. So here are some brief thoughts about the recent tour:
Listening back on the shows from the recent tour, there are so many evident signs of progress. The band truly stepped forward into new waters with their jamming on this tour, exploring various songs in ways we had not heard before. As the tour progressed, a new direction seemed to take root in Phish’s playing, once again leading them on a path of discovery – or perhaps, more appropriately, rediscovery.
It’s taken some time for the smell of newly-reunited band to wear off, but on this tour there was hardly a trace. Each member is playing at a level that shows their maturity and their continued devotion to their instrument. The tightness on stage at this point is, in all honesty, frightening. Tightness enables the band to take more risks without having to worry about falling apart at the seams. And so as they embarked on the road, there was no need for rust polishing, and this left a lot more room for exploration and playfulness.
Jams, on several occasions, ventured into territory that was completely new. And these jams often appeared in songs that are not normally known as jam vehicles. This freedom of exploration allowed the band to rediscover their old songs, while injecting them with fresh ideas along the way. Rather than stretched out, extended jams, the music was consolidated, and rich with subtly.
Song selection also became more open to variation on this tour, and this returned the element of spontaneity to the shows – something that was largely missing in many of the recent tours. Rather than following a list of regular openers and closers, the band chose to add some variety this time around. I always say that an odd opener leads to a good show, and this was the case more than once on this recent tour.
And then there was the element of fun, or Phishiness as some like to call it. Whether it was the “Meatstick” encore in Broomfield, the “FYF” > “Mike’s Song” > “FYF” in Augusta, the various antics in Utica, the entire first set in Manchester or the Zeppelin-fest in Atlantic City, Phish was clearly having a shitload of fun. And as any Phish fan knows, fun is at the heart of this band’s music.
“I think we were just having a good time hanging out there – the four of us – and rediscovering some of these songs. We’re really having a good time right now. Maybe it’s a fresh perspective and just having fun remembering songs.” – Trey Anastasio, Relix Magazine (Sept/Oct.2010)
This is, most likely, what led to the recent “song-based” sets. The truth is, Phish has written so many good songs, and now they are just enjoying playing them, and playing them well. And now that they have revisited these old songs, they are not only relearning them, they are redefining them and injecting them with new arrangements and new interpretations. In many ways, Phish is on the cusp of a new musical direction, and as Mike told Jambands.com just recently, “sometimes the cusps are the coolest place…”
[All pictures provided by our good friends at Glowstickwars.com]