Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/05/2013
Set I: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance, Sample In A Jar, Roses Are Free, Birds Of A Feather, Yarmouth Road^, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane, Army Of One> My Friend, My Friend&> Cities -> David Bowie
Set II: Energy^^> Light -> The Mango Song#> 46 Days -> Steam> Drowned## -> Slave To The Traffic Light
Encore: Character Zero###
^ “Yarmouth Road” made its Phish debut
^^ “Energy” (The Apples In Stereo) made its Phish debut
& “My Friend, My Friend” was unfinished
# “The Mango Song” contained a “Light” tease
## “Drowned” contained a “The Divided Sky” tease
### “Character Zero” contained a “Jean Pierre” tease
Two shows into the 2013 Summer Tour, and there’s a pattern developing. Whereas in 2011 and 2012 Phish emerged from hibernation with a focused determination, and immediate connection, thus assaulting their fanbase with some of their strongest overall shows in each respective year, it appears that in 2013, the band is taking a bit of a more refined approach.
No one in their right mind would say the last two shows have been bad shows. No one would either say they’ve been resoundingly great shows. (Quite frankly I’ve seen both extremes espoused on PT and Twitter, but we’ll just assume those extremes are, well, extremes…) What they’ve been instead are solid overall shows that have featured both patient foundation setting, interspersed with moments of chemistry and hooking up, which if nothing, but foreshadow great things to come as the tour unfolds.
In some senses you could look at 07/03/2013 as Tour Opener A. and 07/05/2013 as Tour Opener B. Like I pointed out yesterday, let’s not go calling either of these the best shows ever, nor the onset of Phish’s demise.
In many ways Set I of 07/05/2013 played out like the first half of a basketball game. With Trey playing the role of facilitator, he made certain to get each member involved throughout the somewhat uneven frame. Setting the foundation for the tour, Page got his moment with the delicate, contemplative, and (while, yes, a bit mawkish) deeply personal “Army Of One,” Gordo debuted a bubbly, reggae number, that just sounds like summer at a Phish show – “Yarmouth Road” – even Fishman got to stretch his vocal chords with a second song “Moma Dance.”
Kicking things off with the banally standard triumvirate of “Kill Devil Falls,” “The Moma Dance,” and “Sample In A Jar,” each song did what they needed and nothing more, much like the “Possum> Runaway Jim” opening segment from 07/03. “KDF” rollicked in its musty barroom stomp, proving no matter how unsurprising it is to hear, it’s never not fun, “Moma” was graced by the Meatball effect, and “Sample,” well, “Sample” couldn’t quite get to that place that ever justifies its existence.
The middle part of the set took on something of a recital feel to it with the energy combo of “Roses” and “Birds” – the latter of which featured a blistering solo from Trey – a resoundingly boastful peak in “Gin,” the aforementioned debut and Page-number, and the always welcome prettiness of “Nellie Kane.”
(I say none of this with any overt criticism, mind you. And, like I pointed out yesterday, these songs, and their intended effect, was assuredly elevated by the idyllic setting of SPAC, the left-over day-drinking buzz, and the sweet stench of recently puffed marijuana lingering listlessly in the air. If you want my honest opinion, I feel like the band more than deserves the three sets they’ve opened the tour with. They more than proved their improvisational ambitions and abilities in 2012, and, now, coming off a seven-month layoff, in preparation for what’s most likely to be their heaviest touring year since 2009 (and perhaps even longer) have more than earned the right to take their time settling into this tour. If they want to focus on establishing chemistry, confidence, and full-band communication through “Possum,” “Kill Devil Falls,” “The Moma Dance” and the like, more power to them.)
Closing with a phenomenal “My Friend, My Friend> Cities -> David Bowie” segment was just the thing the set needed to send it into setbreak. “MFMF” featured some choice theatrics from Trey who used his mic stand as a slide effect; he then looped the noise to be used as part of the fade to “Cities.” I’ve always loved how “My Friend” begins in such pristine territory, but by the song’s end, you’re grasping your skull, wondering what the fuck went so wrong so quickly?!?!
“Cities” initially felt a bit flat only to pick up a groove that then led into an interesting Page-led jam segment. A moment that felt like it could have turned into something had the band stuck with it, instead turned into an effortless fading segue into “Bowie.” No harm/no foul here. An improvisational end to “Cities” would have certainly felt jarring at the end of such a structured set. The “Bowie” built upon the phenomenal 12/28/2012 version without surpassing it. Finding itself in a genuinely beautiful zone of music, Trey led the middle-segment of the jam which featured patient and melodic trills, rather than aggressive chromatic shifts. It’s clear at this point that the band simply loves what’s possible once they’re in the middle part of “Bowie,” something that’s gotta resonate throughout their fan base.
Is there anything worse than this kind of sideline reporting? Couch tour rehashing of music that was made four hours ago, some 8000 miles from where I sit?
I mean, I can’t even feel the grass of the lawn below my feet. I haven’t paid $14 for a beer since NYE. I haven’t tasted the chemical wonderland of Molly since the night prior.
There’s truly a distinct feeling that comes with being AT a Phish show that can’t be surmised in 2000 words from a couch (ahem, chair) in the middle of the afternoon in Osan, South Korea, right? Right?
I don’t know. That’s in large part why I’m attempting this project to review the entire Summer Tour from where I currently reside. You have to admit that I’m at least right on a few of the points from Set I, no matter that I simply couldn’t have felt the roar – that roar – of the crowd when they peaked “Roses” like they always peak “Roses.” Yet, this was that “Roses” that happened when you found yourself in that perfect pocket of dancing space, and the mix of white and red lights were just fucking perfect in the way they shone on the balcony, even peaking through to the endless hordes of people on the lawn, thus bringing EVERYONE in for one unified roar, and for one second, one moment in time, it felt that everything, I mean EVERYTHING, was going to be okay.
EVERYTHING, for one moment felt solvable. It lasted only a second, but it happened. It’s been recorded. And you were there. It’s why you came to the show, afterall, for that one moment in time.
Did I feel this moment? I know I certainly felt something as I watched this show while simultaneously cooking eggs. I know my wife and I turned and smiled at each other in the way we always do when those moments of communal purity happen at a Phish show.
But could my feelings, which are in so many ways so removed from the feelings of the 20 – 25,000 attendees at the show, yet so connected in the way that technology and music can only allow them to be, could my feelings help to explain what happened musically tonight? Or any night of tour for that matter?
I still don’t know.
Set II flowed in the kind of way every Set II should. The kind of set you can just put on and let it go, do your own thing, check in from time to time, work out to, mow the lawn to, cook to, read to, write to, etc. When the band creates a fully-flowing album-like set in the live setting, in front of 20,000 people, it’s a remarkable thing.
While it may be forgotten by the end of the weekend – remember, everyone was lauding 06/08/2012 in the break between Worcester and AC, but you hear nothing about it anymore – for the moment, it’s a perfect representation of Phish in the zone. Thematically it ran the gauntlet through an intriguing swath of emotions that retraced many of Trey’s biographical steps in essentially reverse order.
— the ecstatic-preacher (“Energy)> new-agey celestine explorer (“Light”)> momentary bliss -> resident goofy/loopy prankster (“The Mango Song”)> middle-aged drug-fueled disillusionment (“46 Days”) -> secret D&D extraordinaire (“Steam”)> rawk/cawk guitar god (“Drowned”) -> expansionist minimalism -> simple nonsensical beauty for the sheer sake of being nonsensically beautiful (“Slave To The Traffic Light”) —
Could it have been better? (Sure, but that depends on your definition of better…) Could the band have pushed “Light,” “46 Days,” and “Drowned” even further into the unknown in search of the elusive Dick’s/MSG improvisational aura? Of course. But that would have in some ways compromised what they did do so well.
Opening with a cover debut of the Apples In Stereo 2007 song “Energy” felt initially out of place, but ultimately worked with the overall set. Filled with a sung “Awww Yeah,” from Trey, and repeated lines “In The World (!)” from Mike and Page it resonated in the cheesy new-agey way that so many of Phish’s 3.0 songs do. Flirting with dissonance, the song ultimately gave way to “Light,” in all actuality, the song everyone WANTED to hear.
Building off a solid foundation that held true to the 08/19 and 09/01 versions, the jam left “Light” for a more rhythmically-centered terrain before effortlessly (really emphasize the effortlessness here. It’s amazing how fucking easy Phish makes transitioning mid-jam appear these days.) moving into a subdued, Trey-led segment. It then entered an absolutely gorgeous realm highlighted by a Page/Trey interwoven duel (ala 07/01/2012) that represents the best pure moment of the Summer 2013 Tour thus far. A jam that felt destined for greatness (in terms of further evolution and a natural resolve) Trey forced – a bit – a pre-meditated segue into “The Mango Song.” While a bit jarring on re-listen, in all actuality there are worse fucking songs you can segue into than “Mango,” so who can really bitch at this point?
The “46 Days -> Steam” segment just flat out kicked ass. The band just kills “46 Days” every damn time they play it now. They’ve got it down to a science (similar to how they crush every “GBOTT”) and this version simply did not disappoint. From the all-out cawk-rawkiness of the Trey solo, to the hints of dark funk that ultimately led to a reprised, full-on funk workout that hinted at “Manteca,” the song crushed its mid-Set II placement. Following what many presumed would be the closing coda of the song, Trey initiated brilliantly led the funk jam into the first “Steam” in over a year.
Is there anything cheesier than releasing steam in the chorus of a song when the the band says “Steam”???
Is there anything more perfectly Phish-like?
Like the way this song just fits the nerdy/70’s arena rock vibe that constitutes so much of a Phish show, the use of the steam just fits the song and the band’s overall show so perfectly. Placed perfectly in the middle of the set, “Steam” proved to be one of the overt highlights in a set full of them. Reaching a massive peak while flirting with dissonance and infringing melodies, this version is easily the best we’ve heard the band play thus far.
The set ended with an apropos “Drowned” (a nod to the pre-show rain storm) that rocked in the way it should before landing in a gorgeous ambient jam that led seamlessly into easily the best damn “Slave To The Traffic Light” the band has played in all of 3.0. Building off the sublime 12/30/2012 version, this “Slave” was emotive, it was patient, it built to a proper and rewarding peak, it was a beautiful take on a song that’s there simply to provide beauty and release. Similar to the previous show’s “Hood,” it’s clear the band has re-embraced playing their classic emotional rock peak songs with the kind of patience and power that the two require.
A cawk-rawkish “Character Zero” ended things, and in many ways was a fitting send-off to a show that balanced a rock-based, structural approach, with the fluid, and improvisational high points in “Bowie,” “Light,” Drowned,” and “Slave.”
Two shows into the tour and the band is clearly laying the groundwork for some massive music to come, while also interspersing their current shows with some of the most fluid and improvisationaly-strong music they’ve played in all of 3.0. Could they be doing more? Sure. Should they be doing more? I think not. The approach they’re taking as they ease into their 30th year is but a microcosm of the one they’ve taken throughout 3.0. Great things are sure to come.
Thanks to Phish.Net (www.phish.net) and The Mockingbird Foundation (www.mbird.org) for organizational assistance and sourcing of setlists!