What to say about this show? I will say it was a Phish show: not a Mike show, not a Trey show, not Page show, not a Fish show. It was a Phish show, a whole band who interacted and engaged in a musical conversation throughout. Wrigley Field provided the place for them to engage us, the audience, in their conversation.
The boys started with the “Moma Dance,” a song they have used as an opener in Chicago before. But this “Moma Dance” set the groove as Mike decided he was full of things to say on this night. He brought a heavy groove that set the tone for the evening. “AC/DC Bag” was up next and was as straightforward as a “bag” gets, although the groove was front and center. And, during this tune the band displayed large smiles and showed a joy that has been more and more prevalent in 3.0. These guys actually enjoy playing together and it shows.
The next two songs came from Phish’s latest studio effort, Fuego. “555” is a rhythm section song and kept the theme of the night going: laying down a thick, rhythmic groove that allowed the conversation to take multiple levels and tracks. The one thing about “555” is that it has the space to get “out there” and exploratory, but the band has not taken that leap yet. “Waiting all Night” followed “555” and was a beautiful rendition. It provided one of the first sections of real interplay for the band, with Gordon and Fishman keeping a tight structure while Trey and Page were able to have some very dynamic interplay.
The next “step” was by Trey onto one of his ever-increasing looper and delay pedals, signaling the beginning of “Heavy Things.” The band moved through the song rather seamlessly, although I felt like the end was rushed a little bit as Trey was soloing: the other three came in with the background vocals and moved the song along a tad quickly. “Heavy Things” gave way to a “Happy Birthday” dedicated to tour manager Richard Glasgow (and prompted by some fans’ banner in front of the stage).
“46 Days” followed with the entire band getting in on the action. Trey had his solo moments and did his thing, but it was a very interactive, conversational approach to the live staple. And coming out of the rocking and interesting “46 Days,” the band basically stopped the flow to perform “I Didn’t Know”, complete with the first Fish Vacuum solo of the tour and Trey playing some drums. While I get the appeal of songs like “I Didn’t Know,” they can be set killers in that they just bring everything to a grinding halt.
Luckily for us, Phish felt the need to bring the set back to full life with “Divided Sky.” The intricacy of a song like “Divided Sky” amazes me, as does the concentration it would take to play: the different sections all work together to create a truly fantastic experience. The song also included Mike and Trey jumping, foreshadowing things to come. Next came “Cavern,” complete with a total mess up by Fish. It was fascinating to see how the fellas moved on, but they always do. And the first set ended with the night’s first cover, of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.” In their interpretation, Phish built and released the tension multiple times, while Page did his best to channel his inner Robert Plant…and succeeded.
The second set started with “Carini” and the crowd could feel the energy and were ready to go with the band. (And, in a genuine shout out to my brother, he called “Carini” as the second set opener.) It was perfect. And the jam was both a continuation of the musical conversation occurring in the first set as well as a launching point for where the boys would go. Trey, instead of going for the full rockstar series of solos, layered and looped and delayed different tones and riffs while Page swirled synths and Gordon proposed sequence after sequence and Fishman set the beat.
As the band had reached the end of what they wanted to explore in “Carini,” Trey began the “Tweezer” riff. There is just something about “Tweezer” that makes everyone feel it and the entire crowd just reacts in unison. The boys began with a really rocking, raucous version of “Tweezer.” Mike was slapping and popping and Trey was really pushing it…and then they brought it back down, into that effects laden trip. Trey never pushed it but was patient and perfectly content to lay back and layer sounds while Mike and Page drove the musical dialogue. And, full confession, while they were playing “Tweezer,” I really thought it was going to be one of those “all-time-ultimately-huge Tweezers”. There was so much room to go and explore and dialogue that I was ready to spend the whole set in a “Tweezer frame of mind.”
The boys had other ideas, though. Their earlier foreshadowing came to fruition and they launched into “Fluffhead” after a 52 show absence. And it was nearly perfect. Like “Divided Sky,” “Fluffhead” is difficult and requires a lot of discipline; it’s not just a vehicle to jam. And Phish nailed it; Page even showed off some of the niftiest piano work that we’ve heard. I imagine that this will be one of the definitive “Fluffheads” that people point back to over and over again. I’ve already had my kids listen twice.
“Fluffhead” gave way to “Piper,” which again featured the effects laden jamming of the earlier parts of the set. Page and Mike again drove the ship while Fish set the groove and Trey experimented. “Piper” provided a mellow, yet really interesting jam. As the jam continued, Page began to push toward “Steam.” The band gave in and spent some time there. It was rather straightforward, along with those terrible “Steam” sounds. During the playing here, I got the feeling that the band knew they were getting closer and closer to their 11:00pm curfew (an annoying thing about playing inside the City of Chicago). This is a problem at Northerly Island as well.
The band ended the second set with a rather quick detour into “Harry Hood.” There wasn’t the magic of other “Hoods,” but it was interesting and, well, it’s always great to get a “Harry Hood.” The jamming just never got a chance to take off like some of the other interpretations of the song. Next came the second set closer, “Tweezer Reprise.” And, again, the boys rocked it out and ended the second set on a very high note. It was also great to have “Tweezer Reprise” close the second set instead of being stuck in the encore.
Like the night before when they did Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in the encore, this night they turned to a major influence: the Beatles and their classic “I am the Walrus.” Phish might be one of the few bands that could actually do justice to such a song, with the complicated effects, weird vocals, and great interplay. They nailed it, playing it a bit heavier than one might have thought, but it was high-energy and sent the fans out wishing they could all make it to Deer Creek (Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, IN) for the Sunday show.
As an aside, I was a little nervous about the change up in the lights. I am a fan of the entire concert experience and what the lighting techs (led by the famous Chris Kuroda) have done in the last few years has been fantastic in my humble opinion. I was not sure that I wanted a change. And during the first set, when the LEDs appeared as one panel, I was not a fan and wanted some change. However, the second set was a thing of beauty; those panels and lights and the interaction among them, which echoed the conversation taking place on stage, provided a very important visual element to the music happening. So, nerves are better and lesson learned: trust Phish and Kuroda.