I have a confession to make before we get too far into this review. The official release of these Roxy shows was in 2008 – the same year that I started to get into Phish. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and a friend of mine started to introduce me to this strange band through albums like A Picture of Nectar and The Story of the Ghost. The band was announcing their reunion at the same time, and it felt like the perfect time to dive deep into Phish. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to hear some live material to really understand what this intriguing band was all about, and this realization coincided perfectly with the release of this set. Therefore these Roxy shows were for me the equivalent of the experience many fans had in the 90s of having A Live One or a random tape handed to them for the first time. The music contained in these shows was both utterly confounding and immensely attractive to me. I wouldn’t really get the band until I saw them live myself about a year later in Hartford CT, but my obsession with this band started with putting down $50 for this set. I had never heard anything quite like it before. I was a bored, suburban high schooler interested in music and starting to experiment with pot: in other words, I was the perfect target for Phish. I haven’t turned back since.
The point of this digression is that it is going to be hard for me to review/rate/describe these shows objectively. My goal of this project has never been objectivity, however, but simply to offer my perspective on Phish’s music. So with this caveat aside we can move on to the show itself. The soundcheck (not included on the official release) is most notable for a “Ya Mar -> You Can Call Me Al -> Ya Mar” sandwich which is not as adventurous as the previous night’s “Quinn” soundcheck but is still cool to hear. The band banters after the performance about how to best end the song. We also hear a run through of “Dog Log” and the band working on “Funky Bitch.” We’ll hear both “Ya Mar” and “Bitch” proper later on during the show.
Tonight’s show kicks off the third weekend and first three-night run of tour and begins with “Loving Cup,” appearing for the first time in over a week. This performance doesn’t deviate much from how the song has been treated this tour but the band sounds good and hearing an officially mixed/mastered soundboard recording is heaven for the ears after hearing some spotty audience recordings leading up to this show. “Rift” is next and one of a couple repeats from last night. The song continues to move around the setlist, as its last two appearances were as second-set opener. “Split Open and Melt” is still largely the same as it has been this tour, but the recording tonight helps highlight some great bass playing from Mike about a minute into the jam. The song’s jam doesn’t stray far from the “Split” theme. “Fee” is a nice cool-down after “Split” and segues into “Maze.” Lately I feel I have been giving the edge to Trey in this song but tonight I think I have to give it to Page. He sets the excitement bar high after his solo and I’m not sure Trey is quite able to live up to it (though his solo is definitely not bad either).
The second “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” of tour is next and sticks pretty close to what I would consider the “cannonical” narration. Trey narrates the crowd being atomized and transported magically to Gamehendge, where Icculus directs the Famous Mockingbird to steal the Helping Friendly Book from the evil king Wilson. As you can imagine, this was a particularly strange part of the show for me to hear when I was a Phish neophyte. There’s a nice reference at the beginning of the narration to the band’s previous show in Atlanta which had to be canceled early due to venue flooding. “Sparkle” and “My Friend, My Friend” bridge us to the last segment of the set. Tour workhorse “Poor Heart” leads into a “David Bowie” set closer. Shortly into the intro of “Bowie” Trey wishes Fishman a happy 28th birthday. This leads into a full-on jam around Led Zeppelin’s drum-showcase “Moby Dick” that features a Fishman vacuum solo in place of the song’s drum solo (ha ha). Following all this craziness we still get some Secret Language signals before the song starts proper, meaning that this “Bowie’s” intro is five minutes long (longer than the actual song itself, maybe?). The jam starts at 8:35 with a “Happy Birthday to You” tease. From there it’s a fairly tight and condensed jam, though there are some great build-ups of tension from Trey near the end. The band returns to “Moby Dick” several times at the end of the song.
Overall I would say this is a good, borderline great first set for the tour. Everything is well-played, there’s a decent flow, and the “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” in the middle is a lot of fun. I feel like this set could have used a “Divided Sky” or “Fluffhead,” or just one deep improvisational moment, to really push it up into that upper echelon. Nevertheless, it’s a solid start to the run. The closing “David Bowie” is fun and interesting but more focused on antics and silliness than serious musical exploration.
Set 2 opens with a regular in this slot, “Runaway Jim.” Like most “Jims” of late, Trey kills his solo in this one. This song consistently has had some of my favorite Trey soloing of the evenings its played, and tonight is no exception. There’s good comping from Page during Trey’s solo as well. A well played “It’s Ice > Paul and Silas” sequence flows into “You Enjoy Myself.” The ‘bliss’ section of this “YEM” is very patient and serene and the official release has the sound quality to do it justice. I like the interplay between Trey and Page at the end of Page’s solo; you can audibly hear Trey say “yeah man!” at one point during Page’s solo, as the guitarist encourages Page on. Unlike “Maze,” Trey is not outdone here and and delivers an exciting solo as well. He doesn’t breakdown to near silence like he has been doing lately and instead drives straight towards a peak; I would have enjoyed him take a bit more time with his segment. The drums and bass part is of decent length, for the time, and I greatly enjoyed the church choir-esque ending to the vocal jam as opposed to the usual wailing. Honestly, I’d like them to do that at the end of every “YEM” vocal jam.
Before “Lawn Boy,” Page announces that his parents are in attendance and dedicates the song to them. A guest, Jimmy Herring on guitar, joins the band on stage for the rest of the set. “Funky Bitch” makes its first appearance of tour and is fun to hear with a guest. “My Sweet One” gets about as extended as it gets (3:38 on the official release) and features a good amount of soloing. Phish.net notes that it is unfinished so they must have skipped a verse or two. During the Henrietta segment, while presenting Fishman his birthday “present,” Trey notes that the bet over whether Fish will be late for the bus or not has now risen to $1500. I feel that is like at least double what it originally was? Apparently Fish has not yet been late though. I hope we learn the outcome of this bet; it’s been mentioned at least three times now. I’d also like to note that it’s weird to hear a guest sit in on the Henrietta segment. What a strange experience that must be for the musician sitting in. Jimmy Herring leaves the stage after a good “Llama” and the band closes out the set with “Amazing Grace,” also dedicated to Page’s dad.
“AC/DC Bag” makes a triumphant return after an 84 show absence, matching “Punch You in the Eye” for significant bust-outs on this tour. Trey explains before the song that they haven’t played it in a while but he promised a fan who was celebrating his 21st birthday in a bar last night that the band would play this song tonight for him. It’s a pretty standard “Bag,” but it’s fun to hear this song again. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t drop out of rotation again.
I really enjoyed this show; there’s not many deep cuts tonight but the band makes up for it with a lot of energy, solid playing, and a sense of fun. That’s not to say there’s no musical highlights though: the first set “Bowie” is filled with antics, “Runaway Jim” features yet another great solo from Trey, and “YEM” delivers the goods yet again (it has easily become my favorite song to hear on this tour). Add to that a decent guest sit-in, a big bust-out of a fan favorite, a fun narration in “Forbin’s > Mockingbird,” and lots of Fishman gags centering around his birthday and you have a pretty great show.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Forbin’s > Mockingbird,” “Runaway Jim,” “You Enjoy Myself”
- Phish.net setlist
- Debuts: “Moby Dick” (Led Zeppelin)
- Soundcheck length: ~17 mins.
- First set length: 84 mins.
- Second set length: 90 mins.
- This is the first time Phish performed at the Roxy Theatre. They will return tomorrow night.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “AC/DC Bag,” returning after an eighty-four show absence (5/16/92).
- The best represented studio album is Rift (5 songs).