Tonight’s show stands as the sole show separating the short Colorado run we just finished and the upcoming, not-so-short California run. The first set begins with an a capella number, “Sweet Adeline,” before an increasingly familiar “Buried Alive > Poor Heart” pairing. Trey struggles a bit with the middle section of “Buried Alive” but “Poor Heart” sounds fine. “It’s Ice” follows, appearing earlier in the night than it has at most shows this tour. It sounds like Trey’s mic cuts during “Fee,” but he sings the choruses with no problem, so apparently he was stepping away from his mic during the verses. I’m not sure why he would have a reason to do this? The rest of the band quiets down to allow the crowd a chance to hear the lyrics. Not a great experience for the listener, and I can’t imagine it was ideal for the crowd either. “Fee” segues into “Maze.” Page brings the volume of “Maze” way down at the beginning of his solo before building up to a strong peak; it’s a good solo. Trey’s is decent as well but fairly standard, so I give Page the edge tonight in the “Maze” duel for his dynamic playing.
“I Didn’t Know” features Fishman on what sounds like a washboard. “Divided Sky” follows, lending some compositional muscle to a set that has mostly featured shorter songs so far. There’s a couple of messed up notes from Trey but as a whole the song sounds good and the ending solo has a good amount of energy to it. After “Divided Sky” Trey introduces his grandparents, who are in attendance tonight. Trey’s grandfather joins the stage to sing “You Gotta See Mama Every Night,” which is apparently a special song to his grandparents and was played at their wedding. It’s a cute interlude that doesn’t overstay its welcome. After “Mama” Fishman sounds like he’s starting up “Possum,” but you can hear Trey say on the recording that “I don’t want to do that song.” Instead of “Possum” the band breaks out the tour-debut of “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters,” which Trey dedicates to Page. It’s apparent why, for Page’s new piano sounds excellent during the back half of the song (starting around 5:20). The rest of the band quiets way down during this passage to give Page the spotlight. “Cavern” wraps up a relatively short first set.
Everything through “Divided Sky” is fairly average, but “Sky” sounds good tonight and is a song I always like to hear carry the middle of a first set. The interlude with Trey’s grandparents is fun and as touching a segment as you’ll hear during a Phis show, and the tour debut of “McGrupp” both lends the setlist some freshness and sounds great. As such I would say that, for the tour, this is a great if not amazing first set. Besides for a couple missed notes here and there from Trey, which he quickly recovers from, the band sounds tight tonight as well.
Set number two opens with “My Friend, My Friend” which once again features an extended outro. This extension is less musically focused than recent “MF,MFs” and instead features the band repeating the final refrain of the song “My friend, my friend, he’s got a knife…” seemingly endlessly and unamplified until the song collapses into a bunch of screams. Amusing, at the very least. A pleasant “Curtain” leads right into “Tweezer.” I wonder if we’ll ever hear a “Curtain With” on this tour? “Tweezer” is a lot of fun tonight. The jam begins at 4:30 and is initially subdued but quickly coalesces around a driving, almost metal-esque riff from Trey that they build on for about a minute. Before long this riff leads right into a full-on “Sweet Emotion” (Aerosmith) jam, lyrics and all. It’s a silky smooth transition that gets the crowd going. The “Sweet Emotion” refrain snaps right back to the “Tweezer” jam at 6:45. There’s a good minute or so of soloing after that, but the song quickly gets quiet and dissonant. The last couple of minutes are rather experimental for the time. Instead of heading into the composed ending of the song, the norm for the time, the band lets the jam collapse in on itself for a transition into the second “Bathtub Gin” of tour. It’s great to hear “Gin” again but the song is still a ways from being the jam beast it will become; there’s only about two minutes of soloing at the end and the song clocks in at under 7:00.
Trey gives lengthy Secret Language instructions during the intro of “Esther” tonight. He explains three signals: random note, Simpsons (both of which we have heard frequently this tour) and a signal I’m not sure I have heard at all before. “Esther” sounds fine and segues into a ripping “Chalk Dust Torture.” The second “You Enjoy Myself” in as many shows breaks the traditional “YEM” structure for the first time this tour, if memory serves correctly. There are some really great melodies from Mike during the ‘bliss’ segment, making it perhaps my favorite bliss segment of tour. Page’s solo starts out very good but seems initially like it is being cut a bit short by Trey as they enter into a very funky, co-led passage. Instead of transitioning into Trey’s solo, however, they ride out this funky passage (that eventually gets fairly subdued) for the remainder of the jam! There’s no traditional Trey solo, bass and drum segment, or vocal jam in this “YEM.” It probably sounds more exciting than it actually is though; while it’s certainly some interesting experimentation it is also a bit sloppy and disjointed sounding. Eventually this funk jam segues smoothly into “Hold Your Head Up” and the Henrietta segment. Tonight’s Henrietta segment has a double dose of tunes: “Bike,” and responding to an audience request, a refrain of “Lengthwise” sandwiched in between Fishman’s vacuum solo and the return to “Bike.”
“Lawn Boy” makes a late-show appearance and has a big rock ending that leads into a “Llama” that has an absolutely ferocious tempo. Trey’s solo in this “Llama” is unusual; it’s very dynamic, starting off at almost a whisper, and features some good back and forth between Page and Trey. It almost sounds like it’s departing the “Llama” structure at 3:15 but the band quickly reels the song back in. Worth checking out for diehard “Llama” fans. “Amazing Grace” closes out the set and “Sparkle > Tweezer Reprise” sends the audience home. Some of the first set issues return in the encore with Trey struggling with the intro to “Sparkle,” initially playing in the wrong key, but he recovers for the rest of the encore.
This show has a lot going for it: a charming family appearance in the first set, compositional favorites (“Divided Sky,” “The Curtain”), experimental jamming (“Tweezer, “You Enjoy Myself”), ripping rock numbers (“Chalk Dust,” “Llama,” “Maze”), and a well-played tour debut (“McGrupp”). Trey sounds a bit off at times during the first set but the band sounds good throughout the second. The show isn’t quite as memorable as the final night in Colorado, and doesn’t have a stand-out jam like that show did, but I would still rank it as above-average for the tour. The band is heading into a long California run with a good amount of momentum behind them!
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters,” “Tweezer -> Bathtub Gin”
- Phish.net setlist
- Debuts: “You Gotta See Mama Every Night” (Conrad/Rose)
- First set length: 62 mins.
- Second set length: 94 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the Celebrity Theatre.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters,” returning after a forty nine show absence (11/27/92).
- The best represented studio albums are Rift and A Picture of Nectar (6 songs).