No, not that Greek Theatre in Berkeley that was a frequent haunt of the Grateful Dead, and occasionally, latter-day Phish. This is a different, less-storied Greek Theatre about an hour west of LA. A recording of tonight’s soundcheck circulates, so the story of the evening will begin there. The soundcheck is a fun one tonight. It begins with “Dog Log,” the third time we have heard this song sound-checked on this tour despite it not yet appearing during a show proper. It sounds good, featuring some nice jazzy soloing, and segues right into a “Heartbreaker” (sans vocals) jam. As “Heartbreaker” falls apart Trey drives the band into another Zeppelin tune: “Misty Mountain Hop.” Musically they more or less have this one down but vocally it’s a mess, bordering on comedic. Hearing both Page and Trey trying to wail Plant’s lines…let’s just say there’s a good reason they have never covered a Zeppelin album at a Halloween show. Nevertheless, “Mountain Hop” is fun to hear in this soundcheck context. The check ends with an attempt at “Bang a Gong” that never becomes more than an attempt and falls apart almost immediately. If you like listening to Phish goof around with tunes that they rarely play during shows this is definitely a soundcheck you’ll want to listen to.
A standard “Suzy” opens the first set of this show and flows right into a decent “Llama.” “Foam” sounds fine tonight and might be a bit extended due to Trey’s solo. “Bouncing” provides an early breather before a very solid take on “Rift.” Tonight’s setlist is full of standards; the largest gap in performances (“Fluffhead”) is only six shows. “Stash” provides the first opportunity for significant improvisation. The intro to the song is a little rough, but the band mostly pulls it together by the first verse. The jam starts at 5:20 and breaks down to almost silence at 7:30, which leads to a sort of reset of the groove. There’s some great descending fills from Page during this segment as Trey plays very quietly. From here they build to a traditional “Stash” peak and ending. This “Stash” doesn’t deviate too much from a standard “Stash” but it gets bonus points for the dynamic playing. According to Phish.net the volume of the band’s playing was an issue at this venue so I think we’ll hear more quiet jamming as the show progresses.
“Stash” is followed by a solid reading of “Fluffhead” that gives way to “Cavern.” “Antelope” closes the set. The “Antelope” jam really picks up steam around 4:00 with a good driving Trey riff that leads into some ripping soloing before a standard build/end to the song. Overall this is a fairly average first set for the tour with songs that the band has been playing very frequently and not much notable improvisation to speak of. The band is sounding good though and except for a few spots the songs are performed well.
“Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do!”
Set 2 begins with two experimental takes on usually standard tunes. The influence of the volume restrictions of this venue becomes increasingly apparent during this set. “Runaway Jim” opens the set and breaks down to almost complete silence at 2:00-2:20, going further than the song’s normal breakdown. This builds into a spirited Trey solo that gives way to an eerie, ambient passage at 8:10 as the rest of the band starts to break away from the “Jim” structure. This is an interesting sequence, but song is reined back in at 8:50 for the traditional close of the song. This is a good “Jim,” and a good set-opener. “It’s Ice” follows and features a super-extended ‘underwater’ segment tonight. This segment is largely sparse, driven primarily by Fishman’s ‘tick-tock’ drumming, but features a segment of Trey making noise and wailing. Mike drops some booms and Page plays a “Rhapsody in Blue” tease about a minute into this segment (!) at 7:30. Fishman changes the beat at 8:00 back to the standard “It’s Ice” rhythm but the rest of the band takes their time coming back to the composition. The outro of the song is extended as well and features more Trey screams. This is the most experimental take on “It’s Ice” I’ve heard (it reaches over 10 minutes) and is certainly an interesting segment of the show.
“Uncle Pen” and “Sample in a Jar” bring us back down to earth for a few minutes, though even the usually rollicking “Uncle Pen” is played in a more subdued fashion tonight. This trend continues with “Lizards” which features a quieter arrangement. “Lizards” sounds looser than normal because of these on-the-fly changes to the song’s arrangement but it never veers into messy territory. Up next is Mike’s Groove. The “Mike’s” jam starts at 3:00 and quickly builds into a blistering Trey-led peak shortly after 5:00, perhaps the loudest moment of the set so far. The F-key transition begins at 5:35; this part still sounds messy to my ears. The end chords kick in at 7:00. This is a decent “Mike’s” (mostly due to the strong peak in the first jam) but not great. “Hydrogen” sounds fine tonight and fits the quiet/subdued vibe of the set.
“Weekapaug” is the longest performance of this song on tour so far. The jam starts at 1:25 with both Trey and Page contributing. Page quickly takes the lead by 3:50 but Trey continues to riff away, quietly, in the background. The song gets very quiet by 5:00 and is virtually silent by 6:00 with both Trey and Mike almost inaudible, Page playing delicately, and Fishman mostly just riding the cymbals. Trey starts to influence the direction of the jam again around 7:40, though Page continues to play the leads until 8:40. The jam builds in intensity from there with a quick Trey solo and a return to the “Weekapaug” verse at 11:45. The verse bleeds into a vocal jam based around the “Weekapaug” melody for the last couple minutes of the song with a sparse instrumental backing. This transitions into “Hold Your Head Up.” There’s a good amount of banter in the Henrietta segment tonight with reference to the band’s quiet playing, an apology to Paul (the band’s sound guy) from Fishman, and Trey asking the crowd if anyone else felt an earthquake that must have occurred during the set. A standard but well-played “Golgi” closes out the set.
Before the first encore song, “Amazing Grace,” Trey thanks the crowd and comments that it’s nice to be playing outside for the first time in “what feels like months.” “Grace” is quite audible on the recording tonight. In perhaps a “fuck you” to the venue before leaving the stage a loud and rocking “Chalk Dust” closes the show. I have mixed feelings about this second set; on one hand, it’s interesting to hear the band experiment so much with quiet/subdued jamming due to the volume issues of the venue. This leads to unusual segments worth checking out, like the extended underwater segment of “Ice” and the long passage of near-silent improvisation in “Weekapaug.” However, it also saps some of the energy from the show and keeps the band from playing as I’m sure they would have liked to play. This show might be worth checking out for the novelty factor of the unusual jamming (and “It’s Ice” fans should definitely check out this “It’s Ice”), but it’s hard to call this a great Phish show.
- Show rating: 3/5
- Highlights: “It’s Ice,” “Weekapaug Groove”
- Phish.net setlist
- Soundcheck length: ~18 mins.
- First set length: 70 mins.
- Second set length: 95 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the Greek Theatre.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Fluffhead,” returning after a six show absence (3/12/93).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (4 songs).