Night two of the midwestern run brings us to Chicago. The show opens with a solid “Runaway Jim” that gets the show rocking right away. The last couple minutes of Trey’s solo are particularly good and set the energy level high early in the show. To be honest, I’m not sure I have heard a “Jim” this tour I didn’t like. “Weigh” takes the “Guelah” slot and fills it well, bringing the energy back down a notch with some delightful Mike weirdness. “Weigh” falls into “Sparkle,” which is marred by some feedback squeaking. I should mention that there is a soundboard recording of this show circulating that sounds quite good. This combined with tight playing makes for a good listening experience.
The set rolls on with a very enjoyable “Split Open and Melt.” The jam of this one doesn’t go out of the box but you can tell from Trey’s solo that he is having another ‘on’ night. This “Melt” is nice and fleshed out and builds to a strong peak, making for an early high point of the show. Mike’s playing really shines through on this soundboard, with his downbeats during the jam played with a satisfying boom. “Squirming Coil” follows “Melt” to let the crowd catch their breath. I kind of am beginning to enjoy “Coil” in the middle of the set. It’s a thoroughly pleasant song and removed from being a signal of the end of the set I think I enjoy it more. The piano outro gives Trey time to pick up his acoustic for the beginning of “My Friend, My Friend.” The outro jam of this one is a good minute and a half or so and is more mellow and soothing than usual, at least initially.
“Uncle Pen” injects some bluegrass into the set before a solid “Chalk Dust Torture.” “Lawn Boy” gives Page the opportunity to stretch before the set-closing “David Bowie.” The intro of this “David Bowie” is truly ridiculous. They play multiple Secret Language signals as well as tease literally every song they have played so far. Altogether the intro is at least 2:30 in length. The song’s jam is underway by 7:00 and really starts heating up by 8:30. There’s a good dissonant passage here before the jam builds to a strong peak and transitions to the song’s ending shortly after 14:00. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking from this “Bowie,” but it’s a good performance of the song nonetheless and a satisfying end to the set. Between the peaks of “Melt” and “Bowie,” the tight playing from beginning to end, and a good setlist construction, this is a good first half of the show.
Fishman opens up set 2 by himself, singing “Lengthwise.” Similar to what happened the first night in Portland, Fishman moves back to his drum set as the crowd continues the “Lengthwise” chant. Fish then proceeds to starts up “Maze.” “Maze” sounds standard to my ears tonight, with neither Page nor Trey doing anything unusual in their solos. Trey’s solo seemed to me to have more energy, so I give him the nod tonight. “Maze” is followed by decent performances of “Bouncing Around the Room,” “Rift,” and “Glide.” Only the first 20 seconds of “Big Ball Jam” are audible before the recording cuts.
“Mike’s Song” is up next and provides the most notable improvisation of the set. The jam starts at 2:35, and by 3:30 Trey has brought the band into a “Miss You”-themed jam (we heard the band soundcheck the song last night). This goes for a minute or so before another usual segment at 5:30 that begins a second jam of sorts, though not the usual F-key “Simple” second jam. Trey drives this segment with his riffing, which the rest of the band adjusts their playing to. This jam peters out into the end chords of the song at 7:40. While only about 4-5 minutes long the band moves through a lot of interesting ground in this “Mike’s Song” jam, making it the most exciting song of the set for me.
There’s no “Hold Your Head Up”-bookended Henrietta segment in this show proper, but we do get a taste of Fishman’s humor (and vacuum playing) during “Great Gig in the Sky,” which supplants “I Am Hydrogen” as the post-Mike’s song. This might be the first “Mike’s” of 1993 to not go into “Hydrogen,” if my memory serves me correctly. “Great Gig” is its usual fun self before landing in “Weekapaug Groove.” The “Weekapaug” jam starts at 1:15, and is fairly standard until 4:30 where the normal “Weekapaug” jam dissolves and a new groove develops. “Weekapaug” has been the launchpad for many of this tour’s most adventurous jams, so I was hoping that the band would develop this new groove, but the sojourn is brief and we head back into the main “Weekapaug” theme at 5:30. Trey delivers a high-energy end to the jam in what might be his most impressive passage of playing this set. This “Weekapaug” clocks in at a relatively short 7:48.
The short “Weekapaug” might be explained by the guest segment that follows. During the intro to “Funky Bitch,” Trey introduces and brings to the stage Chicago blues-musician Sugar Blue, who sits in with the band on harmonica and vocals for the rest of the set. After “Bitch” we get treated to two debuts of blues classics; “Help Me” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Like most guest sit-ins at Phish shows this segment doesn’t yield anything too wild musically, but if you’re a fan of Phish blues playing or these songs this segment might be worth checking out. The set ends with Sugar Blue joining the band for “Cavern.” Unfortunately, as good sounding as the circulating soundboard recording is, the encore is largely absent. The “Amazing Grace” is missing entirely and only the first minute or so of “Good Times Bad Times” is audible, though I’m sure the song rocked.
This show has some good moments, like the “Split Open and Melt” and “David Bowie” in the first set, but lacks anything truly exceptional. The second set up to “Mike’s Song” is a little tame. There’s some good jamming in “Mike’s,” but “Weekapaug” is more constrained than normal. The guest-sit in is fun for the novelty value but doesn’t yield anything too memorable musically. This show has a lot of very positive reviews on Phish.net, but it didn’t impress me as much as some of the band’s recent shows. Your experience may vary! The next show will be at the University of Iowa on the 12th.
- Show rating: 3/5
- Highlights: “Split Open and Melt,” “David Bowie,” “Mike’s Song”
- Phish.net setlist
- Debuts: “Help Me” (Dixon/Williamson), “Hoochie Coochie Man” (Dixon)
- First set length: 70 mins.
- Second set length: ~70 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the Aragon Ballroom. Oysterhead performed here on 11/02/01 and Trey Anastasio Band performed here on 11/28/14.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “The Great Gig in the Sky,” returning after a ten show absence (3/26/93).
- The best represented studio album is Rift (7 songs).