Over 300 miles separate tonight’s venue from the show last night. Hopefully the band was able to catch some sleep during the truck drive. We get two treats tonight: a soundboard recording and part of the soundcheck. So far the Midwest has been kind to this project on both those counts. Today’s soundcheck consists entirely of covers that the band is working on; most remain unfinished. The recording cuts in as they are working on “I Can’t Explain,” a song I’m not familiar with. We only hear about a minute of this before they start up The Who’s “I Can See for Miles,” which to my knowledge they have never performed before a crowd. They play the song for a couple minutes before it falls apart and they start to work on it. They start the song back up at 4:00 and it transitions into another Who song, “Sparks.” This one has been performed live before and it sounds good. I don’t think it’s a full performance, as it ends at 2:00, but I would definitely enjoy hearing this one pop up during a show. After a cut of an indeterminable length of time the soundcheck ends with a quick and similarly unfinished “L.A. Woman.” The check is a fun listen, but there’s nothing really here except the novelty of hearing the band working on some rarely-played covers.
This is the first of two nights in Ann Arbor, the first multi-night run since Portland. The band was also last here in December. Ann Arbor is a college town, so it makes sense the band would be hitting it hard. The show proper opens with a tight pairing of “Llama” and “Foam.” Both are well-played, though “Foam” is a little less dynamic than it was at some recent outings. “Bouncing Around the Room” provides an early breather before “Stash.” The “Stash” jam begins at 5:05 and is more mellow than normal; not overly dissonant or tense. Instead, the band develops a mostly pleasant groove by 6:00, centered around an airy Trey riff. There’s great comping from Page as Trey sticks with his theme for the next several minutes. By 8:15 Trey is working some great descending lines into his playing. He emerges back into a more typical “Stash” solo at 9:30, builds the song to a thrilling peak, and transitions into the composed ending at 11:30. This is a unique “Stash” that focuses way less on tension and dissonance than normal, and is a great cut of improvisation early in the show. Just another example of why “Stash” is one of the most interesting songs in the Phish repertoire at the moment.
An “It’s Ice > Glide” sequence fills out the middle of the set before another Rift tune, “My Friend, My Friend.” The song has an extended outro tonight with a substantial “Ob-La-Di” tease. Well-played performances of “All Things Reconsidered” and “Golgi Apparatus” bring us to the set-closing “Run Like an Antelope.” Like most “Antelopes” this tour, this is a standard version that builds to a strong peak to end the set on a high note. This performance does have one interesting quirk though, after the peak of the jam at 8:00 there is a weird breakdown where Mike starts wildly slapping his bass and Trey scratches his strings. It’s a brief segment but it’s a neat flourish.
Overall, this is a good first set. The “Stash” is the big take-away moment, with another creative jam that distinguishes itself from other recent and impressive “Stash” jams. The playing from the band during the rest of the set is rock solid as well.
The elusive “Wilson” opens set 2. There’s an extended intro and a very short, almost-non existent solo after the “Blat! Boom!” end of the song. The song collapses into “Reba,” which combined with “Wilson” makes for an interesting and unusual opening sequence. Trey’s playing at the beginning of the “Reba” jam is very quiet and stays like that for a couple minutes. The volume increases at 8:00 and the jam builds steadily from there into a blissful peak at 9:15 that’s quite good but also over very quickly; the jam ends around 10:15. Trey’s playing is exquisite, particularly during the beginning of the jam, and the peak is satisfying, but it left me wanting for more. Definitely an early highlight of the set though.
“The Landlady” sounds good tonight and keeps the second set setlist feeling fresh. “Landlady” leads straight into the beginning of “Halley’s,” another rarely-played song this tour, which in turn blends seamlessly into “You Enjoy Myself.” The transitions between these three songs are super tight and sound practiced. The ‘bliss’ segment of “YEM” is serene tonight and a substantial two minutes long. Page’s solo is good but short, and Trey takes over at 10:15. His solo section starts with a funky feel that breaks down in volume at 11:45, leaving him almost no accompaniment from the rest of the band. They build this back up into a new groove over the next couple minutes. The sound is melodic, not very frantic, and still somewhat funky, mostly thanks to Mike’s bass playing. Trey starts riffing faster by 16:00 though a full-on peak doesn’t really develop before the bass and drums segment starts at 17:00. I enjoyed Trey’s ‘solo’ section being more of a full-on jam tonight, and a lengthy one at that, but I would have enjoyed a ripping solo to tie it up. This is a good “YEM,” for sure, and it anchors the middle of the set well, but I didn’t find it to be particularly noteworthy in the scope of the tour.
“Lifeboy” is always welcome as the cooldown from the big jam of the second set, the role it fills tonight. “Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” and “Suzy Greenberg,” which has a short but ripping breakdown from Trey, lead into the night’s Henrietta segment. Tonight’s is more entertaining than normal. Fishman begins by telling the audience that he is confused, and asks them if he should play a Syd Barrett or Neil Diamond song. The crowd cheers louder for Diamond. Before starting “Cracklin’ Rosie,” Fishman also asks the crowd if they hate or love the vacuum. A few people cheer for ‘hate,’ which I can empathize with, and Fishman responds with “good,” which made me chuckle. The overwhelming majority cheer for love. In celebration of vacuum love Fishman stays on the vacuum for the following “Big Ball Jam,” while Trey remains on drums. “Squirming Coil” closes the set, which may be starting to settle into the end-of-set role (then again, maybe not).
“Sweet Adeline” begins the encore, and is near inaudible for me. The show ends with a ridiculous”Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” that has pauses lasting for upwards of five minutes. Before the end of the song, over 10 minutes in, Trey explains that he “was waiting” on Mike. A fuller description of the gag can be found on Phish.com. Suffice to say, I’m sure the gag was entertaining in person, but listening to several minutes of silence on tape is not the greatest listening experience in the world.
This show has a lot going for it: the playing is generally tight, “Stash” once again contains an excellent jam and “Reba” and “You Enjoy Myself” are solid if not particularly deep. The setlist of the second set also feels fresh with rarer songs like “Wilson,” “Lifeboy,” “Halley’s Comet,” and “Oh Kee Pah Ceremony.” All that being said, the playing tonight (besides for “Stash”) is not very memorable within the context of the tour. This is a fun listen, especially with the soundboard recording, but I would recommend many other shows from this tour over this one.
- Show rating: 3/5
- Highlights: “Stash,” “Reba,” “You Enjoy Myself”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 67 mins.
- Second set length: 102 mins.
- This is the second time Phish performed at the Michigan Theater, last appearing on 12/11/92. They will return tomorrow night.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Wilson” and “The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony,” both returning after a fifteen show absence (3/26/93).
- The best represented studio album is Lawn Boy (5 songs).