Tonight show’s is the third consecutive college campus show in upstate New York. We’ll be leaving New York after tonight but will return again in about a week before the tour finishes. “The Landlady” opens tonight’s show, in its usual set-opening role, before a rocking “Possum.” It seems like “Possum” is frequently being played early in a set to give Trey a chance to warm up his soloing chops, and it works tonight. Trey’s solo is nice and extended and ends with a section of cool note-bending shortly after 7:00.
“Bouncing Around the Room” is as an early cool-down before an “It’s Ice > Glide > Runaway Jim” sequence. “It’s Ice” and “Glide” are standard but well-played. Like “Possum,” “Jim” has a good Trey solo segment, and it feels more dissonant and experimental than your typical “Jim” from this period (check out the segment from ~5:00-7:00). The solo doesn’t break the song’s structure, but it does venture afield from the typical feel-good, high-energy “Jim” sound (while still delivering that feel-good end to the song). To my ears it’s definitely the strongest song of the night so far.
A “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird” segment takes up the middle of the set. The narration continues the trend of late of being truly bizarre. It begins with Trey telling the audience that he can “control spirit people” using his pedal board, and that ghosts/spirit people are falling from the ceiling. These spirit people are falling from the ceiling in a way that is basically a “big Tetris game.” Like in Tetris (which I suppose was a topical pop culture reference in 1993), rows of the audience start disappearing as they are filled up. Eventually a wall of blocks disappears and there’s a view of a space shuttle…and the Kremlin? And then the Kremlin becomes a space shuttle and launches into space? I don’t really know what to say here folks. From there the story takes a predictable route: the audience gets dragged along with the Kremlin (???) and find themselves deposited in Gamehendge. We’ve heard some strange narrations this tour, but this one might take the cake for its pure incoherence.
“Maze” follows “Fly Famous Mockingbird” and is fairly typical tonight. Page’s solo is good, but Trey’s drives to a more intense peak, so I’m going to give Trey the win in the “Maze” duel tonight. The match-up isn’t quite fair in this set: Trey has gotten ample warm-up between “Possum” and “Jim,” while this might be Page’s first improvised solo of the night. But I digress. A quick “I Didn’t Know,” featuring Fishman on washboard, leads into the set-closing “Golgi Apparatus.” Overall there’s nothing too wild or exceptional about this set (besides for perhaps Trey’s narration in “Forbin’s”), but I thought the set flowed well and had no noticeable down spots. Trey sounds good in “Possum” and especially in “Jim,” which felt a bit more experimental than normal.
Set 2 opens with “Wilson” (just about the only slot the song appears in these days). “Wilson” lands in “The Curtain” without much of an outro solo beforehand. I like this pairing of songs to open the set: “Wilson,” the rock-and-roll pump-up, and “Curtain,” the beautiful composition. “Tweezer” is next to provide the other big component of Phish’s sound: group improvisation. The “Tweezer” jam gets going at 4:45, and quickly settles into a funky groove that the band more or less sticks with for the rest of the song. There’s a lot of string-scratching and ‘plinko’-esque noise coming from Trey, and Page is co-leading with great leads. Page takes over almost entirely by 6:45 with some rocking playing. Trey, not content to be second fiddle for long, picks up his playing and latches on to a catchy, descending riff around 8:15-8:30. He uses this to launch into a full-blown solo at 9:00. Instead of working to an explosive peak, Trey quickly introduces dissonance to his solo as the band transitions back to the composed outro of the song at 11:00. This is the best sounding “Tweezer” in some time! The funky groove that drives the song is energetic and has a certain amount of swagger to it, and that carries into the riffing and solo. I would have liked to see them push the song further instead of settle into the composed ending, but what’s here is great.
I really like the opening three songs of this set. Each touches on a different aspect of the Phish sound I appreciate, and the “Tweezer” is my favorite performance of the song since at least the beginning of the month. “Contact” is next and provides a lighthearted diversion after the intensity of “Tweezer.” “Uncle Pen” makes its always welcome appearance before “Big Ball Jam.” We roll right into a terrific Mike’s Groove from there. The “Mike’s Song” jam starts at 4:45. Trey drives the first jam to a satisfying, rocking peak, and heads into the end chords at 4:45. A second jam starts soon after and works into a weird, quarter-note chug with Trey singing in an evil voice over top. The jam sounds evil after that, but in a more coherent way than the typically-messy second “Mike’s” jam. Trey latches onto a melodic phrase around 8:30 that takes the song into a new, full-type-II groove. It quickly rips back into the “Mike’s” progression at 9:55, and the last set of end chords at 10:55.
“Hydrogen” sounds good tonight, and the “Weekapaug” jam starts at 1:40. Trey drives the beginning of the jam with an odd, ascending line. He takes a good initial solo as the rest of the band quiets down. The song settles into a mellow groove at 3:35 that Page begins to solo over, with upbeat chording from Trey in the background. This picks up with some rocking riffing at 6:45, and Trey explodes into an exhilarating solo at 8:35 to bring an end to a creative and fun MIke’s Groove with great improvisation in both “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug.”
No Henrietta segment tonight. I’m guessing it was a curfew issue, because this is one of the shortest second sets of tour. A pleasant “Fee” brings us to the set closing “Tweezer Reprise.” “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” returns after its debut last night, and works better in this encore slot. The band sounds more confident with the song tonight, and the emotional ballad works well as a cap to the evening. Phish.net notes the band sound-checked the song tonight, and I think they may have altered the arrangement for the better. I’m kind of sad we’ll hear it for the last time in just a few days, but I guess Trey’s increasing ability to write sincere, reflective songs obviated the need for covers like this. “Carolina” is the a capella song of the evening, and “Rocky Top” closes the show.
I almost gave this show a 5 on the strength of the second set alone. I didn’t mainly because the first set is fairly standard for tour. It has bright spots: a rocking “Possum” and “Runaway Jim,” and another bizarre narration. Otherwise though, it’s fairly unremarkable. The second set, however, is all killer and no filler. The setlist is tight and flows well, the “Tweezer” is one of the best in recent memory, and the Mike’s Groove is bursting with creative improvisation. The band has really locked into a great groove over the last week or so, and are delivering excellent performances on a startlingly consistent basis. I’m excited to see what this results in as we head towards the homestretch of this tour.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Runaway Jim,” “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird,” “Tweezer,” “Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 76 mins.
- Second set length: 79 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the Kuhl Gym.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Carolina,” returning after a fourteen show absence (4/5/93).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (4 songs).