Happy May Day! We’re three months into tour, and have just over a week to go. Phish largely skipped Philadelphia on the tour’s initial swing down the east coast, opting for nearby Delaware instead, but they rectify that omission tonight. Most of the soundcheck circulates, beginning with an a capella rendition of “Poor Heart” that’s fun to hear. “Fun” describes the rest of the soundcheck as well, which includes a funky jam Phish.net labels an “Odd Couple Jam,” and a concise but ripping “Brother,” a song yet to be played on this tour. Inessential listening perhaps, but a very entertaining soundcheck nonetheless.
The show proper starts with a strong “Runaway Jim.” The initial build of Trey’s solo is patient, and he starts to push at the edges of the song’s progression with his riffing shortly after 5:00. Trey transitions into the song’s peak from there. A dynamic “Foam” and standard “Guelah Papyrus” follow “Jim.” “Split Open and Melt” is next, and the resulting jam is the first standout segment of the night. The jam starts at 4:12 with Trey immediately driving the jam into a now-familiar groove through his excellent riffing. The band stays relatively locked in this groove until Trey starts to solo around 6:00. There’s a flurry of shredding from him at 7:30 that leads to a blistering peak. Through some more excellent Trey soloing the jam slowly works from there into the ending of “Melt.” The band uses the same general approach to “Melt” that has been working for them the last couple of performances, but the execution tonight is superb.
“Fee” is a deserved chance to catch a breath after the intensity of “Melt.” A well-played “Rift” and “Sample in the Jar” lead to the final sequence of the set. “It’s Ice” and “Glide” are both standard, for the most part, though “Ice” does have a slightly extended ‘underwater’ segment. “Bowie” closes the set and is returning from something of a break; it was last played during the first set of the Toronto show that is not in circulation, so the last we heard it was well over a week ago in Ohio. The “Bowie” jam starts at 5:10 and is sparse and rhythmic to start. Mike plays some good leads as Trey begins his solo around 6:30. Like in “Melt,” Trey’s playing is very quick and precise. After a couple minutes of great soloing the jam resets at 8:00, and seems to start building toward the song’s composed end. The band takes a sidestep from 9:00 to 10:20, however, to build another intense groove in the “Bowie” structure. This leads to a fiery peak and the return to the composed end of “Bowie” after 11:05. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but I think this is a strong “Bowie” regardless. There’s a couple great jams-within-jams here, and it’s all strung together well. Between the standout “Melt” and “Bowie” jams, and the otherwise good playing, this is a better than average first set.
Set 2 opens with a short but typically-ripping “Chalk Dust Torture” that contains more of the thrilling Trey shredding that has become par for the course this evening. After “Chalk Dust,” the rest of the first half of the set contains largely through-composed songs: “Fluffhead,” “My Friend, My Friend,” and “The Squirming Coil.” Besides for some issues during the ‘Bundle of Joy’ segment, “Fluffhead” sounds very good and practiced tonight. The same can be said of “My Friend, My Friend,” which does not contain an extended outro. The outro hijinks seems to have peaked sometime in March; since then it seems the outros have largely been standard or only minimally extended/altered. As he has done during some recent performances, Trey picks up his acoustic for the “Fluffhead” outro, allowing him to move on to “My Friend” without switching guitars between songs. Page’s “Coil” solo tonight feels long for the era, and even gets slightly experimental during a few brief passages (like an odd, jazzy run from 9:00-9:15). I get the setlist logic of playing this song in the middle of a set; Page’s solo serves a similar role as a ‘breather’ song would, in terms of set flow.
After performing these weightier compositions, Phish proceeds to blaze through a trio of short songs, starting with “Big Ball Jam.” “Ball Jam” leads straight into a surprising but welcome, mid-set “Halley’s Comet,” appearing for only the fourth time of tour. The song is not quite 100% locked down but the band is getting close, with the song clearly benefitting from seeing some show time. The band rolls into a solid “Paul and Silas” out of “Halley’s.”
Phish saved the improvisation for the end tonight, with “Mike’s Song” being the first real attempt at group-improvisation, 50 minutes into this set. The jam starts at 2:30, with Trey coming in at 3:05. The first jam is typically high-energy and leads into the end chords at 4:50. An F-key second jam starts at 5:10 and quickly centers around a “Simple”-esque riff, resulting in an instant shift towards a mellower atmosphere. Trey starts wailing at 7:00, which pushes the rest of the band in an increasingly anarchic, free-jazz direction. The band manages to coalesce back around the “Simple” riff at 8:00 before shifting into the end chords again at 9:45. This is another great “Mike’s Song” that succeeds in fleshing out the second jam. Compare the strong “Mike Songs” of the last few weeks (including this one) to the ones at the beginning of the tour and I think you’ll see a stark improvement in the approach to the second jam, a part of the song that was a garbled mess more often than not early in tour.
There’s no Henrietta segment tonight, but a “Great Gig in the Sky” Mike’s Groove sandwich instead, complete with a Fishman vacuum solo. The “Weekapaug Groove” jam begins with jazzy playing from Trey. This morphs into a rhythmic jam by 3:30 that begins to build around a Trey riff before breaking way down at 5:30. Trey drops out entirely, with Mike rumbling away in the low end and Page assuming solo duties. The interplay here between Mike and Page is great, and Fishman is varying his drum beat wildly as well. Trey slowly rejoins, and the jam takes on a feeling of controlled chaos similar to the free-jazz portion of the “Mike’s Song” jam. This builds over several minutes before the band thunders back into the “Weekapaug” theme at 8:45. One more thrilling Trey solo for the evening brings us back to the “Weekapaug” verse. All said, an excellent Mike’s Groove with creative jams in both “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug.” The stakes were high for these songs, as the only significant jams of the set, but the band delivers. The set closes with a quick “Cavern.”
“We’ll see you tomorrow night, right here, man…” – Trey, at the end of “Cavern”
Tonight’s encore consists of the very brief “Carolina” and “Rocky Top.” Overall, this is a very entertaining top-to-bottom show with solid playing throughout and great jams for the era in “Split,” “Bowie,” and the Mike’s Groove. “Split” and “Mike’s Song” in particular show the band solidifying the progress the have made on these songs in recent weeks, an encouraging sign for both songs. Tonight’s show would seem to be an auspicious sign for what to expect in the final week of the tour.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Split Open and Melt,” “David Bowie,” “Mike’s Song,” “Weekapaug Groove”
- Phish.net setlist
- Soundcheck length: 12 mins.
- First set length: 74 mins.
- Second set length: 86 mins.
- This is the first time Phish performed at the Tower Theatre. They will return tomorrow night.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Halley’s Comet,” returning after an eleven show absence (4/17/93).
- The best represented studio albums are Junta and A Picture of Nectar (4 songs).