It has become something of a truism during 3.0 Phish that the band focuses on showcasing their songs and short, concise jams when they appear at multi-band festivals. In the modern era the band seems to structure their festival sets so as to present an appealing appetizer of what the band offers to the uninitiated, as opposed to diving deep into monster jams to appease the faithful. There have been some exceptions to this “rule”: for example, the 2016 Lockn’ sets served up some interesting jams. Nevertheless, introducing the band’s music to those unfamiliar with Phish seems to be the band’s primary focus during festival sets.
While this has been a truism for 3.0 Phish, the band’s first appearance at the Laguna Seca Daze festival suggests that this strategy has been employed by the band well before their 2009 comeback. Just glancing at the setlist, tonight’s set seems to focus on a lot of the band’s shorter, compositional showcases (“Rift,” “Sparkle,” “Cavern,” “Bouncing Around the Room,” “Chalk Dust Torture”), with only “You Enjoy Myself” showing jamming potential. We’ll see shortly if that’s the case.
Laguna Seca Daze was a three-day festival hosted at the Laguna Seca Raceway over Memorial Day weekend for at least two years (1993-1994). Judging by a quick Google search and the poster I have included below it seems that the Allman Brothers Band was the big draw. Of course, Phish just finished a nine-show run through California a couple months earlier, so it’s possible news of this funky band from Vermont had started to spread throughout California as well. Still, something tells me that Phish was not the main draw at this festival. The band plays two sets at this festival: one tonight and and one tomorrow night.
The band’s first set at this festival opens with “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Bouncing Around the Room.” “Chalk Dust” is well-played and is appropriately energetic in the opening slot, but the band also keeps it concise at less than six minutes. “Rift” follows, and despite the song’s complexity and the band presumably taking it easy the last couple weeks, the song sounds tight. It seems like keeping this song in heavy rotation throughout the Winter/Spring tour has paid off in terms of being able to perform the song well. “Stash” is song number four, and the first real opportunity at this festival for the band to stretch their improvisational legs. However, my prediction at the beginning of this post holds true, and the band keeps this “Stash” close to the vest. The jam starts at 4:45 and has a standard, Trey-led beginning. The band works into an airy and almost uplifting groove at 6:30 that shows potential, but Trey quickly and forcefully rips the band back into the standard “Stash” build, which begins to peak at 7:40.
“The Squirming Coil” is well-placed as a cooldown after the always-intense “Stash.” Unlike the song’s last outing at the band’s last performance in New Hampshire, this “Coil” is standard and does not morph into a surprise, type-II jam. “Coil” melts into standard but solid performances of “Sparkle” and “Cavern.” Likely due to time constraints, Fishman takes a brief vacuum solo at the end of “Cavern” in lieu of a full Henrietta segment. A very brief “Big Ball Jam” (~80 seconds) leads into the sure centerpiece of the set, “You Enjoy Myself.” Like “Stash,” this “YEM” fails to stand out. The highlight of the jam is probably Page’s brief but fiery solo from 8:30-10:00, complete with some wicked scat vocals. Trey takes over at 10:00 with quiet and delicate jazzy lines. From there his solo works into a standard build, with the bass and drums segment beginning at 13:00 and the vocal jam at 14:20. All said, a quick “YEM” without much exploration. The band once again shows their ability to craft great, flowing setlists with “Runaway Jim” smoothly flowing out of the end of the “YEM” vocal jam. “Jim” ends the set with a good but standard Trey solo.
After thanking the audience the band sends the crowd out into the night with an a cappella “Amazing Grace” and a rocking “Good Times Bad Times” as the encore. The band leaves the stage for the night just 80 minutes after playing their first note.
The last week of the Winter/Spring tour was wild, with the band blowing past the constraints they had been working within the rest of the tour and taking some of their songs on lengthy improvisational rides unlike anything we had seen so far this year. Don’t expect anything like that from this show. This is as standard a Phish set as Phish sets can be in 1993. To my ears, the band is playing to the uninitiated and trying to introduce the crowd to their songs. If this was your first Phish show I’m sure it was an amazing time, but to the already-converted there’s not much here to recommend. I can’t go lower than a 3 because the playing is tight and the setlist well-crafted, but I can’t go higher than a 3 for the lack of memorable moments. With the crowd adequately warmed up by this set, hopefully the band will be willing to spring a few surprises tomorrow night.
- Show rating: 3/5
- Highlights: None
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 80 mins.
- This is the first time Phish performed at the Laguna Seca Raceway. They will return tomorrow night.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Good Times Bad Times,” returning after a twelve show absence (4/24/93).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (3 songs).