I was a little too quick to pronounce yesterday that Phish was shooting down south, for the band returns back north tonight for the second Pennsylvania show of tour. A recording of the 40-minute soundcheck(!) circulates, so that’s where this review will begin. The first “Buffalo Bill” of 1993 kicks off the soundcheck, a song which will not grace a show proper at all this year. The song sounds a little loose from the time on the shelf, but the band makes it through the song and it’s fun to hear regardless. Next is the first ever recording of “Guyute!” This song is still in a rough, early stage, and the band is still clearly learning it. The performance is also only partial; only about half or less of the song is played. Despite this it’s fun to hear the song slowly coming into being.
A sixteen-minute track titled “Pungee -> Dude of Life Medley” provides the most notable music of the soundcheck. “Pungee” was first soundchecked on the 15th and was kept relatively concise on that occasion. Here the band stretches the song out and provides a nice, mellow funk jam. The jam is not dominated by any one member and provides a good opportunity for everyone to stretch out and share the spotlight. After a lengthy Page/Mike solo, the Dude of Life Medley begins around 12:00, which includes the band running quickly through and mashing up a number of the Dude’s songs to provide a psychedelic end to the track. This is an unusual jam that fans of the Meters/Dude of Life will definitely want to check out. Track four of the soundcheck is titled “Train Medley,” and it seems to be inspired by a train that can audibly be heard passing. The jam is very “Possum”-esque, and features seemingly improvised singing by the band. It only lasts a couple minutes before disintegrating into disconnected noodling.
“Funky Bitch” is the penultimate track of the soundcheck, and sounds to my ears slightly more stretched out than it was during its performances earlier this year, with significant solos from both Page and Trey. This marathon soundcheck ends with a lengthy bass solo from Mike. This is one of the most interesting soundchecks of the year so far, with the “Pungee -> Dude of Life Medley” being the clear musical highlight with its stretched out funk jam and psychedelic ending.
Tonight’s show starts off with “Buried Alive,” which returns to a slot the song frequently occupied during the spring. Similar to the performance a couple nights ago, it seems to me that Trey is varying his lines in this song slightly. “Buried Alive” lands into the second “Rift” in as many sets. Both opening songs sound crisp and clean, boding well for the following “Foam.” “Foam” continues the trend of tight playing and contains a decent amount of dynamism as well, making for a great listen. “Guelah Papyrus” makes its first appearance of the tour to round out a well-played and composition-heavy beginning to the show.
“Maze” is up next and provides one of the only moments of improvisation this set. Page brings some extra heat to his solo tonight. He begins his segment with fun, carnival-esque lines before building up to multiple hot peaks. Trey’s solo is solid too, but Page gets the nod tonight. After “Maze” the band throws down two compositional heavyweights in a row: “Esther” and “Divided Sky.” This is the first “Esther” since spring tour, but it sounds very nice tonight. There’s no crowd cheering pause in “Sky,” despite some primitive versions of that segment appearing in recent shows. Otherwise there’s nothing particularly notable about this “Sky,” though Trey’s end solo is typically-great. After “Divided Sky,” Trey mentions something about “The Avocado Song” before starting up “Lawn Boy.” Page graces the audience with some scat-singing during this “Lawn Boy,” much to the crowd’s delight. Snappy renditions “Uncle Pen” and “Cavern” close out the first set.
The playing during this set is close to flawless, which together with a very good sounding audience recording makes the performances of classic compositions “Foam,” “Esther,” and “Divided Sky” a joy to listen to. However, this set also has next to no improvisation, with the solos in “Maze” and Trey’s solo at the end of “Sky” being the only such segments. It’s a little unfortunate that none of the looseness of the soundcheck jamming has so far seeped into the show. If the band can connect the tightness of their playing in this set with the adventurous spirit shown in the “Pungee -> Dude of Life Medley” from the soundcheck during the second set we’ll be in for one hell of a ride.
“2001” opens the third second set in a row, and I’m still enjoying this song as a rave-up to get the band and audience going. Unlike the previous two shows, in which “2001” dropped into a jammy song, this “2001” abruptly lands into “Poor Heart.” After blazing through “Heart” the band lands into a very rare, mid-set “Run Like an Antelope!” The last “Antelope” from The Mann show is one of my favorite moments of the tour so far, so I have high hopes for this performance, especially given the unusual setlist placement. The “Antelope” jam quickly works into a “Heartbreaker” jam shortly after 3:00 before moving into a melodic Trey solo. Trey shouts “Hey!” as the jam moves into a series of progressively intenser descending riffs. Trey is in full-on shred mode at 6:30 before the jam moves into an early peak at 7:00. It sounds like the main “Antelope” jam is about to end at this point but Trey plays a harsh, dissonant chord before continuing to shred, pushing the song further. This leads into another blazing peak before the song finally breaks down into the reggae segment at 8:45.
The reggae segment of “Antelope” usually signals the end of the song’s improvisation, but the band continues to experiment with some syncopated start/stop goofiness. This gets increasingly ridiculous, and the reggae segment begins to fall apart entirely due largely to Trey’s dissonant chordal work. Page tries to rein the band back in by returning to what he normally plays during the reggae segment, but Trey and Fish are having none of it and launch into a full-on “Brother” jam instead. At 13:10, over four minutes after the jam’s initial break-down, the band finally begins the verse. This is another excellent “Antelope,” driven largely by Trey’s relentless fretwork. While The Mann version was a ridiculously intense build to a frantic peak, this “Antelope” trades that straightforward arc for an experimental second jam of sorts during the reggae segment. I highly recommend both performances.
[This “Antelope” has been officially released in the time between the writing and posting of this review. If you want to listen to a high-quality, soundboard recording of this excellent jam, you can currently download it for free as part of LiveBait Vol. 13]
After taking a moment to catch their breaths, the band launches into second-set stalwart “Mound.” There’s some crackling sounds on the recording during “Mound” that seem suspiciously like fireworks. The band then lets the crowd relax for a moment with a well-placed and well-played “Fast Enough for You.” A pleasant pairing of “All Things Reconsidered” and “Fee” is next. It sounds like Trey is apologizing for some kind of technical difficulty during “Fee,” but it sounds more or less fine to me. “You Enjoy Myself” is the last big moment of the evening. The composed portion of “YEM” is standard for the most part, except for one part around 4:20 where Mike suddenly throws on a ridiculous bass filter to add a little extra oomph. Page’s solo starts at 8:30, and he throws in some fun ascending/descending lines somewhat similar to his work during the earlier “Maze” solo. A thundering Mike groove bridges the transition between Page and Trey’s segments. Trey begins his solo portion with chunky riffing at 10:40. This leads into some interesting jazzy soloing, complete with sweep-picking technique. His solo turns in a more rocking direction at 12:20 before building to a satisfying peak at 13:30. The bass and drums segment begins at 14:15 and lasts a bit longer than normal before the vocal jam begins at 16:15. There’s nothing too out of the ordinary about this “YEM,” but the overall excellent quality of playing this whole evening pays off here, with each member of the band adding something interesting to the mix.
After “YEM,” Fishman observes that a crew member tried to “pull one over on him” by turning his vacuum inside out, before calling out “Pete!” as the potential culprit. A stirring rendition of “Purple Rain” follows, before a rocking “Golgi Apparatus” and “Rocky Top” end the set. The a cappella “Free Bird” returns for a third outing to send the crowd home as the sole encore. The Phish.net setlist lists “Golgi” closing the set and “Rocky Top” as being a first encore…but my excellent-sounding recording clearly has the audience pause between “Rocky” and “Free Bird”… so make of that what you will.
The overall top-notch quality of playing that Phish has brought to this tour continues tonight, and as such it’s hard to complain about this show. I do wish there had been slightly more improvisation in the first set, and that “YEM” had been extended a bit more, but these slight flaws are offset by excellent renditions of classic compositions and another ridiculous “Antelope.” The flow of the two sets is also great, particularly the second. This show might lack huge jams, but it’s also greater than the sum of its parts. A show had apparently been scheduled for Baltimore on the 19th but was canceled, so you’ll hear from me again on the 21st for a rare mid-tour, single-set show.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Pungee -> Dude of Life Medley,” “Run Like an Antelope,” “You Enjoy Myself”
- Phish.net setlist
- Soundcheck length: 40 mins.
- First set length: 68 mins.
- Second set length: 85 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the IC Light Amphitheater. Trey Anastasio band performed here on 6/11/02, and the Jazz Mandolin Project on 5/29/04.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Esther,” returning after a ten show absence (5/3/93).
- The best represented studio album is Junta (6 songs).