Traveling over 400 miles overnight after last night’s show, Phish has arrived in the D.C. suburb of Fairfax, Virginia for the fifth consecutive night of performances. “Loving Cup” makes its first appearance since last summer to open tonight’s show. The song works great in this slot, meaning that although Trey’s solo is relatively tame the song gets the set started on the right foot. The end of “Loving Cup” drops straight into a precisely delivered “Foam” that is characteristically dynamic during the Page and Trey solos. Rounding out the opening trio of songs is some brevity by way of “I Didn’t Know.” Trey once again introduces Fishman as “Greazy Fizeek,” which I suppose has become Fish’s nickname for the tour, and announces that tonight’s vacuum solo will be a “musical picture” of Fishman’s thoughts about…Mike’s socks? Sure.
A well-played “Divided Sky” brings us back to the atmosphere of professional musicianship present during “Foam” after the diversion of “IDK.” There’s very little pause in the music during “Sky” tonight, a few seconds at most. Trey’s solo at the end is nothing unusual but does work through a couple of satisfying peaks, making this his finest moment of the evening so far. Sticking firmly within a composed mindset, the first “Mound” of the year follows “Sky.” “Mound” was in heavy rotation for most of last year, but I’ve noticed its absence on setlists so far this year. I wonder if the return of the song is a sign of things to come or if the song has (consciously or not) begun to slip out of rotation. Perhaps reflecting the recent paucity of performances there’s a minor timing issue at about 4:20, but that hardly detracts from the enjoyment of hearing this song after a long absence.
The band is clearly hot on “Down with Disease” at the moment, for the song’s appearance next in the set marks its third appearance in four shows. The song’s “jam” begins at 3:40, and Trey picks up with his soloing where he left off in “Divided Sky.” He works his way through a cool ascending run from 4:30-5:05 and leads the band through a brief but satisfying tension/release passage from 5:30-6:06, at which point the band returns to the song’s composition. Trey is sounding good at this point of the show, but this is hard to distinguish from the other, recent performances of the song. The song that emerges from “Disease,” a beautiful rendition of “If I Could,” makes more of an impact. This “If I Could” recalls the terrific performances of “Fast Enough for You” from last summer. The beginning of the song is played delicately, and Trey manages to patiently build his ending solo into a fiery, trill-laden peak. Phish’s flawless performance of this recent debut is the easy highlight of the set for me. A brief and silly pairing of tour debut “My Sweet One” and “Cavern” ends the set.
Take out “Disease” and you would find yourself with a pretty typical first set from 1993’s winter/spring tour; some fun moments (“IDK,” “My Sweet One”), some great performances of composed songs (“Divided Sky,” “Foam,” “If I Could”), and some brief, high-energy segments of type-I jamming (“Disease,” “Divided Sky”). It’s all enjoyable enough, but this all feels like the band’s bread and butter at this point; they’ve been dropping sets like this left and right for well over a year now.
“We’re going to take a quick break and be right back…don’t do anything we wouldn’t do!”
Phish chooses “David Bowie” to open set 2, a slot the song has only occupied on a small handful of occasions over the last year. The song positively exploded with intensity during its last outing at the Beacon, and while tonight’s performance is not bursting at the seams to quite the same degree, it’s a solid and satisfying “Bowie” all the same. The band adopts a lethargic approach to the song’s intro, adding a good minute or so of vamping before the song begins proper, and the jam starts at 5:20. The band initially breaks the jam down into a sparse space, but Trey is quick to jump back in with fast, alternate picking. Some full-band interplay develops here as the band searches for a direction, and they start to build energy as they focus on a repeating Trey riff. The band is going at full-steam by 8:20, leading Trey to unleash a furious round of shredding. This leads to an initial release and peak at 9:45, at which point the band slowly works towards the composed ending. The end of the jam gets a little messy at times as Trey almost gets too ahead of himself with his relentless soloing, but overall it feels like an earned release of energy after a patient build-up. A good but not great “Bowie” to my ears.
“Wolfman’s Brother” follows “Bowie,” making only its second appearance without horn accompaniment. Despite this recent debut, the band gives birth to the modern “Wolfman’s” jam during this night’s performance! The earlier jams were all either very brief or segued immediately into an “Alumni Blues” jam, but tonight’s performance establishes the prototypical type-I progression the band follows to this day. The jam begins at 3:55 and sticks to repetitive, minimal riffing as Mike and Fish deliver increasingly filthy funk. This goes on for about a minute before the jam breaks down at 5:00 around quiet, jazzy Trey soloing (not unlike the typical beginning of Trey’s YEM solo). A pleasant, laid-back vibe emerges. Trey gradually gets more assertive with his riffing, and the energy begins to build back up. This reaches a good peak and segues back into the “Wolfman’s” composition at 8:00. Certainly a tame “Wolfman’s” by today’s standards, but now that the band has opened the door for improvisation in the song I can’t wait to hear more funk from this song in the near future.
“Wolfman’s” fades into a pleasant “Uncle Pen” that is in turn followed by the tour debut “Sloth.” “Reba” is next, making a somewhat rare mid-set two appearance. The jam takes some time settling down after an initial burst of exuberance. Once down to the ebb of its energy, the band does a nice job of creating space for beautiful, ascending lines from Trey. The energy starts to build after this and reaches a soaring peak, complete with both great, melodic lines from Trey and forceful comping from Page. “Reba” has been fantastic during every outing this tour, and this performance is no exception.
“Big Ball Jam” follows “Reba,” and flows right into another hot “Maze.” The band’s playing is once again fire during this “Maze,” and I dig the unusual late set two appearance here. Page’s solo has a nice, deliberate build into a raging peak, while Trey’s solo gets extra attention by way of a particularly intense bass line from Mike at 7:00-7:30. This in turn gives way to a similarly raging Trey peak from 8:30-9:00. The enthusiasm that the band attacks this song with tonight makes it a definite late show highlight. The set comes to a close from there with a standard pairing of “Contact” and “Golgi Apparatus.” In case you were worried about the lack of a Henrietta segment this set never fear, for the encore begins with a banter-less “Cracklin’ Rosie > Hold Your Head Up” sequence, followed by the second consecutive night of Hendrix encores with “Bold as Love” to send the crowd home.
A genuinely beautiful rendition of “If I Could” and the return of “Mound” are about the only things I took away from tonight’s first set, but the band almost manages to salvage a 4 rating regardless with a good set 2. The birth of the “Wolfman’s” jam is awesome from a historical perspective and fun in its own right, and “Bowie” goes through some good twists and turns. Other than that we get another great “Reba” and what is perhaps a sign of the hottest streak for “Maze” since I began writing these reviews. This all makes for a good listen, but the band is still playing it a little too safe for a little too much of the show for me to praise it as more. Still, set two is an encouraging sign of things to come. The band will play one more show tomorrow night in Delaware before taking a deserved day off.
- Show rating: 3/5
- Highlights: “If I Could,” “David Bowie,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Reba,” “Maze”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 59 mins.
- Second set length: 69 mins.
- Encore length: 10 mins.
- This is the first time Phish performed at the Patriot Center. They will return on 10/8/94.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Loving Cup,” returning after a thirty show absence (8/8/93).
- The best represented studio album is Junta (5 songs).