It was opening night, and there was no doubting it by the atmosphere. That “Anything can happen” idea allows unlimited possibilities for the set list.
When the lights went down, the crowd erupted the way you would expect it to for the tour opener. The band hit off with Buried Alive, which set the already charged up crowd into frenzy. It was a totally unexpected way to start off, although my friend had been talking about “Buried” pre-set, and how he had never seen it. (Don’t you love when you get your wish?)
Out of the ashes of Buried Alive came Runaway Jim, a personal favorite of mine, and a solid version with a “Buried” tease and Trey ending the jam on a flurry of 32nd notes at the climax.
Then came Torn and Frayed which got a good response from the crowd during the lines, “On stage, the band has got problems, They’re a bag of nerves on first nights.” But in reality, I saw nothing of the sort. They were here, and they were ready to play, and proved it with a Funky Bitch with Page tearing up the B-3, and a super funky Moma Dance.
I went to the opening run at Bethel last summer, and caught the Dec. 30th show at MSG, and they seemed to be a little rusty in the earlier shows of the tour. But with their full stage rehearsals in Hartford during April and the days leading up to the shows at the DCU center, we were looking at a well-rested and focused Phish.
Their refreshed mindset showed through with a nearly flawless Rift, which is always a pleasure to see, and the crowd displayed their enjoyment. To be honest, Nothing was nothing special. Personally, I’m not that big on that particular song, but it served as a good way to settle the crowd.
Ocelot may have been the shining moment in set 1, as far as jams are considered, with Trey showing his maturity with his note choice and use of space. Trey in more recent years has seemed to go more for the jugular in his solos, and has not been playing as many slow building jams with use of rests and space. The use of space in a solo is what allows you to fill up thee texture later on. As Miles said, “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there” and Trey played what wasn’t there more than I have heard in a while.
After a fair Beauty of a Broken Heart, The crowd started to get up out of their seats to the opening riffs of Possum, which built up and dropped very nicely with use of chromaticism that would show later on in the jam. For the first three choruses, they used the straight ahead chord structure, with Trey putting out his Mixolydian and blues scale licks. By the time the fourth chorus came around, Page’s use of chromaticism then freed up Trey where he dipped into the Phrygian mode and continued to expand the texture until they hit the I chord at the top of the 6th chorus. But the root would not be there for long, when the IV chord was supposed to hit, they dove back into their chromatic/modal world for another chorus of building until the 8th and final chorus when they snapped back into the original 12 bar blues with a minor iii- IV turn around with Trey wailing his blues licks.
The first set ended with a rocking Rocky Top, which I could only assume they were polishing up for Bonnaroo. On a personal note, I love getting a “Play It Leoooo!!” and Paige’s honky-tonk piano was in full force.
Set 2 started with the maniacal opening riffs of Carini, which went from being a dark and spooky jam with Page shaking the arena with his synth-bombs, to going into a place of polyrythms and more ambiance with elements of the U.S. Storage Jam from Super Ball. From there, the jam took on a 6/8 time signature, which gave way to Taste, a good version with a Norwegian Wood tease, and a good use of splashing in the Dominant 7 b9 chord.
Rather than dropping into its slow rock groove, Ghost seemed to ease into itself with Page’s transition from synth to clavinet, and built nicely from there. The Ghost>Boogie On was some of the best listening of each other that I have heard from 3.0. Trey’s funky blues licks over clavinet, Mike’s fat low-end and Fish’s constant groove seemed to all lock in perfectly to the texture, and eventually grow when Fishman doubled up the funk groove, and the other guys smoothly modulated up to Ab for Boogie On, which rocked. Mike’s fat-wah filter is one of the funkiest tones that you’ll hear, and he was pumped to use it for his almost home-town show. In fact, from my behind the stage seats, I could see Mike talking to friends and family before the sets, making him the last person on stage every entrance. He was given a great feature for his home crowd.
Later in the out jam, Trey snuck into taking his licks by building off of a riff in the upper register, and growing it while Page moved to the B-3, and created a nice transition to a I-IV chord jam that just kept building and building, until it came back down with Mike laying down the groove, and melted into If I Could I Would.
If I Could was definitely a treat, and they played a 9 minute version that was refreshing to hear after the fire that just was. This segment of the set was beautifully laid out from the song choice, to the contrast of dark and light, and most importantly the jams
After a brief “Let’s go Celtics” chant, the band broke into Quinn the Eskimo. Although it was a little ragged, with a loss of the 1 beat, Page’s not so sharp high harmonies, and an ending mix up, the energy was all there, and Trey was able to rip out a sweet right to the jugular solo. Harry Hood then dropped in out of nowhere, and showed that Mike’s playing was on tonight, laying down the fat grooves during the first section of the song. This was a solid version, although I wish that they would have let the jam go on a little longer.
To close off the set (or so we thought) came Cavern, which was fun for me personally. I hadn’t seen it since Hartford 2010. But after the last hit, Trey decided to reprise one last chorus of Buried Alive, which had the place absolutely Rocking.
After a standing ovation, the guys came out for a very straight and to the point Lovin Cup as a very suitable way to end the night. Walking out, the conversation seemed to be based around the jamming, that hasn’t been apparent as of late. With a few exceptions, like the Piper from 12/30, the New Years run seemed to be missing this quality. But if this show is any indicator of what’s to come in the tour, I would expect a lot more jams than we have seen in the recent shows.