Songherst

Phish, Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Sunday October 24, 2010

Set I: AC/DC Bag>Camel Walk, Divided Sky, Ride Captain Ride*, Stash, Fee->Time Turns Elastic, Cavern, Run Like an Antelope

Set II: Seven Below, Wolfman’s Brother, Backwards Down the Number Line, Alaska, Free, The Lizards, Brother, Roggae>Taste, Waste, David Bowie

E: Quinn the Eskimo, Chalkdust Torture

*Last played 12/10/99, Philly Spectrum

Best jam of the night! Me (guitar) and my father-in-law (washtub bass) rockin' out

I was hoping that last night’s show would be Jamherst. With a Saturday night show full of favorites and a strong, party vibe, I was gearing up for some serious psychedelic musical exploration. After a night like Saturday, you expect a more introspective, more improvisational show with fewer songs and more atypical tunes getting stretched out. I’m thinking especially of the February Cincinnati weekend, 2/21/03 and 2/22/03, where the first night’s dance party, featuring a huge Disease, Antelope, and a meaty second set Mike’s>Free>Waste>2001>Hood, set the stage for the second night, featuring two of my favorite Phish 2.0 jams: the Piper->Weekapaug and the monster second set Bathtub Gin. If you haven’t listened to that Gin, here you are (it’s 20+ minutes long).

The moment around minute 18 where everything is WEIRD and Trey begins playing the main Bathtub Gin theme in the wrong rhythm is one of my favorite Phish moments. Later that summer, the first two nights of Deer Creek (7/21-22/03) were the same way: party on night 1 (Cities, Jim, Birds, Mike’s, Suzy, Tweezer>2001, Loving Cup) and introspective psychedelia on night 2 (18 minute first set Gumbo, 25 minute second set Melt).

That second set from 2/22/03 is the type of thing I wanted last night. It begins with a 15 minute Tube, then that monster Gin, a throw-away cool down with Friday, then an extended, extra large Bowie, and Bug to close it up. Bam! Five songs, over an hour of music. I expected more than five songs in last night’s second set (although one can always hope!), but instead, Phish chose to honor the distinctly old school, New England college vibe, playing a show chock full of not only favorites, but rare, old favorites, some of which haven’t appeared in the same show together since the early-mid 90s.

We got Songherst instead of Jamherst. 22 songs last night, one of which was Time Turns Elastic (which takes up the space of at least 3 normal first set songs). But this was the type of show that, if I had seen the setlist online and missed the show, I would have been super bummed. Although some jams stood out (Stash, 7 Below, Wolfman’s, Bowie), there were no jams I will particularly remember as extraordinary. Rather, I’ll remember hearing Lizards, Fee (with megaphone), Brother, Camel Walk, and the cover song I’ve been wanting to hear ever since I started getting really into Phish, Ride Captain Ride.

Lizards, Brother, and Fee have appeared in the same show only 6 times in Phish history. The last time was the Clifford Ball. Before that, it was at the tiny Colonial Theatre in Keene, NH, a classic old Phish venue. That should give you a feel for the old school vibe that permeated the Mullins Center last night.

I had been calling PYITE all day to open the show, but when the boys took the stage, and phans I had been chatting with pre-show started calling openers, I said “PYITE. Or AC/DC Bag.” Phish went with the latter. A nice, fast Bag opener set the tone for the evening. There was a sense, just from the tempo of this song, that they would be playing songs as they did in the early 90s all night. This wasn’t a slow, funky Bag that might give way to extended, groove-based improv (like Dayton 12/7/97 or Boise 9/14/99). Quick, to-the-point, here’s an old song played at the old tempo. Camel Walk was a nice surprise – I’ve heard it a few times now, but it’s still a lot of fun, and well played. It was nice to contrast the frenetic rock of Bag with the smooth funk of Camel Walk. A smartly placed Divided Sky continued the old school vibe, and Trey played it out to his heart’s delight. During his long held note that closed the jam, the crowd was really getting into it. All night long, in fact, the crowd was part of the story. The thinned out Sunday crowd clearly dug the old school attitude that the band was rockin’, and were going nuts all night.

There were A LOT of signs near the front (I’m fine with making a sign, but request something rare or special: I’m talking to you, guy with a “David Bowie” sign). Trey pointed to one after Divided and talked about it with Page for a second, smiling and laughing. I don’t know if they saw a sign for it or what, but Page then started the swirling organ intro to Ride Captain Ride. Holy shit.

Every phan who has seen a solid number of shows has a song that they’ve just always wanted to hear but never expect to. Some of us have several. It’s the “never expect to” part that really puts it out of reach. After 73 shows, I’ve still never heard Forbin’s>Mockingbird, or Tela, but I’m pretty confident that both of those will come to me at some point (maybe for my 100th show?). I never thought I would hear Ride Captain Ride.

It’s an amazing song for Phish. It’s by a band called Blues Image, and was a hit in 1970, featuring a sound that’s quite poppy but trying to be psychedelic, which was popular at the time (think the infamous “Just Dropped In” by Kenny Rogers’ The First Edition, popularized in The Big Lebowski’s dream sequence). Here’s the original: Swirling organ, vaguely drug-coded lyrics (“mystery ship” and “we are amazed at the friends you have here on your trip”), fluttering circular guitar riffs during the chorus, and just an all around great melody on that chorus. I was elated. I was going nuts. I was “that guy,” when most people around me weren’t really sure what the song was. It was only the fourth time this song has been played since 1992. 1992!! I could go home happy. I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not, but I was definitely thinking that now I would be fine with the Time Turns Elastic that I thought was coming.

A big mid-set Stash showed up next, which I was hoping would really take us out there. This one did not disappoint. It started out very soft, quiet, and subdued, although I wish Trey would just rip into a Stash jam like he did in 1994. This one slowly built through waves of diminished chords and scales, dark and eerie as usual. But then, Trey caught a melodic line that led him into a major key territory, and the band followed. We suddenly had a major key Stash jam, which felt weird, but cool. Online Phish Tour heard a Dave’s Energy Guide tease in there – I missed it. I was thinking that they’d have to bring it back down to nothing before building up the final push to the end of the dark jam, but instead, they managed to gradually switch from the high energy major key jam to a high energy minor key jam, leading into the raging final jam before hitting the ending. A very good Stash.

Copyright Dave Vann, Phish 2010

Fee came next, and was a treat for me, as I’ve never heard it with the megaphone. They drew out the ending, which I loved, and it was a very cool, pointillistic little jam, with Trey setting up a loop of harmonics. But then he changed guitars, and that means one thing: Time Turns Elastic. I’m aesthetically torn on this song. On an intellectual level, I think the song is a fine piece of music, and I applaud Trey for writing such a mature work. The thing is, I don’t think it’s a great Phish song. I don’t know in what context it should be played. It’s just too damn long, it sucks the life out of a set not because it’s a crappy song, but because you’re stuck with it for 16 minutes, every time. It feels like it just keeps going.

I’ve heard a lot of speculations on why people dislike TTE while they like Guyute, Fluffhead, Reba, and other big Trey compositions. I think part of the reason is because all those songs have composed parts that feature Trey playing melodic lines, while TTE is a lot of strummed chords. Playing the composed out lines allows for more dissonant contrapuntal moments with the other parts, which is one of the things Phishheads love about Fluffhead and Reba. Also, TTE is played with such a light, airy feel to many of the parts. It’s a more mature, retrospective Trey composition, not the balls-to-the-walls fierce intensity of his youthful pieces. That being said, I did enjoy Time Turns Elastic more last night than usual, in part because I thought Trey played the darker parts of the song with more conviction, more intensity.

I fully expected Cavern to finish the set, as did everyone else, so when they dropped into Antelope it was a bonus treat. Antelope was good, typical, although I didn’t find it particularly inspired or out of the ordinary – not like the Utica version from Wednesday. All in all, the first set (other than Time Turns Elastic) had a very Phishy, old school feel to it. Every song (except TTE) played in the first set debuted in 1990 or earlier.

For the second set, I was still hoping for Jamherst. I felt a Ghost was unavoidable, and I saw at least 4 signs for Lizards, so I thought that might be a possibility. The set started out promising with Seven Below, recalling last fall’s jam revelation in Albany. But this version didn’t go quite there. After a great type I jam, typical build to a peak, the jam settled into a dark, sparse space. This was the moment, if it was going to happen, it would happen now. But Trey returned to the opening theme, ensuring a quick finish and no extended jam. Wolfman’s Brother came next, bringing some serious funk, almost a start/stop type of jam at points. This was a fantastic version. The crowd was in a frenzy – clearly now was the time to bring out the big Ghost. Instead, Trey strummed the intro chords to Backwards Down the Number Line, a tune that I felt didn’t take advantage of the crowd energy and momentum of the set so far. Number Line has a tendency to lead to some inspired jams, Jones Beach 8/17/10 and Summer ‘09’s tour closer in SPAC are two good examples. This version, although including a really nice type I jam, stayed right within the song’s typical forms.

Copyright Dave Vann, Phish 2010

The rest of the set could have been a first set, with a series of shorter, mostly jam-free tunes that created a really nice progression of songs. Just maybe not what you want in the fourth set of the weekend. Alaska was fun, Free was fine (I lament the death of the pre-hiatus, big jammed-out Free). Everything was very energetic and well-played, with solid solos from Trey (solos, not jams). Then the Lizards. Feeling the old school again. The “If I Was a Dog” guitar solo at the end is one of the most beautiful melodies Trey ever wrote, and it’s made all the better by the fact that you rarely hear it. The crowd was going NUTS on the chorus, everyone singing along. They followed that with Brother, a version that was fun as always, but it felt like Trey was missing the odd polyrhythms a bit. Roggae got things nice and mellow – one of my favorite “cool-down” songs, although Trey skipped the big chords that end the jam. The first Taste of fall followed, even though my friend had been calling for the Bowie that now seemed to be the inevitable set closer. Taste led to Waste for another chill-out, and then the Bowie hi-hat crept in. It was a very good Bowie, crowd energy was through the roof, and it went to a major key jam much as Stash had done. Unfortunately, it felt like the segue into the final push towards the end riff was abrupt, forced. I would have liked it to grow a bit more organically out of the previous jam section. That’s what separates the good Bowies from the great Bowies.

The audience was off the wall after Bowie, and a quick break led to the crowd-pleasing double encore of Quinn The Eskimo and Chalkdust Torture. My dog, an American Eskimo Dog, is named Quinn. So this was a very special song for me. The crowd was loving it, and Phish whipped them into a frenzy with the intro to Chalkdust. I had a feeling it would be short – sure enough, this felt like the radio-friendly 5 minute edit of Chalkdust. At this point, that’s fine – it was the end of the show and time to go home.

You've not seen nothing like the Mighty Quinn!

I’m not sure which night of Amherst I enjoyed more. They were two different experiences, but in many ways, both were song-based run throughs of well-played fan favorites. Sunday night had more rarities, which spoke to the jaded old phan side of me that wants to hear tunes I’ve haven’t heard 22 times (sorry, Piper). At the same time, Saturday was more of a party vibe, with more jamming and more funk. Neither were improvisational powerhouses – it seems like they took the weekend in New England as an opportunity to give fans a real blowout of tunes. I’ve got a feeling that Manchester will be a sleeper show – that’s where you’ll hear the monster jam come out. Same goes for the Saturday night in Atlantic City, which I think might have that “second night” jam-happy orientation that I hoped last night would have. Since I’m not seeing either of those, I’ll have to hope that my next show, Halloween, is everything I’m chalking it up to be. Although, as with past Halloweens, I’m guessing it’ll be more song-oriented than jam-oriented. But with Phish, you never know, and that’s the beauty of it.

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~ by Jake on October 25, 2010.

2 Responses to “Songherst”

  1. Good Thoughts on the shows i feel the same and i think alot of true phans agree with this 99%…Couldnt have wrote it better…We got out of the show and back to the car and my bud said what did ya think,.. I thought the secound night was better only from the energy being more there and more weird stuff going on and the band was having more fun.. but yeah 2 different shows 2nd night they played some really good stuff and meshed the whole time and never got lost…

    • Justin – a great point about them not getting lost. One of my problems with some of those huge jams from ’99-’03 is that, while they were often phenomenal, they occasionally did get lost. I suppose it’s a question of “no risk, no reward.” Phish.net has a great posting about it – basically saying that we should look at that setlist and be so happy they played it. Can you imagine seeing those many old, rare songs in one show back in 1999 or 2000? It was a treat, and we should be happy.

      Now, let’s get into some jams this coming week!

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