New Crystals of Snow

DCU Center (Worcester Centrum)
December 27, 2010

Set I: Sample in a Jar, Funky Bitch, Cool It Down, Roggae, Heavy Things, What Things Seem, Roses Are Free, It’s Ice, Mountains in the Mist, Julius

Set II: Mike’s Song>Mound>Weekapaug Groove, Farmhouse, Seven Below>What’s the Use?>20 Years Later, Velvet Sea, Possum>Cavern>David Bowie

E: Loving Cup

Snow is from Vermont. Phish is from Vermont. Coincidence?

Phish needed a serious warm-up for their New Year’s Run which began Monday night in Worcester. In a venue that holds a tremendous amount of New Year’s nostalgia, Phish took an entire set to get their feet wet. Or snowy, as the case was.

But the second set that absolutely destroyed any lukewarm taste of the first set was only half of my personal story Monday night. I woke up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, fresh after a gorgeous bluebird day of riding just before the Nor’Easter that rocked the east coast arrived in town. We had a beautiful day, I did two runs through “The Dip,” the legendary backcountry run at Jay Peak, which had thigh-deep light, fluffy powder all throughout, and that was before the storm! Here’s a taste of The Dip:

We drove back from Jay Peak, less than 20 miles from the site of the crime called Coventry, into the Boston area. And then decided that, because of the snow and the fact that the show wasn’t sold out, I’d try to go to Worcester and get in cheap with my good friend “Bean.” So we left the Boston suburbs at 7:15 to go to the show. Somehow, I managed to find street parking in Worcester, we each got a ticket for $35, and walked into the show halfway through Cool It Down.

Amazing. By far, the most absurd, on-a-whim decision to see a Phish show I’ve ever made. And I only missed two and a half songs! I could hear Mike sustaining a long “EHHHHHHHHH!!!!” as we walked up to the venue, so I figured that they opened with Funky Bitch. We got in and got ourselves together while Cool It Down was wrapping up – a song I’d heard twice before and even though I love the Loaded songs that aren’t Rock and Roll, I was OK missing it. Hell, I was just happy to be inside the venue!

The first song I actually heard in the venue was Roggae, a still underplayed tune that used to be one of the band’s go-to slow tunes. Recently, though, Roggae has been anything but mellow in its jam section. Rather than stretch out the mellow prettiness of the jam, Trey set out to build up a monster, sprinkling his soloing rather liberally with dissonance. The jam built and built until a huge consonant release, and then fell back onto the quiet, twinkling soundscape before rocking through those final loud chords, and eventually ending with the signature riff of the tune. The set then seemed to take a mild anesthetic with the Heavy Things/What Things Seem combo, and a fun but pedestrian Roses Are Free couldn’t wake the set up, although it got the crowd back into things. It’s Ice was sort of a no brainer given the weather, and although it sounded well-played, my slightly rear-of-stage position seemed to cut out a lot of bass notes, and made it difficult to hear all of the contrapuntal wizardry between Mike and Trey. Still, this is a great tune, one that shows off just how difficult a Phish song can be with both rhythmic and melodic intricacies. But it’s by no means a “rager.”

I was hoping that It’s Ice would be the first song of a closing segment to this set that would really launch the energy and excitement. It was a great composed tune – now time for something like a rarity (Forbin’s?) or a “big” tune (Reba?) to really get the energy going before closing with a bang. Instead, a tame Mountains in the Mist followed. It’s a tender song, and one that I like quite a bit, but this set needed something other than a ballad right here. At the very least, a ballad that has some dynamic legs, like Theme or Dirt or Tela, would have kept the energy going a bit. Mist just stays at that cooled down dynamic level throughout. The crowd was noticeably loud with their chattering and talking during this too – it seems the band had lost our focus. They tried to wrangle it back with a Julius closer, but Trey seemed reserved as he began the jam, content to build it up slowly rather than just tearing it’s head off as a good closing jam should. I was hoping for a “double closer,” something the band has been quite keen to do recently; that is, play a song that would normally close a set and then immediately follow with another closer. But no, just taking off the instruments, a bow, and leave the stage.

The first set was not $70 worth of Phish. Luckily for me, I didn’t pay face.

From afar, Mike looked like a Blockbuster Video employee.

Met up with some friends, had a great interaction with a dude wearing a Mound t-shirt, and got very excited for the Mike’s Song set II opener. I was hoping the band would realize that they dropped a dud for the first set and would make it up with the second set, and as the jam began, it seemed to be heading in that direction. The band settled into a groove with a very intense, dark feel to it, slightly faster and played with more intensity than the laid back, funky Mike’s jams that have been peppered throughout the year. Mike’s built up really nicely, with Trey taking his time through the “tramps” jam segment, and not rushing it like many other 3.0 versions. As they hit the big, old-school ending, I was hoping they’d slam into Simple, or anything other than Hydrogen; hoping they’d make a set out of this Mike’s Groove a la 11/21/98 or 8/17/10 Jones Beach this past summer, rather than placing a succinct Groove at the beginning of the set.

Instead, Fishman immediately started up a beat that was certainly NOT Hydrogen, nor Simple. It sounded like a blues beat. And then I saw Trey and Mike start leading the audience in clapping. Holy crap. MOUND!!!! This show just got interesting…

This was EXACTLY what I needed, something to jolt me into really caring about this show. I’m no “jaded vet,” I’m perfectly aware that any Phish is better than no Phish, and I’m grateful for every note I’ve heard them play (even Coventry). But still, this show needed something to get me, and the rest of the audience, into it. Mound did the trick. Regardless of being a rarity, it’s also just a great tune, twisted and weird and extremely complex – certainly as difficult and compositionally quirky in its own right as anything Trey has written. And it’s fast, it gets the energy flowing. High fives and hugs all around in my little corner of section 119.

A blistering Weekapaug closed out the Groove, with an absolutely masterful ascent by Trey towards the end. He had some kind of filtering effect on, which turned his guitar sound into a very treble-heavy noise, and he gradually built this up chromatically while Mike and Page ramped up the dominant-chord tension, and finally burst through with the extremely high-register tonic note, wailing above it all, before slamming down on big open tonic chords to resolve all that tension. It’s the reason we keep coming back. It’s what makes dudes in the front row act like this:

Anticipating the downbeat

An oddly placed Farmhouse took the energy down, hopefully only temporarily. Of course, memories of the unfortunate 6/17/10 set II Farmhouse were a little too recent, and I hoped this wouldn’t kill the set. But as soon as the peppy riff to Seven Below came into play, I knew that the improv-seekers (myself included) would be happy. At this point in the set, it would be practically impossible for Phish to play Seven Below without jamming it out, especially given the weather-related circumstances. I also just love this song, ever since it ripped my mind open at the Gorge on 7/13/03. Page’s synth sounds really made the composed section perfect, and as the jam started, they wasted no time getting into things.

Right away, the -7 jam veered off-course, eschewing the jaunty jam that often leads to other far-out places and just finding those far-out realms right away. Like the Sneaking Sally jam from the Gorge 8/7/09, Seven Below immediately departed from the chord progressions and basic melodic content of the song proper, with Fishman even dropping the 4-hit snare-drum patter that signifies the Seven Below soundworld. This jam entered some murky territory, with Trey hanging out in the lowest register of the Ocedoc and Mike coming up to meet him halfway, their melodic lines intermingling with washes of purple and dark blue from CK5. Page contributed with more of those great synth sounds, also spending some time on the clav to intensify the swampy, not-quite-funky feel of this jam. Eventually, they found their way into some improvisational space that opened up nicely with Trey playing a fantastic ascending riff over jubilant Page chords and a solid rock beat from Fish.

It was then that I realized Trey’s triumphant ascending riff was actually from What’s the Use?, but sped up about three times as fast! Incredible! There was a kid holding up a What’s the Use? sign about 20 people deep Pageside, and Trey obviously saw the sign and decided to work this riff into this much faster Seven Below jam, which at this point didn’t resemble anything close to Seven Below. It’s only 5 notes, but they are very recognizable, and a litany of cheers from the audience either signaled recognition of the riff, or maybe just exultation at how awesome this jam sounded. As they brought things down to ambient washes of sound, Trey then hit the opening notes proper of What’s the Use? This has become a great tune for them in 2010, especially after it’s mind-numbing emergence in the Alpine Disease from 8/14/10. Page’s synth-heavy playing really brings in a healthy dose of psychedelia to this song, and in fact, to this whole section of the show which had a very laid back, swirling psychedelic feel to it. They brought the song down to almost nothing before ramping back up with one final go-round on the ascending riff.

(By the way, when you have a sign for a song and the band plays your song, you DO NOT have to hold that sign up triumphantly for the entire song, brandishing it to all sides of the venue. We get it, you’re psyched they played your request. Now take your sign down and just enjoy it).

Twenty Years Later followed, and it seems like they have really tightened up the ending riff section of this song, it’s no longer the sloppy, dirty mess that it was when it debuted. A welcome cool down song after a good jam, in my opinion. Velvet Sea gave us a chance to reposition ourselves for better picture taking in front of the stage, which is where we were when Possum started. Another great 2010 version, although unlike some of the gems I’ve heard this year, it rushed into the frenetic, loud end-of-jam strumming with no real build or lead-in. Kind of like they weren’t sure how to end the jam, so they just played the loudest part. I’ve heard this happen with Bowie before, where the song seems to be stagnating and so Trey just rushes into the closing pull-off riff without actually building up to it organically. I texted my wife to tell her that Possum was the show closer (it’s probably her favorite song) and that we’d be leaving shortly. But then, Phish pulled the “double closer” move and followed Possum with Cavern. A strong, tight old-school run-through of the old-school tune was great, and especially since the person who I usually call when they play Cavern, Bean, was standing right next to me (she is convinced that one of the lyrics is her last name).

During the song-ending noise, Trey relayed a message to Mike and Page, and it seemed like this wouldn’t be the end. Sure enough, we got a triple closer: Possum, Cavern, David Bowie. As if this second set wasn’t highlight heavy enough, a completely rockin’ Bowie closed things out. There was nothing interesting about the hi-hat intro, and Trey may have flubbed the first composed section a bit, but he nailed the second one, as tight as any I’ve heard live. The jam took its time, building slowly, and feeling its way organically towards the ending, which was absolutely not rushed in any way and just emerged out of a completely raging jam. It was the way it should be. A nice uptempo Loving Cup encore sent us back out into the frigid Worcester night.

So the opener of the NYE run was a dud set followed by a completely satisfying, something-for-everyone set. The opening Mike’s Groove was rockin’, with a tremendous Weekapaug and the huge bustout with Mound. There were two ballads, a section of heavy, type-II psychedelic improv, some classic old school Phish tunes, and a Bowie closer. Really, something for everyone. I was only seeing 12/31 this run, and it was great to sneak an extra show in there. I heard from friends that the second night in Worcester was much better. But for that second set with the Mound and the Seven Below/What’s the Use? craziness, I’m glad I went when the snow was still fresh.


~ by Jake on December 29, 2010.

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