Caliphornia Love

cali pin

7/24/15, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA

I left my setlist book at the apartment we were staying at in San Francisco before the Shoreline show. I’m a little obsessed with setlists, so this was a bit of a letdown. Rather than, as I’ve done in past instances, decide to write the set down on a random piece of paper, I used my notes app. And just for fun, decided to add an emoji to every song.

I was on the lawn for Shoreline, which as many people know is not the place to be at Shoreline for pretty much anything except needing a place to freak out. Would being in the pavilion have made “The Line” opener any better for me? I can’t imagine it would have. I’m sorry, I know there are “The Line” lovers out there, but I am not one of them. I never really liked the song even going back to the Wingsuit set, I couldn’t really figure out its place in a show or, broadly, within the entire Phish canon. However, like the other few songs I don’t really care for, I tolerate “The Line,” and will smile and enjoy the short jam at the end.

imageBut not as an opener. “The Line” might be the worst show opener I’ve ever seen in 125 shows. #srsly. Openers need to infuse the crowd with energy, get things going, get everyone pumped for what’s about to happen. They need to be high energy rockers/funk machines (Bag, PYITE, Kill Devil Falls, Moma), or they need to be so surprising and unexpected that we just go apeshit for them (anything rare, surprise covers). “The Line” is neither. I immediately felt the collective expectant breath leave the venue when this started, and for me personally, even with a string of fun high energy tunes to follow in “Moma Dance” and “Kill Devil Falls,” I couldn’t fully get into the groove of this show. “Yarmouth Road” was a touch too slow in tempo and dragged, and the “Undermind” that followed was awesome and funky but continued to keep the energy a little low. We needed a major infusion of full-on Phishy positive energy to save this set.

So I’ve never been so happy to hear “Free” (note the smiley face). A song that has been relatively standard in its versions in 3.0, “Free” was precisely what I needed to rip me out of my slump and get this set moving again. To then play the tour’s first “Reba,” in the first set where the song belongs, was absolutely the best follow-up I could have hoped for. Sheer joy and bliss. At the time I was going for 3 wide-eyed amazement emojis and a fist bump, but someone on twitter noted that it looked like 3 face punches. Either way, yes. The jam did not necessarily break any new ground harmonically or formally, but Trey made a beautiful, well-thought out ascent to the “Reba” peak, and his tone sounded especially clean and a little treble-heavy at the top of the range, soaring out above the rest of the band. It was just another example of these thoughtfully crafted melodic lines that Trey played in abundance in Bend.

“46 Days” was a strong choice for closer, with more of the Trey/Mike looseness and shenanigans that started in Bend: Trey leaving his spot onstage to stand right next to Mike, facing him as they play off each others lines. So set 1 took a little while to get its legs under it, but it was off and running from “Free” through the end. Set 2, on the other hand, was an entirely different story.


Photo by Dave Vann

As soon as I heard the loping New Orleans groove of “Blaze On” amble along, I immediately started dance walking, and naturally, put my sunglasses back on. I got my night shades on. Some cheers from the crowd on the “chemtrails” line. But it seemed only appropriate to play a song with such a distinctive 80s Dead groove in a venue created for the Dead in the 80s. And I love hearing Trey smile in his voice when he sings the line about screwing up two more times.

imageImmediately it became clear that this was not just another chance to play one of the new songs, but a true set 2 opener that would be a jumping off point for serious deep improvisation. The end jam strayed from the standard pentatonic blues/rock soloing we heard in Bend and went immediately into a modal territory, with Trey exploring out along the mixolydian mode giving the jam a distinctively “jammy” feel. Indeed, Mike and Page also seemed to be settling in for a long haul, with Mike weaving polyphonic lines around Trey and Page exchanging chords in rhythmic counterpoint with Fishman. Trey started adding in some cool delay effects and upping the distortion a bit towards the end, often descending or circling downward from tonic to emphasize that mixolydian feel. Even just considering the normal end jam of the song, this was already leaps beyond the Bend debut.

Trey then settled into some chunky distorted chording, and reprised the vocals. “Awesome version!” I thought, thinking we’d get the inevitable slide into “Disease” or “Rock and Roll.” But no, that was not where they were headed. They decided to make a “Blaze On” outro jam, immediately going very quiet with Page switching over to Rhodes and Fishman keeping up the beat but much quieter. Trey and Page began a tightly interwoven polyphonic pattern, with Trey offering intense little rhythmic patterns of psychedelic soloing. With the envelope filter turned on, there was again that great new tone acquired from GD50 that gave everything a trippy sheen. This little 3-minute outro jam was exactly the sort of thing that only happens when the band is ON, and it was clear that this night, this set, things were going to get really weird and good.

“Twist” ambled out of the ether as the “Blaze On” spaciness faded away in electronic sound from Page. Lots of premature “woo”-ing. Not until the chorus, people! This jam wasted absolutely no time in blazing new territory. Trey turned on HEAVY distortion and the Jerry auto-wah to create this very gritty guitar tone. At the time, I called it a “Gates of Hell” filter. Mike matched it with his own meatball envelope tone and they jammed heavily on the minor pentatonic before Trey ventured back out into modal space, creating a very sinister sort of jam. This was just an intensely psychedelic space, with Fishman eventually falling back into a slow, steady rock beat, far from the rhythmic intricacy of the normal “Twist” jam. Although they were harmonically very much in “Twist” jam territory, there were many parts of it that felt quite far from “Twist.” And Page, god bless him, stayed on the baby grand the entire time, which I thought was brilliant given how distorted and electronically altered both Trey’s and Mike’s tones were during this segment.

Mike turns off the meatball and Trey returns to the “Twist” riff, but then Mike jumps up to scale degree 6, pushing the jam out of its comfortable harmonic ground, before falling back to settle on the fifth, and we get a blissful new jam in G major. This was all Mike’s doing, and such a big push really felt like an uplift, both because Trey returned to his normal soloing tone, but also because they literally moved the harmony up by 7 half-steps. The rest of “Twist” jam was a classic, slowly building 3.0 plagal peak jam with a nice moderate tempo (plagal meaning they emphasize the subdominant, or IV chord, sometimes substituted by the bVII). Trey really amped it up right before the 13-minute mark with some aggressive strumming that had the effect of pushing this jam even further, and followed it with these beautiful circular riffs ending with a big octave leap upwards. More stratospheric peak jamming, and Page really providing the perfect chordal counterpoint, still on baby grand the whole time. Trey just erupts with the hose at the end of this one, and then everything descends into electronic weirdness before “Light” bursts forward.

At this point, everyone knows “Light” is just another brief stopping point on what has been an incredible half hour so far of improvisational brilliance. Sure enough, after Trey plays the climactic triplet riff, they immediately bring everything down into a mellow, quiet space. There’s none of the usual gradual winding down from the big high energy of the song, just an immediate sense that they need to get back to improvisational work. Trey starts building but there are a few excellently dissonant notes sprinkled through his melodies, and Mike picks right up on them. Throughout the latter portion of the second set, it was really clear that Mike was taking charge on the jams, especially during the “Hood” (more on that later).

The jam changes character with a little minor key mixture around 7:30, and Page appropriately switches over to clav, while Fishman goes for a more tom-heavy beat and Trey puts a darker distorted tone on his guitar. Everything gets murky and funky for a little bit in here, and it’s all about Trey and Page playing off each other in here. You can barely tell who is playing what, their tones are relatively matched and so in sync. Right around this point Mike and Trey sense a move back to a major key, and Trey starts doing some of that Randall’s Chalkdust/Tahoe Tweezer pop song strumming. Ten minutes in and we’ve already had three separate jam segments! Everyone is clearly feelin’ IT tonight. Trey keeps focusing on the poppy IV-I strumming while Page is soloing around on his Fender Rhodes, and eventually Trey starts playing some of those very countrified bluesy riffs that are now part of his natural finger patterns after so much GD50 practicing. We heard them a bunch in Bend, and here they were surprisingly in “Light.”

At this point both Fish and Mike hear Trey playing around with that country rock sound and decide to opt in, with Fishman tightening up and speeding up the beat and Mike going for a classic I-V-I bass pattern. I think what happened here is that Mike and Fishman both heard Trey going for that fast country blues and decided to match his sound (Page, too, switches back to baby grand), but it all ends up sounding VERY much like an “I Know You Rider” jam. I don’t know if any of the band was intending that, although I’m sure most of them realized it once they were in it, but the effect was quite perceptible among the Shoreline faithful, who responded with tremendous applause and high fives. I heard at least three people around me say “this sounds like a Dead tune” or “Rider jam!”

An amazing moment, even without actually playing or even teasing the tune. Yet before there could be any ambiguity about whether they would or would not play a Dead tune, Fish wound the tempo back down, Trey briefly teased “Twist” again, and then started playing what I felt was the perfect call in this position, “Joy.”


Photo by Dave Vann

I don’t understand the “Joy” haters. This is your song too!! The solo on “Joy” is just so, well, joyful, one of Trey’s best slow composed lines. The song is a ballad, sure, but the ending jam is such a celebratory energetic moment that it doesn’t code ballad. It is almost like a “Slave” peak or “Hood” peak in condensed form. Trey put an exclamation point on this jam with more of the fast strumming that he used in GD50 to peak many of those jams.

At this point, there had to be a big classic Phishy tune to anchor the 4th quarter. As a perfect counterpoint to the extensive improv in the first half of the set, “Harry Hood” bounced its way into existence. First of all, thank you Jon Fishman for playing the intro on high-pitched toms again instead of the hi-hat like you did last year. I appreciate you trying something new, but it didn’t work, and I’m glad you now see the light. Also, maybe it’s the fact that he needs the woodblocks for tunes like “Blaze On,” but I’m so happy to hear the woodblocks being used more again. Fish still has his pared down set but it sounds like he’s added just a couple more drums back into the fold.

“Hood” jam starts out normally, with Trey playing some beautiful melodies in counterpoint with Page’s piano melodies. But right around 7:30 Mike takes over. The progression on “Hood” jam is I-V-IV in D, roughly corresponding to the words “good,” “good,” “Hood” in the lyrics. Yet Mike stays on the IV, interrupting the harmonic rhythm of the jam, which gives Trey the idea to play around with the flat 3 (flat 7 of IV), giving everything both a minor key feel and a modal, jammy feel. Mike picks up on this and immediately plays a descending minor line back to tonic, and Page starts accompanying with minor chords. Fishman appropriately abandons the feathery ride cymbals of “Hood” jam and goes for a more active pattern, and soon Trey and Mike abandon the minor key idea and instead move to a mixolydian pattern. Suddenly we’re in a typical 3.0 plagal jam AGAIN, but now in the middle of “Hood”! Fully type II and unrecognizable from the normal “Hood” jam even though we’re still in D. Mike ramps things up with a few of his earth-shattering pedal tones, and Trey starts with the long sustained tones. Page keeps concentrating on the IV chord, giving the whole jam a suspended feeling, like it’s floating above the harmonic grounding (which it sort of is), and Mike’s pedals seemed to light a fire under Trey and Fish, who respond appropriately with bursts of energy.

This all dies down eventually, and Trey returns to the light strumming of “Hood” jam, while Fishman switches back to the fast, light ride cymbal that is the trademark of the early stages of “Hood” jam just as everyone finally returns to tonic. It’s a perfectly wonderful segment of playing that illustrates just how locked in the band is with each other, only three shows into tour, taking one of their most iconic jams into a decidedly atypical territory (although atypical “Hood”s going type II was one of the main plot lines of 2014). I feel good about Hood.

They could’ve ended right then, but the classic “Cavern” to close seemed so appropriate after the blistering displays of improv throughout the set. Trey stumbled through an overly dorky “thanks everybody that was just so fun thank you thank you thank you!” — he clearly was just overcome with excitement and could barely figure out how to describe how awesome they felt that set was. That was one of my favorite parts of the show, when the band lets you know how good they thought it was, too. Trey was bouncing all over and doing his jumping kick step rock star thing during the “Character Zeroencore.

Bend saw some great interplay and of course all the new songs, but Shoreline is where it felt like they finally let the improv beast loose. Of course, going indoors the next night, everything finally came together: the jamming, the energy, the new lights, the sound, the general feel of an intense Phish show. I love outdoor summer shows, but there’s just something about Phish in an arena – they’ve perfected playing to a room that size. Going indoors in L.A. delivered the exclamation point to this West Coast run.



~ by Jake on July 28, 2015.

2 Responses to “Caliphornia Love”

  1. it’s “nice” shades, not “night” shades.

    • Oh I know, but I don’t care. I sang “Night shades” when I first heard it at Bend, and will likely continue to do so for a little bit 🙂

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