IT is summer tour again, thankfully, and Phish is once again riding the bus and running the bases. For the first time, Phish played last night at Wrigley Field, the second-oldest ballpark in the majors, where
Page's the beloved Cubs have been playing for 100 years. And also for the first time, Phish performed on a day when global stock markets plummeted, causing countless millions--including those we love--to lose trillions of dollars in retirement and other investments. But enough about Britain's calamitous, sublimely asinine vote to leave the EU. After all, without searing pain and tremendous suffering, there can be no transcendent JOY, and we are blessed to be able to hear Phish's music once again.
Photo by Scott Marks
You may have heard about the historic Waterwheel benefit for The Mockingbird Foundation, held pre-doors, to celebrate the release of The Phish Companion. It was the first time the band's own charitable foundation directly benefited Mockingbird (the all-volunteer nonprofit that raises funds for music education and manages this site), and I simply had to be there. I was thus unable to get a sense of the lot scene (if any) outside Wrigley. But I have it on reliable authority that there was no lot scene. The Cubs might as well have been playing, albeit to tens of thousands of Phish fans.
In other news, music we love was performed last night. And since as we all know, music criticism is highly subjective, but music itself has objective elements that we can at least pretend to communicate intelligently about, forgive me for once again (since spewing my two cents about 8/12/2011 Outside Lands) offering you THREE POINTS OF VIEW on last night's show, at least one of which you are guaranteed to relate to, in part.
And please do not think of this exercise as three show recaps for the price of reading one. You must think of it as me exploiting my 27 years of enjoying Phish purely to please, and satisfy, myself.
FOR THE NOOB:
Catching any show early in a tour is a special event to be sure, but being able to see Phish at a legendary venue, while drinking cold beer and devouring ballpark dogs? Priceless. The vibe was exactly as you might expect under such circumstances: whether or not we would see a no hitter or a grand slam, we knew the potential was there from the start for an unforgettable, even life-changing, experience.
It was a beautiful night for a concert. Perfect. The summer humidity Chicago is notorious for was nonexistent. Warm sunshine, cool breezes, and friends seeing each other for the first time in years, or months, or since Mexico. Smiles and hugs.
First set was easygoing, peaking mid-set with “Sand” and concluding well with a solid “Blaze On.” The concert’s opening vibe was perhaps best captured, though, by the reggae-inspired “Yarmouth Road,” featuring Mike, bees, and honeycombs, that followed “Rift” and preceded “Sand.” An original ballad, “Miss You,” then debuted after “Sand.” It is strikingly similar to “Show of Life,” yet slower and simpler. “Blaze On” concluded the set well, its uplifting jam reminding everyone of our good fortune to be seeing Phish again.
Second set opened with a “Down with Disease” that, while it coasted for some time, gradually bore witness to engaging, at times fierce, interplay among the band members. Chairman Page attacked the boards as Trey, Mike and Fish passionately tore it up. Although “DWD’s” ending seemed to occur a bit abruptly, “Fuego” was a welcome choice to move forward into the set. And it was very well played, particularly by Trey, who trilled quite a bit to finish it off powerfully.
Photo by Scott Marks
Kuroda’s new checkerboard LED lights and light screens are impressive and dazzling. They seem to give him a more dynamic palette, making his accompaniment of the music with a symphony of colors all the more magical. His unparalleled ability to lift the experience of a Phish concert to the highest tier is wondrous to behold.
“Twist,” one of the show’s musical highlights to be sure, featured gloriously rousing improvisation, that literally kicked into a higher gear when Fish began to play the drum line to “Weekapaug Groove,” and continued to play it for several measures. A pulsating, dark “Twenty Years Later” came next, followed by a genuine, even profound, “Waste.” “2001” got everyone dancing, before “BDTNL” and “Loving Cup” rocked-out the solid set.
When the band walked straight to the center-stage mics for the encore, my first thought was “Star Spangled Banner,” which of course they’d opened with at Fenway Park (the oldest major league ballpark) seven years ago. Instead, as you’ve no doubt heard or read, Phish honored David Bowie in a very creative, very moving, and very funny way, singing an acapella version of “Space Oddity.” A difficult arrangement, they must have rehearsed it quite a bit. It was quite a surprise, and an unforgettable reminder of why we try to see every Phish show we can. As if that weren’t enough, “Antelope” closed the show, filling the heart of many a fan with joy.
Photo by Scott Marks
FOR THE VET:
The first set was not simply a worm burner, but one that was so effortlessly grabbed by the first baseman that your heart sinks into your cup. While by no means a turd of epic proportion, the set was nevertheless replete with banal suppositories, having little if any redeeming value.
There is absolutely no reason to ever listen to last night’s first set in the first place, and certainly never again. This is because you have listened to Phish before, probably quite a lot. And thus you’ve heard more inspired versions of every single song performed in the set (possibly dozens of them), except of course the new song. And the new song, “Miss You”? You will want to miss it. As disappointing as the first set was, at least we weren’t at Soldier Field.
The second set’s highlights, on the other hand, help this gig at least begin to approach “average-great” territory. “Twist” is absolutely worth your time to check out, and as already noted above, “DWD” and “Fuego” were good. While there are plenty of finer versions out there of everything played in the set (littering their respective jam charts), it was nevertheless an enjoyably inoffensive set. Sure, “Twenty Years Later” was like a bunt that hits your leg for an out, and the “BDTNL” and “Loving Cup” set closers may give you the sort of feeling you get when you just miss a train, but there’s another one purportedly 3 minutes away. But still. Fish killed it last night in his magnificent Bernie frock, that will look great one day hanging in the Phish Museum (or Rock and Roll Hall of fame? Or the future Hon. Bernard Sanders Library in Burlington?). And Page, Mike and Trey generally played well, and it’s very early in the tour! They could play a show for the ages tonight! Or tomorrow! Or next week!
Photo by Scott Marks
FOR THE JADED VET:
You walk onto the stage before tens of thousands of adoring fans, under a blue sky, on a delightful evening, your first gig at an historic venue where
your beloved keyboardist’s an MLB team has been playing for 100 years. And you choose to open with “Sample in a Jar.”
Anyway it’s way past my bedtime, and I want to go to bed. Show’s a 3/10 easy. The first set was only a little more fun than waiting in line for doors while needing desperately to piss, but there's no port-a-john in sight, and the nearest discrete place to whip it out is on your knees behind an occupied police car.
Yes, “Twist” was very good, but you’ve heard better versions. And yeah you should check out the acapella “Space Oddity” debut, of course. It’s hilarious for sure, though not as amusing as watching a drunk dude fetch his iPhone out of a urinal trough. You saw it on the set list and you know you want to hear it. So knock yourself out. It’s hyperlinked above. I’m not doing your work for you.
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