Saturday, September 10, 2011

Untimely Reviews: Phish, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO, 09/04/11

Sunday was a lazy, lazy day, and as you looked around, the strewn bodies roasting in the sun, and sizzling inside E-Z-Bake-Oven tents were evidence of the hard-core raging a lot of folks did Saturday. Sunday was a time to relax, gather yourself, and make the walk for one more show. One final evening of Phish until who knows when.

Things around our campsite were tiredly entertaining, like the eight quarts of lotion Surfer Steve put on his face, or the fact that Dakota Fanning was still alive, or even the story from Ari about the dude at the Bonnaroo Radiohead stage. If you want the details on that one, hit me up in the comments, and I’ll attempt to do that doozy justice. The day seemed to flash past, though, and before long it was time to get your drink on and mozy back toward the hole-punchers.

My stub assistant this time was Ben, who was dressed like the gayest man I’ve ever met. He had on a skirt with some kind of sequined, feathered-sash belt, a tiara, and about 10 other things that had fallen from the gay tree, but -– even though he talked like he preferred men -– he was moving (two weeks from show date) from Crested Butte to Durango because he couldn’t meet any ladies. I told him good luck with that one; he swore the odds in D-town had to be better than in the Butte. Nevertheless, I got Ben a Bud Heavy for his troubles, and he told me to meet him in the far corner Page Side.

Once again, I’d lost my people, and once again, I wouldn’t find them until set break. The show, nonetheless, was stellar.

“Maze” was the opener and it’s another soft-spot track for me but I’m gonna go the jaded-vet/Mike-on-KBCO route on this one: The jam of this tune belongs to Page and in the days of old, it felt like he was given free range to go bananas on the keys in it. He gets after it in this rendition and in most, but the darker, slow-building organ rolls that led into two-to-three-minute lightning-fast solos seem so rare, or diminished, and this is almost always because Trey is getting in his space. In this particular “Maze,” it feels like Page is typically just building steam and Trey comes in with these atrocious, high-pitched chords that just ruin the aura of McConnell.

“Back on the Train” was one of my first favorites on Farmhouse when it came out. Live, though, I think it tends to be a dud. It’s not a bad song and never will be and there’s always the gotta-fill-a-set argument, but I find most versions of “BotT” uninspiring, full of Trey noodles, and with the drumming too much in the foreground. This led into “Rift,” and as the terminology goes, it’s a suitable "type-one jam." Nothing not to love, but I doubt it will ever be an agency for experimentation.

Phish carried the segue into “Bathtub Gin” and it featured some Page insanity at the beginning.

Phish - 9/4/11 "Bathtub Gin" from Phish on Vimeo.

As the song develops there was some nice patience from Trey, and once the whole thing got going it was electric, the perfect example of all four being conscious of what one another was doing.

For a song I’d never previously heard, “That’s the Way That It Goes” was magnificent. I didn’t know anything about Gillian Welch prior than this show, save for seeing her name making the occasional music-venue round. But, if her version is half as good as Phish’s was Sunday night, she’ll be on my iPod sooner rather than later. I thought it was an interesting choice to go with two consecutive rarities, and “Halfway to the Moon” was a wonderfully calm jam. I’m excited to hear it again.

“Gumbo” used to be something I’d long for in setlists, but I think not long after A Live One came out, the novelty of it wore off. I was glad for homeboy camped near us that rocked the Mexican poncho all weekend; it’s all he said he wanted headed in Sunday evening. I’ll always love the amount and the variety of Page on this cut, but I think he could stand to take it up even another notch.

Two things: 1) Remember back when Phish had shelved a ton of songs and people felt starved for tracks like “Destiny Unbound” and “Halley’s Comet”? I know it’s a grass-is-always-greener deal, but I kind of miss those days, the days of passing out flyers at Red Rocks that would attempt to coerce the entire crowd to sing the opening verse to “Destiny.” I still love “Halley’s Comet” but it used to be a bit of a mystery song –- or at least a song a lot of folks were chasing -– and now it’s become, with its more frequent setlist appearance, a few cool verses smashed between bunches of lyrical repetition.

2) Right when "Halley's" started, a kid walked past me with a shirt that said “What is the truth to this everlasting spoof?” on the back, and that put a huge smile on my face (Editor’s Note: Dickie V. voice…Serendipity, baby!). Still dig “Halley’s” at the end of the day.

“Tube” has always been a funny little number to me but it always goes into some kind of dirty stutter-reverb jam, which makes me dig the shit out of it. Can’t get enough of the Mike slap/Page clav/Trey scratch. calls Trey’s tease in this version “Charlie Chan,” but it made me think of the old Kung Fu game on Nintendo. As far as “Timber (Jerry)” goes, I don’t dislike it, but it’s never done much for me. A little monotonous.

I was super-stoked for my first “Roses Are Free.” Goose bumps galore. If Ween’s ever heard Phish do this, they’d have to admit that the original is inferior, no? Nothing negative to say, really, about the song, save that the jam didn’t necessary get a chance to build, but it served as a segue as they took it into “Chalkdust Torture,” a tune I could do without for a solid dozen shows. So, I guess I am griping about “Roses” in a sense. I’d take a long version of it any day, but you gotta please everyone, in this case, all the dorks that still get off on putting both arms up and screaming “Can’t I live while I’m young?”

“Rock & Roll” opened set two and I was pumped to catch this. I feel like the development potential is massive, and Page’s vocal work was great. This blended into “Come Together” which was a complete mind scramble. I’m never expecting Beatles covers out of these guys and they always manage to slide one in under the radar. It slipped right into “Twist” which was a fun way to tie two covers into original material, and “Piper” followed. “Piper” usually leaves me feeling blah, like get it over with and stop playing it, but the jam in this version was nice and inventive. I had no idea what Trey was hollering towards the second half of it, but it was groovy, and the thing melted first into a nice space jam, then right into “Harry Hood.”

“Hood” featured the sounds of Mike Gordon having a light-saber war with himself, as well as some of Trey’s most patient work all weekend. Really just lights out. Still pauseless, and into “Roggae,” and I hate to keep dipping into my galactically themed bowl here, but that was cosmic. Great sound spectrum.

More segue: “Ghost.”

A while ago, the great Joe Posnanski put up a poll on his blog, as he is wont to do, and this particular poll asked the question: “Who is the best current rock band in the world?” Before existing as a poll, though, it was a brief blog post that instructed brilliant readers to nominate bands via comment with a brief synopsis of why they should be included. It was one of those situations where, when you see it, you want to act so fast you nearly freeze.

I managed to get to the post, though, and naturally, I nominated Phish with what I deemed a solid description. A few comments popped up -– all told there were 308 comments in 15 hours, which, if you’ve never blogged: that rocks –- and one or two of them supposed that Phish is not really a rock band. These things were supposed for reasons indescribable. So, to anybody that wrote that or feels that, I present to you this “Ghost.”

It of course segued into “Guy Forget.” And when I say “of course,” I’m being facetious. I have no idea what the deal with this tune is, but I do know that to be sandwiched between two “Ghost” segments it must’ve first been dipped in a golden batter of badassery. Back into “Ghost” and “now you all know who the ghost really is…”

“Walls of the Cave” was the second-set closer, and I’m not going to pretend to know the metaphor of this song but I should probably retract my statement from the Friday-night review wherein I claimed that “Seven Below” is the best song from Round Room. I suppose “Walls of the Cave” is, or maybe even “Waves.” “Seven” definitely had the most potential as an authentic Phish jam, but as I said, where it goes beyond about the seven-minute mark is crappy. (Note: “Walls,” during the re-listen, got huge, huge points in my book via sheer coincidence: The wife brought our eight-month-old daughter down to review headquarters and I put my headphones on the baby just for shits and grins. She rocked out some seven minutes of this “Walls” and appeared to absolutely love it.)

Anyway, the song reminds me of some kind of alien after-human-life revelation or some kind of coded what-Phish-was-all-about explanation for later generations that are maybe too technologically advanced -– “listen to the silent trees” -– to get what we, as live-music lovers used to do in a general sense, and more specifically with regard to seeing the same act time and again. Also, it makes me think of John Locke and the whole final season of “Lost,” but that’s neither here nor there. In essence, this was one heck of a weekend closer, and tour closer for that matter. Probing lyrics, high-energy jam, and the crowd seemed to really dig it, too. One of those moments where you not only have to take your hat off to Phish, but genuinely thank them, too.

In these reviews I’ve spent a fair amount of time mentioning the goings-on in TypeIIcast and they deserve some kudos here, specifically Stephen Olker. He, and other panelists (I think) have criticized set-closer choices, which, upon first hearing that, I found a bit trivial. For the final piece of irony regarding my own opinions, I was absolutely stunned that “Backwards Down the Number Line” was chosen, not only as the show/weekend tour closer, but that it was the only song in the encore.

A one-song, “Backwards” encore to close out what was arguably one of the tightest Phish tours in a decade. Stunned, I tell you. Stunned. And in all honesty, I love the tune. I thought it the perfect lead-off hitter for Joy when Joy came out and I haven’t wavered there. In spite of my criticism of Olker and company though, I think songs have a place in a setlist, and if “Backwards” has one, I’m not certain what it is. I do, however, know that if you’re gonna drop it in an encore, it had better be first in a three-spot.

I mean, they didn’t even do anything special with it. They just mailed it in. Mailed in the one-song encore to close out Summer Tour 2011. And that was it. It’s possible that it was significant to include the one song that has the lyrics “all my friends,” to use the song to talk about aging and spending time together. It’s possible that they were just messing with people, as they’ve done in the past.

All things considered, it was a great three-show run, and a heckuva night and setlist to wrap it, and the only afterthought I had was that it was a long walk back to the campsite, an even longer drive across Kansas the next day, and longest of all was the Tuesday back at work. Like Uncle Jake said, “Tuesday reminded me of one thing: “I’d rather be on Phish tour.”