I recently finished up four nights of following Phish around and was, for the most part, thoroughly impressed with every show. I found myself in Hartford for Thursday & Friday's shows and Saratoga on Saturday & Sunday. What fun!
Thursday's show setlist was not entirely conventional and therefore intriguing. 'Punch You in the Eye' started off the show which was all fine, fun, and fancy, but it was the second tune, 'Ocelot,' that deserves commentary: perhaps I never hold much faith in most of the songs from Joy, but it was surprisingly jammed out and Page added some interesting flourishes on the organ that I had never heard them do before. Hmm. The other standouts from the first set include 'Esther', 'Walk Away' (an Eagles cover), the jam on 'Alaska', and 'Divided Sky' (of course!).
Thursday was the first time Phish had performed 'Esther' in about a year, and I had never seen it done live. It's an incredibly creepy song, especially for someone who is and always has been inexplicably terrified of dolls. The song reminded me of the famed composition 'Peter & the Wolf', which is a story intended for children told by an orchestra with the occasional help of a narrator. The connection between the two pieces lies within the music's ability to tell the story. In 'Peter,' each character is assigned a specific instrument which represents them. 'Esther' illustrates the story in a much more subtle way, creating images for actions and emotions which appear throughout the story. It's a unique song and always a treat to hear.
The jams on both 'Walk Away' and 'Alaska' pleasantly surprised me. I wasn't expecting much out of them, but both songs turned out to have fun and interesting jams. 'Walk Away' has that classic-sounding rock n roll vibe (mostly because it is classic rock n roll) that is sort of a different pace for Phish to take rather than their usual sound. As for 'Divided Sky', it's hard to find anything better. The song itself is an incredible piece and the group performed brilliantly that night.
Here's a glimpse of 'Walk Away' (surprisingly good video quality!):
The band wasn't kidding when they started their second set with 'Partytime' - it was a time to boogie indeed. 'Down With Disease' is always a personal favorite of mine (I'm a Mike fan and I love the beginning) and a great song to groove to. This particular version on Thursday brought a smile to my face and a tap to my toes. Did you know this is the only Phish tune with an official music video? You do now!
'Sand' and 'Guyute' were the highlights of the second set. I love funky, bass-laden tunes like 'Sand'. It was well-played and well-jammed. 'Guyute' is another personal favorite of mine if only because of the hilarious lyrics (ugly pigs dancing the jig? come on). All kidding aside, I find 'Guyute' to be one of the more complex and beautiful songs Phish has on their repertoire. I use the word 'beautiful' carefully because I see the beauty in this song as anything but conventional. Especially because the second half of the song takes on a hellish quality (lots of dissonance and tension builds before the repetition of the opening phrase). But it's beautiful to me. To each her own.
I love me some good Weekapaug, but unfortunately this show didn't do it for me. The band closed the set with 'Mike's Song > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove,' and although if I had to choose a top 5 song list, Weekapaug would be there without question, in retrospect their rendition on Thursday seemed somewhat lackluster. I was excited at the time, but listening to it on the way up to SPAC for Saturday & Sunday's shows changed my mind. It just.. didn't really do it for me that time. Pity.
All in all a damn good show, and I left on Thursday night feeling revved up for an incredible weekend of music and fun.
peace, love, & vegan cheeseburgers,