Sunday, July 10, 2011

Phish: Superball IX - Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 @ Watkins Glen, NY

After a fabulous show on Friday, everyone was eager and ready for three sets of music on Saturday.  The day began with a scorching 5.5k run around the NASCAR racetrack.  Among the participants were a few Uncle Sams, a naked guy, a Reno 911 officer, a small marching band, and a dude smoking a cigar.
The official title of the race is the The 101st Running of the First Annual Runaway Jim Memorial 5k Road Race.  I dig. 

After a well-deserved shower, everyone headed over to the concert field to stake out a spot for the afternoon set.  At 3:45pm, the band came out and started with Tube

Phish - 7/2/2011 "Tube" from Phish on Vimeo.
The moment the band began playing, hundreds of beach balls were launched into the air.  After Kill Devil Falls and Ocelot (sigh), Page stood up fromt the piano and went into club-singer mode, kicking balls offstage while crooning Lawnboy.  
I had high hopes for the Divided Sky that came next.  It was brutally hot in the crowd, and I needed something incredible to make an otherwise lackluster set worth my sunburn and fatigue.  While well-played, it didn't energize me as I'd hoped.  Listening back, the 'Sky was nothing to complain about.  The guitar tones stayed pure and the jam was fine - I would name Page as the MVP as Trey scrambled up and down note patterns and riffs.  He just kept banging on those keys in a way that was energizing and beautiful. 

Trey took his sweet time ending the solo section - looking back, it turns out he let the crowd yell for over two minutes.  I find the prolonged pause indulgent because they do it every time they play Divided Sky.  I understand and respect that it's the artist's choice, but to me, it gets old. 
The funktastic numbers Boogie on Reggae Woman and Camel Walk spiced things up and re-energized the crowd.  These were the kinds of songs that should have been more prominent during the afternoon set.  They are short, powerful, and always crowd-pleasing.  These were the songs that made me forget how much my feet hurt or how much I wanted a dude with a mister to come by.

I love the effect that Mike uses with Boogie On - the song itself is a total bassfest, and I love it.  The slow funk of Camel Walk jam was slowly grooved over to classic rock as Trey got his solo chops back.  Quick renditions of CitiesPoor Heart, and 46 Days kept the set going.
When Suskind Hotel began, more than a few phans glanced around at one other, hoping to see if anyone recognized the Mike Gordon Band original.  I really like Mike's solo work, and wish I had caught the show in Portsmouth, VA last summer when Phish covered Idea off the Green Sparrow.  I guess Suskind is the next best thing.  I like the way the song seems to have a dynamic meter yet drives like a traditonal rock n roll.  Mike's Haus. 

The band closed the set with a song that Page did at solo shows during the second hiatus - the Rolling Stones' Monkey Man.  It was funny to hear Page belt about how he was a monkey man, and it only gets funnier as I listen for the third or fourth time.  Heh.
As promised, the band announced the winners of the morning's 5k race in front of everyone, a la Runaway Jim.  Everyone cheered as the runners accepted their trophies onstage - I can only imagine the glory.  Trey read off the winners and their times in between verses as the rest of the band looped the transition over and over.  When the overall winner was announced, the band revved up and finished the song.  Weird - it was like a switch had been flipped.  All of a sudden, the magic from Friday's show was there in the music again.
McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters came next.  It was the first time they had played the tune this tour.  Its slick jazz undertones had everyone bopping around and singing along.  I liked the way two players were able to sync beats at times for extra oomph with a solo over it.  My favorite moment is about six minutes in, when Page takes control.  Trey and Mike sync up under him while he provides color and syncopation with the piano.
A rockin' Birds of a Feather was welcomed after the crowd was riled up with Axilla I.  Trey plucked out the Simpson's Theme while the band was messing around before Stash.  Everyone in the audience (even 3.0-ers such as myself) knew what to yell: D'OH!  Then we laughed while a steamy version of Stash began.  Trey cinched most of the notes in the compositional part and the jam hit its stride around the seven-minute mark.  Fishman provided a tribal-like beat while the others swam around in the sound, exploring new places while maintaining the integrity of the meter and key. 

I always love a good Mango Song (and, according to the enthusiasm of the crowd when Trey stumbled through the first few bars, so do 30,000+ others).  This version was especially fun - there was a nice piano breakdown that provided extra energy when the band revved up to go into the chorus.  Mango is a happy, bouncy, feel-good song - sort of like Backwards Down the Number Line, but less noobish.  Yes? 
Things slowed down for the traditional-sounding intro of Scents and Subtle Sounds.  A soaring jam combined with gentle lyrics made for an instant show favorite. 

Run Like an Antelope finished the first set with a bang (and a glowstick war).  This one never fails to excite the crowd, and Saturday's version was filled with lots of shredding and cool quirks.  There was a cool segue into the Marco Esquandolas section - Page was doing some damage with the organ while Trey found a pattern of a few squeaks that he used to pace the lyrics and create a quick new groove.  

My brother and I managed to worm our way up to about twenty feet away from the stage during the set break - it was the closest I had ever been at a Phish show.  The set began with Golden Age - something I hadn't heard live since the Albany shows of 2009.  (In fact, I became thoroughly obsessed with the song after those shows that I downloaded the original version and showed all my friends the funky music video.)

I love the array of songs that Phish covers.  They choose wisely, but eclectically.  This particular version of the TV on the Radio cover was spot-on and slid it way into a nice long jam.  
The always-sunny Piper was another similarity from the Albany show.  The unity of the instrumental music contrasted with the plurality of the vocals always hooks me.  The fast-paced jam attached to this one served as a stellar way to pump up the energy diatonically and then twist it around with a key change.

Things slowed down a bit with the jamtastic Tweezer.  Trey tried out a Hendrix-esque effect for the guitar in the beginning of the jam and totally stumbled through anything he played.  I don't know if it was a new thing that hadn't been prepared enough, a fluke, or a concious choice of style, but I didn't like it.  After he switched back into his usual tone, his playing returned to its nimble self.  Mike kept the bassline slow and steady while Trey and Page played off it.  Trey got stuck in the upper neck of his guitar for a while, but snapped out of it by returning to a classic rock-style solo after a minute or two of weirdness.
After a glowing Backwards Down the Number Line, the jazzy intro of Twist brought us to another dimension.  The song itself is full of metric delights, and the jam attatched to it this time played on that characteristic.  Trey held a somewhat steady tempo with his solo while the rest of the band played on the syncopated meter of the song.  About eight minutes in, the music crept back into the song structure for an ending chorus.  Either by mistake or just for fun, Trey began the line too early - the result was an oddly-placed woo!.  All of a sudden, Fishman was joining in with shouts of what?!.  Instead of an ending chorus, the band played off Trey's mistake and ended the song in a chorus-like jam.  
Those type of moments are the reason I dig improvisational music more than anything else. 

A quick 2001 dove into Harry Hood, which let out in a bouncy, gentle jam.  It glistened.  I would definitely choose it as one of my favorite jams of the night. 

The second set closed with three short numbers: Cavern, Golgi Apparatus, and the Beatles' A Day in the Life.

Tweezer Reprise popped up after a rousing Loving Cup (to which everyone in the audience sang along) as the encore.  Sometimes I dig the reprise more than the full version of the song.  It's a truncated version of all the energy that's in Tweezer, and brings back fond memories of the double Tweezer that happened in Hartford, CT last summer. 
Leaving the concert field, I felt like I was in a daze.  Once again, I was excited and curious as to how they could top that night's show - they had another entire day ahead of them.  I crashed within twenty minutes of making it back to the campsite.  Turns out, that was a bad idea.  I woke up a few minutes later to my brother tapping me on the shoulder.  He pointed in the direction of the concert field and whispered: Cactus.  

I focused and heard strange, nonsensical noises in the distance.  Heavy thuds studded swooping synths.  Occasional clinks, clangs, and whistles.  I put on a sweatshirt and we headed over to the concert field.  I arrived sleepy-eyed and a little disoriented - not only because of my recent wakeup call, but because of the scene itself.  Spotlights streamed into the dark violet sky.  There were speaker towers set up in every direction.  People were standing in Ball Square, the area of the field devoted to art exhibits.  Some were standing, some where sitting, and all were facing the fake storage unit that was a part of the art exhibition. 
The band began the Ball Square Jam with unscripted jamming - at times it was soft and ambiental, other times it was loud and insistent.  Either way, it was always a little eerie.  Sometimes they would work their way into a neat groove, only to morph it into something else entirely a minute or two later.  

Eventually Trey picked his way through a pattern that led into the ballad-like Sleeping Monkey.  This version was totally laid-back and stripped-down.  There were giggles, interjections from other members of the band (weasel!).  Eventually their playfulness manifested into a Merriweather What?! fest.  The song ended, but the jamming didn't - for another few minutes, at least.  Mike explored chromatisicms and Page occasionally chimed in with loopy synth noises.  It sounded like the music was literally winding up and down.  The hour-long jam faded into silence, as if it had never happened.

The next morning, I couldn't help but wonder - was it all just a dream?


1 comment:

  1. The effect Mike uses in Boogie On is an envelope filter, apparently cranked to 11.