Phish Go Back to Their Roots in Summer Tour 2012
After a month long hiatus, Phish launched the second leg of their summer tour with their brief stay in the West Coast this week. Viewers at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center witnessed an epic climax to the first half of the 2012 Summer Tour, giving the phans enough time to make their way to southern California for the final stages of the nationwide run. Trey and the gang took the stage at the Long Beach Arena this past Wednesday for what turned out to be one of the most talked about performances yet. The atmosphere was dismal at first with the 13,500 capacity establishment not even filling up minutes before the quartet were begin playing, perhaps being one of the least attended shows in the last decade, but the intimacy gave way for some of the most revered jams played this summer.
Despite being back from dead after a five year long departure from the scene, until recently, many had been left disappointed by the rock deities; predominantly lacking in the long improvised jams and transitions they were once hailed for. The anticipated reunion at the Hampton Coliseum in 2009 was a dark footnote in the bands history, playing 25 songs just the first night. Kevin O’Donnell of Rolling Stone wrote “There was nothing outlandish about Phish’s show last night at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia — except for the fact that it was the jam-band kings’ first show in almost five years.” Much of the sets that followed that year gave older followers the impression of a new band entirely. Although all masters of their forte, and still thriving in their niches, Phish seemed complacently apprehensive to breaking any boundaries in their jams, barely breaching ten minutes in most of the songs they played. The band improved in 2010(highlights included their first festival in years, Super Ball), but they still remained inconsistent. These performances didn’t disappoint per say, so much as they didn’t satisfy the expectations of their long running, devoted patrons. On the other hand, what good is a jam band without the jam?
All that is irrelevant when juxtaposed to the current summer tour however. Its basically 97′ all over again, and the band is on fire. Arguably the best tour these guys have played since their return, chock full of vitality and consecutive on-point executions. A seventeen minute Divided Sky jam in Portsmouth, VA during the first leg of the tour was a prevalent example of the bands commencing streak. Not only resurrecting their long overdue improvised segments, they played songs left in the freezer for almost two decades, like the first Shaggy Dog since 1995 played in Cincinnati. The West Coast opening show was undoubtedly one for the books. A rare and energetic Suzy Greenberg, the first time Phish opened with that song in 17 years, initiated the second leg. Just two minutes into the performance Page McConnell ripped into a fierce keyboard solo, throwing every pair of feet in the building into rhythmic calamity. Most noteable so far though was the 25 minute Long Beach Rock and Roll jam, the longest jam of 3.0 so far. The initial song was consistent in structure, but what followed was an expansion of one of the most engaging, thematic sequences of augmented jams I’ve heard, both in the context of the band’s modern era and music as a whole.
Immediately following the captivating RnR overture was a particularly border-crossing Ghost. Phish entered the intro with the low funky overtones characteristic of the song, but also as a transformation of the previous leviathan. Themes of the verse and choruses had a sort of anthem feel to them, which carried into an uptempo rock-funk bridge. The song quickly took a turn into a theme reminiscent of the bridge, with Trey laying out the rolling licks up the neck and Page heavy on the Clav in the background. It then settles into Mike Gordon taking the lead on bass with the others trailing in low pitches behind him. The jam slows and slows until until it eventually begins to climb back up, saturating more and more into a culmination of Trey’s wailing pitch benders and landing into a well placed Limb by Limb. It doesn’t just depend on the quantity of the jam though, the cover of Cities by The Talking Heads will attest to that notion. I don’t think David Bryne himself could have played a better version of than the one played in Long Beach; seven minutes of the sexiest and low down funky licks that I have heard them deliver with this cover. Few bands can surpass or achieve equal status with a rendition of a past icon’s work, one success is The Disco Biscuit’s cover of Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell. The band has really turned the cover into a masterpiece of their own while still leaving the core elements intact, thus giving respect to their predecessors and in turn the right to bring it stage. Phish does this even better. They can really cover any song flawlessly and still give homeage to the creators.
Four people being together for so long and still maintaining that kind of chemistry is a genuine phenomenon, and an indisputable component to the force they’re playing with on this run. Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon’s Guelah Papryus dance choreography antics at the Arena Wednesday were just a small example of the covalent bond they’ve shared for over twenty years. Any skepticism is left weightless in the wake of the second leg of this summers tour, and I hope it keeps. These guys are killing it and happier than ever.
Posted on August 20, 2012, in Show Reviews and tagged california, jam, jam band, long beach, Phish, rolling stone, summer tour, the disco biscuits, trey anastasio, west coast. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.