September 4: Phish Keeps the Hits Coming at Dick's
With two shows of very solid playing in the bag, we come to the end of the Colorado run. The guys are firing on all cylinders from the beginning, though they get tripped up a little in the second half of the first set - they're obviously going for it, but can't seem to get there. This uneasiness continues through the beginning of the second set, but by the time they get to "Piper," things have begun to gel again and the rest of the show is solid. Though it doesn't get into otherworldly territory, I thought the combo of "Ghost" and "Guy Forget" was a lot of fun to hear.
With three shows under my 24-bit belt, I can definitely say that the FLAC HD downloads from Live Phish are a noticeable step up from the normal FLACs. The sound feels much more open and there's less effort involved in trying to hear which band member is doing what. The instrumental voicings come through with more complexity: there's more dimension to Page's keyboards; Mike's growling bass tone has more gritty throat to it; Fishman's cymbals and drums assert themselves with more individuality; and it's easier to hear each individual string on Trey's guitar.
Hopefully there will be a FLAC HD download for the benefit show. If so, I'll be back with a rundown for that one. In the meantime, read on for some, well, overly detailed listening notes for each song.
Maze Up from the dull wash of the crowd comes the familiar tock tock tock and we know we're in the "Maze." Maybe they had a very productive soundcheck, maybe it's night three, but they're pretty well locked in from the get-go. Trey does some wacky wailing, but otherwise this is a pretty rendition, though they manage to lose each other at the end.
Back on the Train There's good interaction between Trey and Page to forma a solid groove. Mike wakes up a little in the last third of the song. Trey doesn't go to awkward territory as he did in "Maze". Overall, it's well executed.
Rift Keeping the energy alive. This is Page's night so far. He totally rages his solo - so much so that Trey seems a little lost when he comes back in. Fishman deserves some credit too. He's wailing away back there through the entire song.
Bathtub Gin More Page rage up front here, and if you pay attention to him, he keeps it funky through the verses too. By the 5 minute mark, this is sounding so good that if they don't take this someplace special I'm going to hold a grudge. Ten minutes later, I've decided I won't hold a grudge, though I am still a tad bummed that they've stuck firmly in Type I jamming mode. That shouldn't be surprising since it's still the first set, and I should say that that was some fierce playing, but the hardcore exploratory crowd will call foul on this one (though the rest of us will just enjoy it).
The Way it Goes A new cover written by Gillian Welch! Given that Mike has been known to cover her "Time (The Revelator)" in his solo gigs, this shouldn't be much of a surprise. Still, very nice to see them doing such a great job on this. Sure, the vocals get a bit screachy once or twice, but other than that, this is a cover that I'd love to see played in person some time. It'd probably make an awesome cool-off song between some drawn out jams in second set.
Halfway to the Moon More love for Page. I'll be the first to admit that there is a certain homogeneity to Page's songs and this one is no exception. That said, it's a wonderful follow up to the Welch tune and they've been doing a good job of this one the last couple of years. They don't stray from the main theme of the song, but that's nothing to complain about here.
Gumbo This one is always welcome, if only for Mike's bass bombs about halfway through. This is a well-played version by all - as almost everything has been this Colorado run - and ends with a very cute Page solo. Page might just be the MVP of this run of shows, if not this year in general.
Halley's Comet I've always been a fan of this song, long before it became the mega-jam vehicle it did in the late '90's. That might be why I don't get too uppity when they don't jam it out now. Really, how can you not love a song that features the line "I love meatballs, so you better get ready," especially when it's being sung to a predominantly vegetarian crowd. This is a solid version almost all the way through, but falls apart rather roughly at the end and gets diverted into. . .
Tube Another tune that formerly got the huge jam treatment, and I really wish they'd start exploring this again. They supply a precious few minutes of exactly why they should here, but for some reason, they can't keep things rolling. The transition into the bluesy portion at the end was impressively seamless, as it should be. The first set could have become legendary if they would've seen fit to start up the jam at the end of this, but instead they roll into. . .
Timber Ho Another classic, following the Phish 3.0 greatest-hits-first-set formula. After the first verse, they do let loose a bit on this one, so that's nice. It's almost as though they like to weave bits and pieces of jams through the first set's songs (and some would argue the second set's songs too) these days. The frustrating part for some fans is that they'd rather hear those jam portions strung together without stopping instead; not every night, necessarily, but at least a handful of times a year. All in all, this is a version of "Timber" that you should listen to at least once I'd say.
Roses are Free Another cover - Ween this time. Yet again, this is a song that they've been known to jam on for a half hour at a time, but given that it's so late in the first set, even the crowd in attendance must've known that wouldn't happen this time. In fact, this version is a tiny bit sloppy in places. No big flubs, but not quite as tight as the rest of the set has been, aside from the end of "Halley's."
Chalkdust Torture Not a bad choice for a first-set closer. Felt like there was a Santana tease in there, but I couldn't place it. They keep up the pace nicely here, but Trey's solo veers off into a strange place, kind of falls behind the rest of the band, and they never quite recover after that. The ending is loose to say the least, and they decide to just turn it somewhat evil with a growling, howling final note. Given how strongly the set started, I can excuse how it fell apart some as it progressed.