Wednesday marked the ninth time Phish has played a sold out show in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Much to the delight of fans, the band offered three well-played shows over the course of the past few days. Each show showcased diverse moments of brilliance that outshined any lowlights over the course of the run. Last night seemed to be about on par with Tuesday’s offering in terms of a top tier show for the fall 2014 tour, but just as the case with any Phish show, no two shows are alike, and the only way to really absorb the experience of this band is to see them live. That’s always been and will hopefully always be the greatest allure of Phish. You never really know what you’re going to get, you just have to go and find out for yourself.
- If you’re a baseball fan you know what other major event was taking place last night. The venue was oddly not packed at the start of the night as so many local fans were rooting on the San Francisco Giants to win Game 7 of the World Series. The show started during the eighth inning, and everyone at the show knew when the Giants won as the energy of the building went through the roof. Spontaneously, fans started going nuts during “The Moma Dance” as it was clear that the Giants had indeed won. Phish took notice-as if they couldn’t tell what was going on-and proceeded to drop a quick “We are the Champions” riff in the middle of “Moma”. It really doesn’t matter if you care about baseball or not, the moment was special, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was shaking, and when Phish finished the short tease and dropped back into “Moma”, the impending groove was incredible.
- As mentioned earlier in the week, what Phish chooses to open a given set with, whether it be the first or second offering, is an important choice. After a tight, energy driven first set, “First Tube” was a great selection to kick off the second set. The high energy number often accentuates a show in the encore slot, and with the intensity in the building already at a special level due to the World Series happenings, Phish was able to facilitate a party feeling right from the start of the set by choosing to lay down a blistering “First Tube” to start off their sixth set of the week in San Francisco.
- As far as improvisation goes, last night had three standout offerings. “Down with Disease” was one of them. Left unfinished just like the last few live versions of the song that’s been played, this “Disease” was much different than the recent notable version offered at the L.A. Forum. It was darker, perhaps pointing to the intense, truly dark jam that would be coming later in the set, and although the exploratory playing was a definite highlight of the night, just when it seemed nuanced territory was being pushed, the jam morphed into a quick, flowing rendition of “Theme from the Bottom”.
- If you’re looking for the most unique music from night three of this run check out the “Light” and the “Split Open and Melt”. This “Melt” went deep, got dark, and was a complete mind melter anchoring the second set. The band took chances here, they got weird in a good way, and it showed. It almost felt like Phish was signaling some ghoulish, Halloween type energy here. It really was that evil, and the improvisational as well as the versed, standard sections of the song were really that interesting too. Worth another listen today for sure, just make sure you’re not looking for light, bubbly type Phish music. If you are, perhaps the next highlight will do you better.
- “Light” was a clear highpoint from last night and the run as a whole. Although this modern day Phish springboard for deep improvisation did not breath as long or play out as much as many might have liked, the playing throughout “Light” was edgy, engaging, and offered a nice juxtaposition from the darkness started in “Disease,” and completely obliterated in “Split”. It’s worth a listen back today if you’re interested in hearing the highlights from night three, although you might just want to spin the whole second set as one listen if you really want to get the best of the best from last night.
Overall, this will go down as another celebrated run of Phish shows at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Critiques on the whole will be offered in the lowlights, but in terms of the highs, Phish upped their game for the fall 2014 tour in San Francisco and that’s as much as what’s needed in the now as all interest points to the final three shows in Las Vegas set to take place over the Halloween weekend. Coming into San Francisco, questions of improvisation littered the Phish community, and while there unfortunately is still not that one monster jam that identifies the tour as a whole, every night in San Francisco had some interesting jams, quality playing, and worthy music from Phish. Set two had a flow to it last night, unique playing in “Possum” and “Wolfman’s Brother” added to the highlight reel, and while a few jams could’ve been stretched out, and once again a few song selections might have been questionable at times (yes “Heavy Things” was somewhat atypical, but if you take that out and insert_____?), the ultimate take-home is this was a fun run of shows in the Bay Area, and the opportunity for redemption in Vegas after a more than ten year hiatus is enormous.
- A three-song encore that just didn’t really have much punch to it. It’s always nice to get a multi song encore, but why not just jam out the funk section of “Contact” when you know the groove is so tasty and the song doesn’t get played all that often? Many fans were disappointed with what could’ve been done in this slot with almost thirty minutes remaining before curfew. While three songs are indeed a treat, by and large this crowd is looking for more uniqueness than contained, standard version of rock and roll songs, especially to cap off a sold out, three show stand.
- As special as the “We are the Champions” moment in the middle of “Moma” was last night, including the stage banter from Trey and Page about the Mets baseball team and all, the band really had the opportunity to go above and beyond here. The show was great, one of the best from this fall 2014 tour, no question. However, as solid as the show was it never really reached a level that many would argue is needed at this stage in the tour. There was no “moment” that lays the mark down in absolute terms from last night, this run, or honestly the tour in general at this point. The playing has gotten tighter, more jams have come forth, but Vegas will have to be the decider on ultimately how this tour will be remembered.
- Building from number two above, in terms of a show and/or jams, this tour as a whole has just not had the “ah-ha” moment. There have been highlights since night one in Eugene, and in terms of solid playing it’s tough to say any back-to-back shows from this tour have been as strong as what just went down in San Francisco. But in thinking back to last fall and the jams that stood out on a nightly basis, or even a couple of years back when Phish dropped one of their best moments of the 3.0 era in the second set at the Bill Graham Auditorium (8/19/2012), that just has not happened during this current fall tour. This has all been wonderful, but now it’s time for Phish to confront demons of the past in Las Vegas, and hopefully, over the course of the three last shows of the tour, make it all come around full circle.