Review: Phish’s Phenway Phenomenology

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In terms of the scene in and around Fenway, the place was festive, not all that unlike a Red Sox game, with lots of the trademark impromptu cheers and a noticeable uptick of random high-fiving as folks roamed the strip of nearby bars and licensed concessions. The bar scene was mobbed and the streets were pretty much body to body as far as they eye could see. Thus, the pre-show festivities were definitely hectic. Vending by fans was all but nonexistent. Tickets were actually floating around with last minute sales going for well below face as low as $20.

Inside the venue was another story. The rig looked cool and the backdrop of the green monster and it felt great walking into that stadium knowing we were all about to notch a lifelong memory. One widely held concern about the stadium was the seat space. Can you dance in such a narrow row? See, many ballparks really squeeze those seats together extremely tight (i.e., Citi Field), yet Fenway rows offer more than enough room to comfortably shake a tail feather and squeeze in an extra friend or two if need be.

As for the setup, the band and their gear were set up in centerfield, facing home plate with the closest seats being portable chairs laid in rows across the outfield with a tarp covering the grass. Nobody sat on the infield as they blocked this area off with a chain link fence. Also, nobody sat in the grandstand in the outfield or up on top of the monster as these seats really offered no view. All in all, it didn’t really seem like any of the seats were all that bad, although the view and sound from the upper deck may have been pretty poor. The only common complaint was that for folks in the stadium seats a little further from the stage, the sound was plain bad in most spots. All in all, everybody knows Fenway is a great place to see a ballgame, but after this Sunday’s Phish show, we now know it is fun music venue for nostalgic purposes, but that’s about it. I’d guess the total capacity crowd was in the neighborhood of maybe 25,000.

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The first set kicked off the tour in a rather uncanny fashion. First, a blue sky abruptly morphed into a dark gray tarp of cloud cover and let out a pour around 6:30, exactly the time the band was set to begin (early show time due to Fenway’s curfew). In the midst of the chaos from the rain and shuffling bodies, Phish came out on the field and performed their a capella version of the Star Spangled Banner, which despite being pretty widely anticipated, kicked things off with everyone feeling the whimsy. The band took a more clever approach to the anthem as they sung with some unique colorful vocal chords, some of which worked, while some sounded off key at times.

From there, the set was a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The set included a lot of the hits, running through renditions of Sample in a Jar, Bouncing Around the Room, Wading in the Velvet Sea, which love them or hate them, do not do much for the excitement level. The new song Ocelot left faces staring blankly at one another, asking what song we were hearing. Ocelot plays very much like a Dead tune (think a slightly up-tempo Row Jimmy or Tennessee Jed) with slow meandering playing and familiar song structure. Fun tune.

Mixed in between some of the relative duds though, were real gems and a huge bust out. A daytime Moma Dance gave the fans their first opportunity to shake loose. A big part of why seeing Phish is so fun right now is simply hearing the songs you haven’t heard in such a long time and rocking out and singing along. Poor Heart served that very purpose and also reminded us why everyone couldn’t get enough Page at the Hampton shows, as he really got the crowd country-rockin’. Limb By Limb delivered its always solid pleasant jam. Under any semblance of normal conditions, Down With Disease would have taken the title as the set’s best song, as the band went for the straight-forward raging rock approach, more characteristic of a ‘93 or ‘94 as opposed to the darker eerie DWDs from latter era Phish.

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Next, the band took heed from the song’s proclamation of the coming travels of, “We gotta get on the road. Destiny unbound.” The band played one of the all-time rare tunes, Destiny Unbound. Lots of fans thought this song might open the show at Hampton, but in reality it makes more sense in Boston, because the Boston show is the start of an actual tour. The “we gotta get on the road” line held a special meaning on this night.

After a first set played almost entirely in broad daylight, the sun finally went down for set two and everybody knew they would come out with guns blazing. Sure enough, the house lights went down and Phish pulled out another highly anticipated Fenway song, Tweezer. Given the video of the Red Sox house organist playing Tweezer Reprise to announce the show. Phish laid on the funk and got the dance party started. From there, they introduced another new original called Light, a song Trey debuted at the Williamsburg Music Hall with Classic TAB, which we’ll tag for now with the “potential” label.

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From there, we got three long opuses in the form of Bathtub Gin, David Bowie and Time Turns Elastic. The Bathtub Gin jam stayed pretty close to home, not straying too far from the original theme, but they did stretch it out and got creative with the improv. David Bowie cranked up the energy inside the ballpark as Trey delivered one melodic lick after another in quick succession. Again, they kept it pretty close the vest, meaning this one didn’t not stretch into outer space too far, but just maneuvered a very fluid, hard rocking Bowie with no funny business. Fans of melodic Bowies will love this one.

Time Turns Elastic, in its first time played with Phish, sounded pretty much the same as the studio single with the addition of a solid hard-charging dark jam in the final three minutes. I appreciate the complexity of the changes of this song and really enjoy the introduction, but it feels like something is missing. Hopefully, Phish will take this to new places as the tour progresses. At the close of the song, Trey quipped while giggling, “That’s our single!”

A solid Free led to maybe the biggest surprise of the night, the first Ballad of Curtis Loew in 621 shows and 16 years, a classic Lynyrd Skynyrd cover, since 1993. It’s funny as this song has really started coming up in conversation a lot lately, including Scotty B’s article a couple weeks ago which we obviously assume is the reason they played it 😉

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Like the Destiny Unbound bust out, the crowd reception for the Curtis Loew was rather poor. If I had to guess, I would say maybe 25% of the fans in attendance were even remotely aware of the significance of these two songs. In fact, these two songs probably got some of the worst cheers of the night. Meanwhile, you would’ve thought Character Zero was the band’s most popular song from the number of fists pumping throughout that tune.

Now, the bust outs at Fenway were special and made for a memorable show for sure, but if you want to hear a nice Phish jam since the break up, listen to the You Enjoy Myself. Pre- or Post- anything, it doesn’t matter, this is a fun YEM. Mike Gordon stole the show in the midst of just a monster (possibly green) funk jam when he brought our his Meatball tone that sounds practically like a bear growl. When Mike switched to this deep roar, everybody stopped and let Mike lay down a Yawkey Way rattling bass solo with the crowd clapping keeping the funky beat down. The crowds at Fenway always cheer a little harder for Boston-area natives and Mike Gordon received quite the reception when he was done with his solo.

With the curfew rapidly approaching, the encore felt a bit rushed, but Phish still managed to surprise us with a three song encore, including a trio of high energy rock songs to send the crowd off on a high note. Cavern rocked as per the norm, but Good Times, Bad Time provided the real highlight of the three finale tunes with Trey cutting up his Jimmy Page licks. Tweezer Reprise got a little sloppy and clocked in at only three and a half minutes before the stadium lights came on informing everyone that the show was over, but still provided a fitting cap on the historical Fenway show, one that will likely be remembered for the quirky location, if not for the music.

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44 Responses

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  4. Are you serious about Fenway being a great music venue? The sound sucked. The space is too irregular to fill with sound. The restrictions from the neighborhood/city were the reason it wasn’t louder. And the wind kept the sound fluctuating throughout the whole show. I was in Section 4, way out in right field. Because of the wind and the fact that they couldn’t increase the sound, it was horribly muted. It didn’t take away from our enjoyment, but Fenway is a horrible music venue. Even Gilette Stadium, because of its shape, is a much better venue. And it holds more people for concerts (over 50,000).

    Also, the show was sold out. The stadium should have held over 40,000. I’d put the crowd closer to 45-47,000 (there were more people on the field than there were empty seats in the stands).

    It was a great show. The vibe was awesome. The band was awesome. But don’t kid yourself. The place sucked for a music venue.

  5. Jim,

    I really thought despite the sound being spotty (and it sounds like it frankly was jus bad in your seats), that it is a great place to see music. The views were good and the nostalgia on being at Fenway far outweigh. Seeing a show at Gilette Stadium versus Fenway really would not hold the same weight in terms of a special place to play.

  6. ..yep, it’s the worst sound i ve ever experienced in my 18yrs with the phish..but the free kicked some serious jive

  7. really depends on where you sat. i had right field just a few sections from the field, facing the stage dead on, and the sound was fantastic. Great show, and I think Ocelot is a great song.

  8. Couldnt agree more…although the venue was cool, the sound was awful. Too akward a shape to fill the stadium with a full sound. Still a good show and glad the boys are back…Trey seems to be even sharper than he was at Hampton. Pumped for all the Jones shows and Camden.

  9. Sound sucked where I sat… the other bummer is that the sound isn’t that great on the LivePhish download I bought last night either… nevertheless…

    IT ROCKED!!!

  10. We were behind home plate and the net and the sound sucked badly for the first half; I don’t think it was the choice of venue, I think it was the preparation of the Fenway folks. Once they turned up the volume on those speakers (Sample was just awful) things started rolling.

    And agreed on Curtis Loew — anyone who doesn’t understand the awesomeness of that song can jump off a giant wall covered in ivy.

  11. I am from the Boston area and so many people love Fenway park for it’s history and it’s Boston, but lets face it, the sound was horrible, it’s a bad venue for shows, it’s too old, small seats, narrow walk ways, I hope Phish does not make that mistake again. I am just starting to get feeling back in my legs, they were up around my neck whenever I tried to sit down. Please don’t put us through that again!

  12. What a terribly written review. You clearly need to go back to grammar school buddy. Referencing your own terrible puns and rambling on about music that your are not that well informed of does not equal a good review. Far too many adjectives to enjoy. TRY AGAIN

  13. There’s always something to complain about. Phish plays Destiny and Curtis Lowe and all you people do is whine about the seats. Why were you sitting in the first place?

  14. nicely written article. great show. epic night. anyone else continue the party w/ the breakfast at harper’s ferry? monstrous. that’s a band that has mastered the art of improv. they play as if they are under one single mind.

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  16. Agreed on the sound, it was pretty bad. I was down on the first base line for the first set and it was pretty bad. When I moved to my actual seats in the right field stands for the second set, predictably it got even worse.

    Also didn’t love the first set, very choppy and disjointed, although the second set was pretty tight and well played. Just an average show in my mind that was made a little worse because of the bad sound. definitely not EPIC as the review says.

    But to be honest, it was great to see the band again and I have high hopes for the rest of the tour.

  17. Does anyone need Knoxville 6/10 Ph tickets? Southeastern rock band, Moon Taxi is giving away 2 free tickets if you sign up for their email list or twitter! Jump on it while it lasts! (Offer ends 6/8)

  18. Great piece. I picked up on the Destiny Unbound instantly because it is one of my favorites and my buddy always brings up how he saw the last Destiny they played. He was with me at Fenway and now has seen the only two in this millennium!!
    YEM rocked, def. best of the night, tight with some wicked Air Gordan Bass. I have to admit that I was feeling the Character Zero, not sure why. Second set rocked and they closed out with a respectable encore. THEY NAILED THE YEM.YEAHHH

  19. btw…sound not so hot as stated by others. I drifted around to three spots Pav. box, field box, and grandstand sec.10.
    Three was a charm and the grandstand sec. was finally good the rest were awful.

  20. What an aweful review. You sound like you have little a clue when it comes to Phish AND journalism. Seriously, that whole 3 paragraph intro where you attempt to make a half ass analogy about Phish and chocolate made little sense. You soundlike a PT fool. That YEM was far from Phish at their finest and to call that Sample “solid” speaks volumes of your cluelessness. I’ll stop there.

  21. The only place the sound was not horrible was ACTUALLY where you said you thought it would be the worst, at the top of right field. The view and the sound were amazing, plus, there was a bar up there with budweiser and bud light 😀

    Overall, it was a fantastic show and I can’t wait for this weekend to do it again!

  22. This is the worst article I’ve ever read about Phish. What the f*!k is this guy talking about. He needs to tone down the use of the thesaurus button on his spell check.

  23. wow. some of you guys are harsh….its just an article–a little long–but a good and honest one at that from a long-time fan. Ya’ll need to chill the f—- out.

  24. Tour Rats, what a bunch of wookies all these complainers are. Seriously, half of you saw your first show in 2003. Get over yourself – we get it you didn’t like Fenway. Personally, I enjoyed the whole experience of just Phish again. Were they flawless? No. Was the venue amazing? No. However, it was just cool being there. Plus, yes they did drop some pretty good music at times as well.

    Seriously, so a long time fan who wrote the article can’t have an opinion? you don’t like the show, you don’t like the review, then why bother wasting anymore time venting about it?

  25. I agree with you Sean. I am sick of all of the complaining all the time people need to understand that it is not 1995 anymore and things have changed if people don’t like it they should find something new to do. Please! More tickets for people who truly love the music and the experience! The whole experience was awesome!

  26. Agreed, all you people who cannot get over the fact it’s not ’97, quit taking up tickets from fans who just enjoy seeing the boys enjoying themselves doing what they love to do. I’ve been going since ’95, are they vintage Clifford Ball? Of course not. But they still put out quality music that trumps any other contemporary band that I know of. Bowie was tight and rocking, Free was crisp and a perfect length…Poor Heart was fun and of course the Curtis Loew and Destiny were terrific surprises. And of course, it was a nostlagic venue with some pretty serendipitous twists (cloud clearing, rainbow). Shut the F up if all you’re going to do is complain.

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