Review: Phish in Hartford, Night One

A playful Divided Sky served as the center of the set. It wasn’t spotless, but it had an extra long pause that ended with Trey all smiles, nodding at the waves of cheers and chants, and some cool half-mirroring interplay between Trey and Page late in the song. So much of discussion (if we can call the gushing of opinions on the internet a discussion) in the early days of the tour has focused on whether Trey is playing too precisely on the compositions and not wailing enough, although there is that whole contingent who feel like he’s “whaling” too much. But in reality it’s a balance of these things: he seems to be playing nice and clean most of the time, keeping the songs at the forefront being the core strength of Phish 3.0, and thus far this summer anyway, appreciating the rest of the band, interacting with intention and leaving room for the whole group to make the sound. And of course he’s tearing it up lightning fast from time to time too.

The set ended with goofier material, Mike’s Sugar Shack and Trey’s Alaska, although the latter tune moved beyond its borders with an improv that started out echoing the earlier Ocelot and then bubbled into a big, fun summer jam. Picking up on that same energy, the band returned after set break for an organ-drenched, grooving Party Time, but shifted gears for the meat of the night: Down With Disease > Sand.

DWD, along with Ghost, gets the prize for consistently carrying the music to the most interesting and engaging places in the last year, and this one held true to form. The song itself was a charge at full blast, with different colored strobe lights on stage now, now in the audience. Fishman was again at the forefront, tearing out a powerhouse barrage, and moments later when Trey and Kuroda wrenched the song sideways, the drummer and a Clav toting Page drove off in a new direction entirely to set up a fast, frantic, noodly jam that pounced on the one over and over. A still bigger percussive explosion capped off the section, and the music that made gestures at melting into second set spaciness instead groaned into Sand, catching the crowd off guard. Mike found plenty of room to tease and toy as he drove the dense dance, his band mates slowly building up the canyon walls from below. Eventually Trey started to yell out in the night, casting about but not trying to carry the song, and instead of reaching for an apex, strummed the intro to Horse, creating an awkward mash up segue.

The following Guyute also seemed weirdly disjointed, lacking in smoothness at the changes, but the band regained its footing with an especially beautiful Farmhouse. The song opened to a quiet, natural jam that just eased out effortlessly to make something nothing short of gorgeous. The newly forged late second set ballad spot (SITM, Waste, Velvet Sea, Joy, and now Farmhouse) is a welcome addition to the map of an evening, and especially when it’s followed by a dark, red Mike’s Song, the band plowing through at full force, and then floating effortlessly into I Am Hydrogen. The Weekapaug Groove was similar to the Stash from the first set in that it was essentially one idea taking its time to take shape. Trey kept the music grounded, tweaking with the edges and working out lines before launching into a blazing flight that scorched the stage.

Certainly the Walk Away, Stash, Alaska, and DWD > Sand all count as highlights to greater or lesser degrees, but the last twenty five minutes of the show seemed particularly potent to me, hitting all the right notes and looking in from all the right angles, a really excellent introduction to what the rest of the weekend will likely hold. And as if to accentuate the point, Phish returned to the stage for my new favorite encore choice, Shine a Light, sending the crowd out with a blissful wish in its collective mind. So glad that’s the tune that’s stuck around from Halloween.

06/17/2010 The Comcast Theatre

Set 1: Punch You In the Eye, Ocelot, Dinner and a Movie, Stash, Esther, Walk Away, The Divided Sky, When the Circus Comes, Sugar Shack, Alaska > Golgi Apparatus

Set 2: Party Time > Down with Disease -> Sand -> The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Guyute, Farmhouse, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove

Encore: Shine a Light

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