Last night Phish wrapped up their fourth three-night stand in downtown San Francisco at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. After arguably the best show of summer tour on Monday, the band stepped up and took it deeper on Tuesday. Last night expectations were high and what went down, at least in the first set, couldn’t have been predicated by even the savviest fan. It just goes to show that one, expectations create drama. And two, there is still no live touring band today that can play as diversely, with such unique inspiration like Phish.
-Strong Set One on Tuesday: This is a good example of solid Type I playing that continued to elevate throughout the set, priming the show to get out there more in set two. It’s like this double edged sword where part of me cringes to hear a “Chalkdust” under seven minutes, and I feel the same way about how “Free” never gets weird anymore. But in this set it was more about straight ahead rock and roll playing, and the way the “Cities”> “Maze” ramped it all up. “Split” did get wonderfully weird for a minute, and there’s no denying the sheer joy of watching and listening to the band run through “Space Oddity”.
-Exploratory Improvisation on Tuesday: Would Tuesday meet or exceed the new spaces explored on Monday? I’m not sure the “Sally” was eclipse singularly, but on the whole the “Disease” was a perfect psychedelic start, and the peak in “Ghost” was transcendent. “Fuego” and “Scents” also breached into interesting Type II territory, as did “Light”. There are better “Disease” jams and “Ghost” peaks out there for sure, but the cohesive flow of almost a full hour of music through these five songs fit.
-A Fire Set Two: After 56 minutes of edgy music “No Quarter” was such an incredible way to pass off on a set two ballad and completely send the capacity crowd to the moon. “Fluffhead” was a victory lap, and when combined with the fun, fresh music explored at the start, it’s the clear set of tour.
-A Complete Show: Top to bottom, somewhat akin to what was achieved on a macro level Monday, this was a complete modern era Phish show. There really isn’t that one major jam, sequence, or moment. Instead it’s a whole show dripping in different musical genres, tempos, and grooves. I’m always hopeful to catch the next great jam at a show, but when so many epic moments are just that-moments, it’s cool to get shows that stand up from start to finish.
-A Set One for the Ages on Wednesday: If anyone complains about this set clearly you missed the “I Have No Complaints” crew at the run. If you’re a noob you just heard songs in a live setting that took some of us hundreds of shows to see. If you’re a vet you were raised on the vast majority of this set. It was a memorable set of Phish rarities, and while the trick with Phish is that the song itself doesn’t matter-it’s how it’s played, there’s no denying the fun factor from set one last night was through the roof. A “Demand” opener, “Curtain With”, “Walkaway”, and to end it with an interesting “Bowie” was top-notch. The “Monica” would’ve been beyond random had it not been dedicated to producer of the band’s new album, Bob Ezrin. And “The Very Long Fuse” as random as it is was placed perfectly in a set like that.
-“Weekapaug Groove”: Set two from Wednesday was nowhere near what went down the previous evenings in San Francisco. That said, there was still some solid music played and the more experimentation in “Mike’s” and “Paug” we get in the future, the better. We got a mini taste of both at the Gorge, and we know “Paug” can get out there not just from old shows, but from as recently as Miami.
-The diversity of the band: Two complete shows. Some bluegrass, funk, rock, exploration, and acapella. Two standout sets of jams. The biggest bust out set since? It was a great overall run, layered in musical diversity, and largely full of flow. Fierce playing punctuated all three of these shows compounding to the best Bill Graham run yet.
My current feeling is I wish I could make the So Cal shows. The Gorge is the best-good times and good shows were had, and the Bill Graham rocked. Lowlights from the run are pretty much a final set that failed to achieve any liftoff. Nothing really exploratory went down, patience was absent, but to be honest it wasn’t bad. When is Phish actually bad? If you don’t like what you’ve heard the past few shows maybe you’re either over Phish or the music isn’t for you. Jams come when the time/place is right. Look back at some of the most hallowed, complete shows in the band’s history. I’ve heard some people calling this summer the worst tour in a while, and to that I respect people’s opinions, but at the same time sincerely wonder why anyone would give the music, scene or anything else related to Phish an ounce of energy if that was the case?
What continues to blown me away is just how much the band can keep firing after so many years. And of course the other people who go to shows and are genuinely stoked for the experience. Listen to the diversity in the playing over this past run. Solid Type I composition and jamming, compelling improvisation on Monday and Tuesday night-not necessarily deep sending, but super interesting, fun, new musical spaces that were explored, and an old school inspired set for the ages. Besides the fact that nothing compares to seeing Phish in a live setting, some great music was played over the past three nights and the L.A. and Chula show goers are fired up. The band is fired up. While I do still listen to some of my favorite shows from 1.0 as regularly as ever, trying to compare a set from December 95’ to July 16’ is silly. Silliness is what we do as phans, but what’s happening in the now is a gift. If you can’t see, hear, or feel that I’m sure there’s something else more worth your time. For the rest of the crowd, I’ll see you at Dick’s!
Photos by Brennan Lagasse from Monday