Posted in Live Shows

Review of Phish 3.0 – Summer 2009

Ah yes, the ever loving Phish heads and their plans to take over the music world by convincing every living soul that Phish is the gateway to complete and total consciousness. I will admit, when I was 16 and saw my first Phish show at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1996 I was set on adopting this mission. But as someone who has grown both musically and professionally, I’ve come to realize that Phish is just one of many bands that elicit these feelings of joy.

Unfortunately for many, this realization has yet to set in. But I digress and will confidently say Phish is one heck of a good time when they’re on their game. The fist pumping, funk shaking, groove making sounds can fill an arena of 30,000 quite nicely and it would be hard for any music critic to not get swept up in the energy that ensues.

As an old Phish head who after these past two shows in August (Hartford and Saratoga) has seen 52 shows, I have a strong platform to provide a quick look at their sound and where it stands today compared to years past.

What appears to have changed the most for me is the identity of the show. From what I’ve heard and experienced the focus has turned to the identity of the song. Whether this is on purpose or not, clearly the shows themselves don’t seem to be all that different accept for a few surprises here and there. I had a couple of friends who went from Darien, NY then to Hartford, CT and finally Saratoga Springs. For them, the song selections and line up was very similar to Darien (except the wild and wacky Harpua at the end). I’ve heard this same argument from other individuals who went to more then two shows back to back. If you want to go to a show where you hear the same music over and over again you’d go to one of those “indie” shows we hear so much about (disclaimer: I go to lots of indie shows). But of course, this isn’t the reason you trek out to see Phish. You go to be privy to a unique experience.

Phish - Comcast Theatre, Hartford, CT - 8-14-09 - Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2009

Mention the word “bomb factory” to an old Phish head and they’ll know exactly what you mean (Download from livephish.com). Today this identity appears to be unhinged. It could be that the band is just getting their kinks figured out and eventually the crazy flows will return to their original form.

Some people may love the first set monsters they’ve been pumping out this tour. I for one would have been satisfied if they stopped with “David Bowie” at Saratoga but instead they kept it going with “Cavern,” “Possum”, “Ocelot” (new song) and finally “Antelope”. To me, this is over doing it. Perhaps they are trying to avoid the fans from complaining about the lack of classic tunes being played. Maybe they’re not worried about the flow any more. Maybe they just want to play what they want when they want. I personally don’t believe this to be true. For one, Trey Anastasio is way too anal of a person to let something like the flow of a show go without a thought. In the end, the identity issue is more then how tight they perform each song but about how connected they become to each show.

Saying my piece on what I miss, I will say that when it comes to playing their classics, they’ve done their homework. One song that stands out as the all encompassing come back song has to be “Stash”. From the first one I heard at Fenway, to the amazing 20 minute long excursion they busted out at Red Rocks to the straight up tension building killer at Hartford, their ability to transcend the original components of this song to their peak capacity is enough to keep me coming back for more. If it helps to add to this songs cred, in 1998 it came in at 73 in Guitar World Magazines Readers’ choice for greatest solo of all-time.

Does this mean I’ll travel 1,000 of miles to see them in Indio, California for their Halloween throwdown? Probably not. If I haven’t made the trip out there for Coachella yet I doubt I’ll make an exception for ganga goo balls.

As for my compadres out in the music blog world that look upon Phish with a smirk and a smile, keep in mind that this isn’t about the amazing studio and production outputs by Phish. It’s not about how well they translate from studio to stage (in fact, it’s quite the opposite). The Phish thing is more about letting go and getting caught up in a moment. But like with any band, it’s not going to groove with everyone.

If you’re going to give Phish a shot next time they’re around, go out of your way to get as close to the stage as possible, get the VIP treatment, stay out of the way of the bouncing hippies and focus on the rock jams in front of you. Barring any major disasters, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the show.

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