Waiting for the Time!
Another triumphant, energetic show.
12.30.22 setlist courtesy of Phish.net.
Pity the poor phans who somehow didn’t make it to their seats before our favorite foursome took to the stage. Last night, if you dilly-dallied, you missed the band starting off with another high-octane classic: Down With Disease. I’ll freely admit that, after the Bangor behemoth, it will be hard for me to judge any future Down With Disease on its own merit, but this was an excellent rendition. By slotting it in as the opener, it was clear that the band would be carrying on with the energetic performance from the prior night, right from the opening chords, and the audience was clearly ready for the journey. This DWD was almost a perfect, textbook version of the song (excluding Trey’s minor flub at the beginning).
While this wasn’t a long version, it had some nice, playful meandering during its jam, especially between Trey and Fishman, showing off both their own individual skills as musicians and how well they - and the rest of the band as well, of course - intuitively communicate with one another. It also showed that, contrary to the opinion of many phans, bigger isn’t always better: Even in this shorter Down With Disease, they were able to take their audience on quite a musical journey. Phish has never needed the enormous real estate of a monster jam to do this, and the kick-off tune tonight nicely showed off that ability, an often under-appreciated factor of jamming.
Then they deftly transitioned into The Moma Dance, which (like Down With Disease) made its tenth appearance of the year. While that particular pairing was making its fourth appearance, it hasn’t happened since 1.0 at The Gorge, so it’s been a while. Last night, The Moma Dance didn’t stray too far, instead remaining mostly true to the original version, serving as a higher-energy transition to the ever-pretty and laidback Pebbles and Marbles that followed. That meant that the band went from two constant presences of the past year to a song that’s been relatively uncommon recently, having only been played five times in the past two years. (On one of those occasions, it appeared to be closing out the set but instead preceded Carini, an…interesting decision, but a story for another day).
It nicely set up Theme from the Bottom, also a pretty song to be sure, but one that has quite a history of improvisation. Last night that tradition continued, as Phish produced one of the longest Themes of recent years, with Trey leading the band in a new, interesting direction that especially seemed to appeal to Page. The jam that developed was steady and well-performed, gradually progressing from a lighter tone to a darker, more sci-fi feel. The song alternated between those tones for the rest of the jam, sometimes with both appearing simultaneously, but never in a way that felt jarring or discordant. Instead, it all somehow harmoniously worked together, and the darker elements gradually took primacy as they transitioned smoothly into Reba.
This Reba was an especially solid version, similar to the Down With Disease that kicked off the show, but not as inventive. While it was of a solid length, with a nice hunk of jamming (especially in the second portion), it was definitely more Type I than Type II, never getting so far from the beaten path that you were at risk of getting lost in the woods. This Reba represents a different type of short jam than Down With Disease, a compact jam that was perfectly illustrative of the song itself, but Type I rather than Type II. These two songs could have easily swapped positions, either in their placement in the show or in the type of jamming, and the overall effect of the set would have been similar.
Perhaps inspired by the slightly sci-fi jamming in Theme, they went into The Howling. Ever since its debut last Halloween, I’ve expected that this song would become a jam vehicle, but it has yet to develop in any new or interesting direction. With its short lyrics and higher energy, it would seem to be a natural for that, but it hasn’t happened yet and last night wasn’t the moment.
From there, they went straight into Foam > Run Like An Antelope to close out the first set. As the crescendo of Foam built, it mirrored the building crescendo of the set as a whole thus far, as did its quick return to the highly-composed portion of the song. It’s easy to see why Foam is so well-loved by so many: It gives each band member a chance to take the lead almost in turn, all of them sing, and while it’s highly composed and structured, it doesn’t put on the airs of classical music, unlike Divided Sky. Mike seemed to take special delight in his part yesterday evening, and it flowed very naturally into Run Like Antelope. It’s surprising, since it works so well and both songs are of a similar age, but this is only the second time Antelope has followed Foam.
Closing out the set with Run Like An Antelope was an excellent decision as well. Neither song was used as a platform for innovation that night; instead, they served to close out the set with a high energy level, leaving the crowd both exhausted and hungry for more, rather than fully satiated.
They doubled down on that promise as soon as they came back on stage. Apparently after last night’s jammy seven-song second set, Trey decided that was far too much structure in his life two days in a row: tonight’s second set has just five songs. Now, some phans - especially reared during 1.0 - might not find the second set very impressive on paper. Of those five songs, only Sand and If I Could debuted in the 20th century; the rest are all recent releases. Indeed, this set could be a test of the premise that song selection doesn’t really matter for this band once they start jamming.
The first song, No Men In No Men’s Land from 2016’s Big Boat, is perhaps the epitome of this theory. It’s one of the newer songs that has immediately supplanted many cherished classics as a vehicle for jamming, with a third of its performances landing on the jam charts. Friday’s rendition is likely to be the latest entry there, as Trey begins to take it in an interesting direction right away, quickly leaving the main melody behind. Unlike parts of the first set, this isn’t particularly dark or groovy jamming, nor does it embrace any specific genre. Instead, it’s an excellent example of lighter, rockier musical meandering that again shatters my expectation that the first song of a set won’t be particularly extensive. To my ear, it’s good proof of the theory that it indeed does not matter which particular song a jam sprang from once it’s actually on its way. I found this jam particularly appealing because, in its latter half, there are clearly moments where Page McConnell takes the lead and the rest of the band is more than willing to take a step back and let him before they start to wind it down. They then transitioned into a rousing crescendo before returning to the main melody and reminding you that they were, indeed, playing an actual song.
With the second song, Golden Age, Phish turned in a performance that, while on the longer side, wasn’t nearly as innovative as other, shorter performances of shows past. Although the song strayed slightly from itself, it was never so far away that it became forgotten. It was creative, to be sure, but even as the band played around with sound here, the main melody always lurked beneath with hints and echoes. While a thoroughly satisfying performance that is well worth the listen, it’s not going to be jockeying for a position at this song’s jam charts anytime soon, nor did it flow neatly either from the prior song or into the next.
Instead, it simply ended, and they began the familiar lyrics of Sand. Perhaps after the failure of Golden Age to develop more, they wanted to revisit comfortable (if ever-shifting) terrain. If so, it didn’t last long: It immediately became clear that Sand, as is often the case, would prove to be an inspiration for innovation, as Trey immediately moved the band out of the realm of the familiar once opportunity emerged. The jam that followed began harmoniously enough, but soon developed some dark, funky dissonance that harkened back to the Theme jam from earlier in the evening. It didn’t descend too deep too fast, though, instead rising again into a funky crescendo that gradually became louder and rockier. This produced a fascinating layer of sound, especially towards the end of the jam, as both Trey and Mike seemed to be building towards another crescendo and the finale before returning to a funkiness. They then created a slow build towards a high-energy ending that briefly got both spacey and funky before finally getting back to the song at hand.
It’s no surprise that after such an exhausting journey they’d need a break, so the appearance of the mellow If I Could was perfect here. This was the second example tonight of a rare pairing of two classic songs; it’s only the second time If I Could has followed Sand, and the first was earlier this year. They followed that break with a Page McConnell song from Big Boat, I Always Wanted It This Way, a perfectly-paired high-energy closer to the high-energy opener. Page took the opportunity to revisit the spacey theme that had been lurking just below the surface all night, bringing it more to the surface with a beautiful, slow Type II jam that both fit the song well and served as a superb capstone to the set.
This time, their break came in the form of an encore, and they returned to the stage to send off the audience with a brief, but electrifying, Chalk Dust Torture. Though a brief encore, it was the perfect ending to a great show, one that seemed to kick things up a notch from the day before. If the run started off with generally lower expectations - perhaps tempered by rumors of a long stand at MSG this summer - and a low-key night one, Phish has certainly ramped up things up since, leaving us all eager with anticipation for what might be in store for tonight.
Highlights: Down With Disease, Theme From The Bottom, No Men In No Man’s Land, I Always Wanted It This Way.
Zaniness factor: The highest yet, but still subdued.
Jamming: Melodious and meandering all evening, whether truly wandering into Type II territory or not, with satisfying hints of darkness and sci-fi throughout.
Final grade: A-.