Phish | 08.11 | Chicago

Words by: Cal Roach | Images by: Chad Smith

Phish :: 08.11.09 :: Toyota Park :: Bridgeview, IL

Phish :: 08.11.09 :: Bridgeview, IL
Ah, predicting of the opener, a time honored tradition that I have always sucked at. Conventional wisdom would deem Toyota Park, the lone Midwestern stop on the second summer leg, a potential sleeper show, which just means that as usual, anything at all might happen. We hadn't seen "Kill Devil Falls" open in a while, so I suppose we were about due, and this set the tone for a show that would see all the usual 3.0 suspects rolled out. By now, Phish is entrenched in "KDF." It's little more than a middle-aged "Chalk Dust Torture" update, but it has already shown itself to have potential, though tonight's version was pretty standard, tight with a couple of nice little peaks.

You could smell the "Ocelot" coming already. Both of these tunes took their eighth at-bat of the year, and while "KDF" has had a couple of monstrous outings already, I'm beginning to lose faith in "Ocelot." It features a very indistinct, vaguely Deadheaded guitar riff and doesn't seem to be able to break free of that lackadaisical stroll. I'm sure it will probably blast into space one of these nights, but there are far more interesting launch pads in the repertoire.

Phish got "Sample In A Jar" out of the way sort of oddly in the number two slot, then busted out "Paul and Silas" after "Ocelot" for some guy Trey had met walking down the street. And then, the debut of "Windy City," a new Page tune. It was about what you'd expect from a new Page tune - kind of bluesy, a little adventurous with the time signatures, well-sung and with a perfunctory Trey wail in the end. Nothing mind-blowing, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear a Chicago tribute coming from Phish.

Trey Anastasio :: 08.11.09
If this brand new song was exciting for its novelty alone, "The Curtain With" was exciting in every possible way. The song took on an untouchable reverence after its sacrificial slaughter at Coventry, and having missed the Red Rocks breakout (read the review here), this one hit me like a ton of cement blocks. It's such a gorgeous composition in itself, and it is so nice to be able to hear the "With" portion in all its aching beauty without cringing. The jam was "Reba"-esque, concise but triumphant, maybe even defiant, taken back from disgrace.

After a quick "Train Song" that felt right in its placement, we were treated to a near-epic "Gumbo" dropped for the second time since Hampton. This one was textbook, but in a good way. Post-hiatus versions generally felt tossed-off, and while this was no barnburner, the short jam was melodic and smooth and Page's solo was comfort food. "Heavy Things" perpetuated the upbeat, spirited playing, Trey naturally taking the reins this time and turning in some top-notch licks that any spoiled tourhead knows he could pull off in his sleep.

I know there are a lot of "Time Turns Elastic" haters out there, but I'm a firm believer in this end-of-set-one placement for the song. Those who don't dig it can get to the bathrooms early, but I am still excited to watch it mature. I think it would really benefit from a high-octane guest vocalist (sort of a requirement for most prog-rock of this caliber) to be brought out as a rarity, but for now they have to keep powering through it or it'll never find its feet. I thought it scorched to close set one at Alpine earlier in the summer (read the review here), and tonight's closing improv was the most adventurous we've seen - sort of scattered and hectic, foreshadowing the madness to come, and explosive in the end.

Before this show, I didn't see a lot of potential for "Backwards Down The Number Line" as much more than a first-set "Heavy Things" surrogate, but it proved me wrong. After the song proper, Trey and Mike instantly grabbed a sustainable groove and took it into stratospheric rock territory, eventually backing off into low-key skronk that cranked quickly back into high gear, finally dipping into some mad Atari funk. And before it had any chance to peter out, Trey ripped into THE breakout of the show: "Carini."

Trey & Mike :: 08.11.09
Sometimes you have an experience dreamed out in your head to its maximum choiceness, then you forget about it for a while, and then it actually happens and it's better than you'd even conceived of. Phish has done that for me more than any other group, and that might be the crux of why I love this band so much. I never expected Mike to be just busting bomb after bomb, the glorious screech of the final chorus, and then Trey just incinerated it in one of the most frightening displays I've heard from him this year.

There's no denying that "Gotta Jibboo" was a shift in character, from evil to pure joy, but as far as an individual jam it was hard to say whether Trey or Page was more glorious. However, it was such a thrill just to be wondering such things again. "Theme From The Bottom" could have been better. While Page was busy killing it, Trey completely dropped the ball in the end, and he was pretty unimaginative throughout the jam. Their trip to the dark side continued with a ferocious "Wilson." I could get used to hearing this deep into the second set. It was no paint-by-numbers version, too. They've barely jammed it out at all this year, and this one got heavy fast and just oozed electricity. I guess they can still have fun with it.

Then, the cult of "2001" got its collective wish. It's always a joy to hear, but it definitely has lost its luster since its heyday in the mid-to-late-90s. Then came the amazing version from Deer Creek earlier in the year (read the review here), and suddenly this one was a journey and a destination all over again. This reading didn't approach the ecstasy of Deer Creek or the weirdness of the crawling Red Rocks version (read that review here), but it was certainly sufficient.

The "Chalk Dust" that emerged from "2001" was the best I've heard in ages, a simply stunning construction of sound. Mike was creative from the very beginning and he dominated the jam, luring some truly intuitive group improv from the whole band, surging as one entity from a little downtempo groove to a heady peak.

Phish :: 08.11.09 :: Bridgeview, IL
Okay, I admit it, I was hoping for "Harry Hood." I hadn't heard a single version from this year that I thought was really good. This version's jam started pretty sloppy and got dangerously ambient, Trey seeming almost to lose it completely but then he started "First-Tubing" his way out of it. Page caught on quickly and the first mini-peak was very sweet. What followed was simply Page taking control, waking "Hood" up from its post-millennial stupor and destroying it. It was far from perfect, the ending completely awkward as it's been almost every time this year, but I really felt it was a heroic effort by Page. If "The Squirming Coil" hadn't been in the plan already, Page had just earned it. Pure bliss to end the set, like a long-lost friend, plus Mr. McConnell's excellent solo, it was pure John Paul Jones 1977 "No Quarter" stuff. Just stunning.

The "Loving Cup" encore could've just as easily been sung by Page. He played a baaad piano tonight, and in one of the heaviest sets by Phish 3.0 so far. But Trey deserves a shout-out as well. Even though the sets were light on segues or lengthy thematic explorations, they were tight, bursting with energy and never boring for a second. That only happens when everybody's on, and tonight everybody was.

Phish :: 08.11.09 :: Toyota Park :: Bridgeview, IL
Set I: Kill Devil Falls, Sample In A Jar, Ocelot, Paul and Silas, Windy City, The Curtain With, Train Song, Gumbo, Heavy Things, Time Turns Elastic
Set II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Carini > Gotta Jibboo, Theme From The Bottom, Wilson, 2001 > Chalk Dust Torture, Harry Hood, The Squirming Coil
E: Loving Cup

For more pics of this show, go here.

Phish perform next on Thursday, August 13 at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Darien Center, NY. Check back for live Tweets, setlists, pics and full reviews. Complete Phish tour dates available here.

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[Published on: 8/12/09]

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