Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Heather Ainsworth
Phish :: 08.13.09 :: Darien Lake Performing Arts Center :: Darien Center, NY
After going the first nineteen-or-so years of my life without seeing Phish, you would think going the two months between first and second leg east coast shows would be a breeze. Unfortunately, I have learned in the interim period that it's not quite that simple. Phish, you see, is the musical equivalent of crack. Several days after my last show (Burgettstown), I started experiencing symptoms of withdrawal – I had become psychologically, if not physically, addicted to Phish shows. I was jonesing, I needed my phix. Fifty-six days later that phix at long last had come at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center just outside Buffalo at Darien Center, New York.
|Trey - Phish :: 08.13.09 :: Darien Lake, NY|
And what a phix it was. I know you've heard it all before, but Phish has become tighter and stronger in the second leg of this tour. And busting out a couple of tunes that hardly, if at all, saw the light of day on the first leg only sweetened the deal. Roller coasters in the distance at Darien Lake's amusement park shot people down a track of crisp turns, steep plunges, and bloodcurdling loop-d-loops, while Phish took us on their own ride of similar stature.
The first set, much like the Chicago show (read the review here) a few days earlier, consisted of plentiful songs most of which being uncharacteristically transient. This was not necessarily a bad thing however, the songs were short sweet and to the point, still packing that vivacity we have come to so readily expect of live Phish – brevity is after all the soul of wit.
The boys immediately hit their stride opening up with a powerful "Sample in a Jar" where Trey took his first soaring solo with fluid poignancy. We were then treated to "Dinner and a Movie," a rare delicacy not having been served up the whole tour thus far. "Dinner and a Movie" was an odd display of manic dissonance that only Phish has the audacity to even attempt to pull off. While it was executed tightly, this was one of the few songs of the first set that felt as if it needed a bit more time to fully mature. Our dinner was cut short during the entree while our movie could have used a bit more character development, jumping the gun to its climactic finish. Nevertheless, the courses and scenes we were treated to were top notch.
|Mike - Phish :: 08.13.09 :: Darien Lake, NY|
"Wolfman's Brother" has become a standard for Phish 3.0, yet they still manage to keep it fresh and interesting each time. Though relatively ephemeral, Mike's dirty funkalicious bass took it places that previous "Wolfman's" have yet to venture, making it one of the best I've heard all tour long. A light hearted classical exposition started off "My Friend, My Friend" before it took an ominous turn into sinister dementia. Page finally got his time to shine during "Possum," taking a country-blues solo on acoustic piano before the band dropped back into the eponymous hee-hawing harmonization. Trey may have been in the spotlight tonight with his towering solos, grabbing the attention of most listeners, but Page may have covertly stole the show, adding ideal soundscapes when not flat-out laying down a delicious keyboard solo. "Sugar Shack" was the only new song of the first set, a bit more exploratory than the first time I saw it at Camden, but still not quite what it could fully be.
Finally, they started to let loose after the intricately designed, and perfectly executed, first section of "David Bowie," dropping into a mind-numbing jam that unabashedly melted our faces off. In one of the few times he addressed the audience at length this tour, Trey let us know of his 15th wedding anniversary with his wife Susan. But merry messages were not all he had in store, also informing us of the tragic passing of electric guitar legend and recording pioneer Les Paul. "He kept playing music well into his nineties... hopefully we'll be playing well into our nineties, too," said Anastasio, subsequently dropping an homage to the fallen hero, covering the jazz standard made popular by Paul, the sprightly "How High the Moon" for the first time since 1993.
|Page - Phish :: 08.13.09 :: Darien Lake, NY|
An absolutely volcanic version of "Drowned" began the second set with an eruption that culminated into quite possibly the best jam of the evening, setting a trend for the rest of the set featuring stellar extended improvs. A serene "Prince Caspian" stealthily turned into "Rift," only the third of the tour.
"Rift" was not only a display of the band's masterful playing and ingenious compositional writing but also an exposition of what I think to be one of the most overlooked aspects of Phish's music, the poetic lyrics of Tom Marshall. From whimsical enigmatic silliness to elegiac love ballads to profound philosophical ramblings, Marshall's lyrics are as eclectic as they are unified by common devices. "I spied wings of reason, herself taking flight/ And upon yonder precipice saw her alight/ And glared back at me one last look of dismay/ As if she were the last one she thought I'd betray," belted out Trey, one of my favorite Marshall lines of uncertain depth. Almost supernaturally, Marshall's lyrics always seem to perfectly match the mood of whichever piece of music Trey has concocted, leading me to believe that the duo's minds must be linked telepathically in some cosmic sort of way. "Silent in the morning, suspended in the trees/ Lunch time comes you've found your voice, it brings me to my knees/ The volume just increases, the resounding echoes grow," a perfectly congenial compliment to the tranquil music that seems to evoke the same timid sense of infatuation as suggested by the words of "Silent in the Morning," one of Phish's prettiest, most charming songs.
An excursion into raucous jazz-fusion territory, the first jam of "Run Like an Antelope" peaked too intensely to accurately articulate in words, bringing a euphoric level of energy to the complex improvisations of the band. Falling off from its glorious apex to peaceful quietude, Anastasio asked in place of the normal lyric, "you wouldn't happen to have any glass cymbal solo, man?" promptly followed by said solo from Fishman to which Trey responded "Yes, man!" A series of instructions followed: "Set the gear shift to the high gear of your soul." Check. "You've got to run like an antelope, out of control." Check.
|Phish :: 08.13.09 :: Darien Lake, NY|
"Fluffhead" exultantly closed out the second set. After an exhibition of one of Trey's most meticulously crafted pieces the whole of Darien Lake, band and audience alike, burst out in triumphant cries of "Fluffhead!" prompting the most joyous of celebrations in the crowd. The audience let out a collective "ohhhh" as if the final evasive piece to some impossible to solve puzzle had been revealed when "First Tube" was dropped in the encore. "First Tube" was an apt close to my first show of the second leg, as phinally, my monkey had been phed. A solid song selection with a couple fresh tunes thrown in, and magnificent execution on all fronts skyrocketed this show into the upper-echelons of shows this tour. Darien Lake had far exceeded the idealized memories of Phish shows past I've grown to so desperately crave. Really nothing compares to that sublime feeling generated in my brain by Phish, a feeling no drug (not even the banker's powerful pills) could accurately recreate. Though I received my phix, tragically only three shows remain as we await confirmation of looming fall and winter tour rumors.
Phish :: 08.13.09 :: Darien Lake Performing Arts Center :: Darien Center, NY
Set I: Sample In A Jar, Dinner and a Movie, Wolfman's Brother, My Friend, My Friend, Possum, Farmhouse, Sugar Shack, Brian And Robert, David Bowie, Bathtub Gin, How High The Moon, Golgi Apparatus
Set II: Drowned > Prince Caspian > Rift, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Sparkle, Run Like An Antelope, Suzy Greenberg, Fluffhead
E: Joy, First Tube
For more images of this show, go here.
Phish perform next on Friday, August 14 at Comcast Theatre in Hartford, CT. Check back for live Tweets, setlists, pics and full reviews. Complete Phish tour dates available here.
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