Phish | 11.20 & 11.21 | Cincinnati

Words by: Cal Roach | Images by: Mark Davidson

Phish :: 11.20.09 :: U.S. Bank Arena :: Cincinnati, OH

Phish :: 11.20 :: Cincinnati
Fall Tour is a whole different level. It's easy to forget; there hasn't even been one in almost a decade. There are some moments that get diluted in the vapors washing over a big grassy lawn, but when all that electricity is contained indoors, it has nowhere to go but straight to your brain. The room goes pitch black, the anticipation is at its breaking point, and it's up to four mere mortals to live up to thousands of hopes and expectations.

We've grown accustomed to the unadventurous first set; with few exceptions this year, Phish has used the initial frame to belt out classic compositions, ballads and perfunctory versions of "Ocelot." So after a scripted "Chalk Dust Torture," when "Moma Dance" rolled out next, it was hard to just sit there and know that there's virtually no chance of it really stretching out. If the set weren't so thoroughly well-played, it might have gotten boring, but at some point you just have to acknowledge the chops: would anyone really prefer the sloppy, meandering jams of 2004 to a crushing, focused Trey solo in "Alaska?" And his aching leads on "Fast Enough For You" were pure white-boy blues on a straight line from Clapton's '70s heyday.

The turning point came with "Time Turns Elastic." Yes, ye of little faith, this is the one where the climax justifies the clock-eating compositional beast. Trey just kept slicing into the stratosphere, crashing through measures of post-rock drone, culminating in a pure noise jam that seemed like an ending until Fishman steered them all back in and thrust forward to a magnificent ending. And while I'd felt that set one closer was the only workable slot for this song, I was proved wrong.

Phish :: 11.20 :: Cincinnati
The most consistently thrilling trend in modern Phishdom is the band's ability to reach what amounts to a set-capping peak, then come right back with an even stronger blast. Still riding high on the "Elastic" vibe, the band built an engaging "Gotta Jibboo," a steady swell of intensity as Trey gradually cranked his noodle to 11. The jam hit its natural peak, but Trey was not finished; he rallied the troops for a further few bars of ebullience before the warm-n-fuzzy coda. Then, to push the set from good to great, "Fluffhead" for dessert.

Okay, great for a 2009 first set; set break buzz was rewarded with the instant impact of "Punch You In The Eye," and then... "Tweezer." It's hard for me to determine any more whether it's purely that colossal riff that gets me, or the anticipation of what's to come. The boys wasted no time getting nasty and low, Trey quickly seizing on a sinister, pulverizing melody, and the band rallied around it, built it up and thrashed it into submission, a fully-realized journey through everything you could want from "Tweezer."

As the dust settled, "Light" materialized slowly and insistently from the ether. Nothing exemplifies the grand new direction of 3.0 as well as this song; it's from an album called Joy, and it embodies that title. This decade has seen a plethora of new songs that Phish plays, but here we have a definitive new Phish song, and Trey just owned this jam, a flurry of cascading bliss that bled seamlessly into "Back On The Train" before you could even catch your breath. Gorgeous!

Phish :: 11.20 :: Cincinnati
Examining Phish's history, there was a segue that proved to be one of the few memorable moments from the embarrassing 2004 Vegas run: "Train" > "Possum." Now that we have the real Phish back, it was time for a revisit. It was even more delightful for being unscripted, and the jam that followed was astounding, Trey bending the shit out of some laid-back Nashville licks early on, building to the trademarked churning chord progression that heralds the end of most "Possum" jams, then settling back a bit before sweeping everybody up in a discordant swell and hitting two raunchy peaks before the final verse.

I've felt that "Slave To The Traffic Light" has been pretty rote this year, generally rushed and predictable. On this night, they weren't rushing anything. At the moment where most versions end, Trey suddenly remembered to wail. It's his show, and nobody's complaining. The house was brought down. And then they go into "You Enjoy Myself." They jammed it like it meant something to them again. Mike dropped bombs from a distant orbit. The vocal jam carried on the unique theme they'd developed moments before, and ultimately freaked out in ways it just can't do outdoors.

The final encore was, of course, "Tweezer Reprise," a song that I swear never held such power in any other era. People used to start walking to the lot, whereas now it holds everyone in rapture, Fishman summoning unearthly thunder and Trey bouncing in triumph. It was insane all summer, no doubt, but in Cincinnati, we truly stepped into the freezer.


Words by: Kyle Moler | Images by: Michael Stein

Phish :: 11.20.09 :: U.S. Bank Arena :: Cincinnati, OH

Mike Gordon :: 11.20 :: Cincinnati
From the opening notes of "Chalk Dust Torture," the band was on point and the atmosphere electric. Trey was quick to make his presence known, immediately building up the tension to the breaking point on his new green Languedoc guitar.

The band then dropped into "The Moma Dance," which seemed to suit Trey's new playing style well. It's possible Trey has finally taken Mike's request to cut back on the notes to heart, as he seemed to be focusing more on playing less but accenting more all weekend.

Next, came "The Divided Sky," one of the highlights of the two-night stay. Not only was it executed perfectly, but the band also let the pause in the middle hang just a moment longer, prompting a reaction from the crowd so loud that some could be seen covering their ears.

Shifting from an old song to a new one, the band settled into "Alaska." For whatever reason, fans seem somewhat reluctant to pick up the new songs. Despite this, Mike put out an easy, bouncing line while Trey wailed in a descending fashion that sounded reminiscent of the trombone in Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35."

Trey Anastasio :: 11.20 :: Cincinnati
After a quick guitar change by Trey, Phish slowed things down with "Water in the Sky," "Fast Enough for You," and "Time Turns Elastic." During these first two numbers, Page finally stretched out a little, really adding to the beauty of these songs. By the climactic end of "Time Turns Elastic," fans were energized again and "Gotta Jibboo" got the house bouncing. Lighting director, Chris Kuroda, really complimented the band well during the jam with dark purples and greens providing the only light in the arena. Kuroda was definitely one of the stars of the weekend, appearing to lead the band at times, instead of follow it.

Closing out set one, was a pretty wild "Fluffhead" that left a buzz throughout the arena that carried over into the next set.

Another whack to the face opener, "Punch You In The Eye" followed by "Tweezer," got things moving quickly. Trey seemed to make a conscious decision to stop playing it safe and start letting loose. With Trey at the helm, the band tore through "Tweezer," segueing smoothly into "Light" > "Back on the Train" > "Possum."

"Light," one of the more well received tracks off Joy, fit in perfectly with the two classics. A vicious "Possum," however, trounced everything with Trey's country-blues licks building on Fishman's snare rolls with more intensity carrying over to every new chorus.

Next came an ambient "Slave to the Traffic Light" that saw some more action from Kuroda followed by a huge "You Enjoy Myself as the closer.

After convening, the band returned with a three song encore of "Joy," "Golgi Apparatus," and a "Tweezer Reprise" that had the crowd rocking so hard the vocals were drowned out. All in all, a killer show.

Phish :: 11.20.09 :: U.S. Bank Arena :: Cincinnati, OH
Set I: Chalk Dust Torture, The Moma Dance, The Divided Sky, Alaska, Water In The Sky, Fast Enough For You, Time Turns Elastic, Gotta Jibboo, Fluffhead
Set II: Punch You in the Eye, Tweezer > Light > Back On The Train > Possum, Slave To The Traffic Light, You Enjoy Myself
E: Joy, Golgi Apparatus, Tweezer Reprise

Continue reading for reviews of Saturday night in Cincinnati...


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