Phish | Charlotte | Review

Words by: Billy Jack Sinkovic

Phish :: 06.17.11 :: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre :: Charlotte, NC

Phish :: 06.14.11 :: Alpharetta, GA
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2011
On the night off following the two wet & wild shows in Alpharetta, many fans took the responsible route and actually took the night off. Others headed east in search of more partying, with a large contingent stopping at Pisgah Brewing’s outdoor stage, the hottest new venue in Western North Carolina, for a funk-filled evening with Galactic and Orgone. Many others made it all the way to Charlotte to check out the nightlife, including the band itself. Reports of Trey and Mike gallivanting about NoDa [North Davidson Arts District] in a pedicab surfaced on the interweb, and more than a few lucky fans caught glimpses of the duo enjoying The David Mayfield Parade show at The Evening Muse. But more on that later.

The heavy-handed heat and humidity that typically signifies the start of summer in the South did little to dampen spirits on a particularly sticky Friday afternoon. The lot parties were in full swing early in the day, and the police presence typically associated with Charlotte shows seemed relatively placid. This was the first show of the year for a large portion of the crowd, and by the time the prodigious amphitheatre was [mostly] full, the fans were whipped into a sweaty frenzy. The band was greeted with a roar, Trey chose a sign, and they were off.

Considering it’s not happened since the final show before their break-up [or second hiatus, or the end of Phish 2.0, or whatever you’d prefer to call it], a “Mike’s Song” opener would have been special if Trey hadn’t tried to hold the “Mike’s House” sign in his teeth, causing him to start the song in the wrong key. Despite the silly slip-up, the jam out of the song was smokin’. “Hydrogen” followed, and considering the band is playing this less and less as part of “Mike’s Groove,” it’s begun to regain its enchanting nature, despite another Trey flub. The “Weekapaug Groove” that followed was fast & furious, with machine-gun Trey and a particularly funky Mike leading the charge. Typical first set fare followed – “Bouncin’ Around The Room,” “NICU” [“Leo’s House!!!”] and “Sample in a Jar.” However, there seemed to be an extra amount of heart and energy behind “Sample,” as though the band was really dialed in and ready to deliver. Further evidence of this followed with the thrashing and crashing intro to the relatively rare “Col. Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird.” The prodigious peak of Trey’s great saga was delivered with focus and savvy, nearly note-perfect, quite the upgrade from their last reading nearly a year ago on a similar run of the Southeast.

David Mayfield by Josh Joplin
By this point, everyone in the audience who was at least semi-lucid had noticed Trey & Mike’s matching shirts. Showing a silhouette of a bearded man with hipster glasses, the theories ran wild: A nod to Page’s new specs; Salman Rushdie; a likeness of Col. Forbin. It was actually an image of David Mayfield, the frontman of the band that had played for Trey and Mike the night before. But still, more on that later.

Following the flight of that famous bird from Gamehenge, the fist-pumping fury of a quick “Axilla” arrived, followed by “Wolfman’s Brother,” which delivered the hottest jam of the first set. Never departing Type I jam territory, it instead built a slow but solid groove, driven by Mike’s hard slappin’ funk dexterity that peaked after nearly ten minutes and sailed on. This could have easily ended the set, but instead they brushed off the lesser-played “Scent of a Mule” with a bit of fun & frolic from Page. “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” has found a home as a set closer, and thankfully they kept it short & sweet because this crowd needed a break.

The dozen or so songs that the band brought to its fans via the album Joy in 2009 have all found their niches in regular setlists, and just as “Stealing Time” likes the first set closer slot, many a second set has originated with “Backwards Down the Number Line.” A lot of fans are still struggling with the bubblegum pop lyrics and chord progression of this tune, but the jams that it has produced have all been re-listenable, to say the very least, and this was no exception - straight-up, guitar-driven pop-rock in a major key. Right out of the closing chops charged “Rock & Roll,” and thus truly began a second set that will be talked about for some time. Never losing the energy of the “It’s alright! It’s alright now! Alright! Alright!” outro, the band cruised full-speed ahead for a couple minutes in full-on rock band fashion. Then, Fishman delivered the jam into the Type II realm with some dizzying fluid beats, while his three cohorts saturated the sound with simple yet sublime fills. This jam focused less on how many notes they could play and more on dynamics, major vs. minor keys, and LOTS of texture. Fans could be seen with their eyes closed - despite CK’s killer light work - their bodies barely moving, as though the hypnotizing groove caused them to forget dancing… but only for a moment. As the drums faded out, the spacey groove changed again from major to minor, and the haunting rhythm of “Ghost” emerged.

Phish :: 06.15.11 :: Alpharetta, GA
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2011
Since its inception during the late nineties cow-funk era of Phish, “Ghost” has won the hearts of many fans as a mid-second set groove with all sorts of exploratory possibilities. This high-energy version featured prime performances from all four members. Trey wandered about upon a series of arpeggios, held in place with similar Mike ministrations over Fishman’s syncopated beats. A slow, steady major build was filled out some hard work from Page’s long organ fills and bright piano chops. Arriving at the top, it was all Page, soloing on both the Hammond and the concert grand, while Trey began to form the opening chords of “Free.” This particular tune has lost its jamming prowess of former years, although Mike definitely funked it up a bit with some boggy bass effects, and it was over in seconds. It seemed like a good time to take a breath, but there was none. Yet another song from the show worth a another listen, “Reba” found its way through the still-awe-inspiring-after-22-years composed segment into an extended peak that brought fans to their feet, arms to the sky, cheers to full volume.

Thus began the “hilarity ensued” portion of the show. Following up on Forbin’s quest in the first set, the great and knowledgeable “Icculus” showed his face for only the third time in 16 years with a clearly tickled Trey chuckling through the narration. Describing his night out in NoDa, he directed the cameramen to display the silhouetted face of David Mayfield on the shirt he and Mike both wore in the first set. Either Trey had decided that Mayfield shared a resemblance to the mythical Icculus or it was Mayfield himself who wrote The Book. Either way, I can only hope that guy reaps the benefits of some serious publicity. Following “Icculus,” Page’s organ chops on Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” brought Fishman out front and center on Barrett-era Pink Floyd’s “Bike.” This was a treat, complete with slightly askew lyrics [“What the fuck were the words again?”] some primo vacuum work, a lap or two around the stage, and some massive paper airplane launches. Thanks, Fish.

Having had the opportunity to rest (and laugh), the audience slipped back into their boogie-shoes for an absolutely rockin’ “Chalk Dust Torture” that could’ve gone on for a bit longer. But the band instead launched into “You Enjoy Myself,” which fans had been expecting for several shows. While it didn’t have the memorable vocal jam teases of 2010’s Charlotte “YEM,” it still excelled as a show closer, exhibiting the fine-tuned skills of all four members, along with Trey’s multi-part compositional brilliance. Winding up this consummate event was a two-song encore, with one last foray into Gamehenge featuring the tale’s antagonist, “Wilson,” followed by the beloved Stones cover “Loving Cup.” What a beautiful buzz, indeed.

Thanks again to ZZYZX for the stats info.

Set 1: Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Bouncing Around the Room, NICU [1] > Sample in a Jar, Colonel Forbin's Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Axilla, Wolfman's Brother, Scent of a Mule [2], Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
Set 2: Backwards Down the Number Line > Rock and Roll > Ghost > Free > Reba [3], Icculus, Hold Your Head Up > Bike [4] > Hold Your Head Up, Chalk Dust Torture, You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Wilson > Loving Cup

[1] "Play it, Leo!" lyric replaced with "Leo's House!"
[2] The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) tease from Page
[3] No whistling
[4] Somewhere Over the Rainbow played by Fish during vacuum solo

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[Published on: 6/22/11]

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