Phish | 06.21.09 | Alpine Valley II

Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Dave Vann

Phish :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley :: East Troy, WI

Phish :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley, WI
People always ask me why I’ve continuously traversed the country to see the same band several hundred times. Well, I can sum up my answer through an idea one of my favorite teachers in grad school taught me. An act or routine performed over and over can sometimes seem monotonous or lose meaning. However, once in a while that same act of communion takes on a special meaning, where you would not fully appreciate said act’s value had you not performed it over and over again. Ritual has meaning. The final night of summer tour at Alpine Valley represented such a night after three weeks back on the road with Phish.

The end of the tour also happened to fall on Father’s Day, and saw the band immediately nod to the fact by opening with the ultra-rare “Brother.” It was the first show-opening slot for this tune since March ’92, and featured a silver tub at the front of the stage. Over the course of the song each of the band members’ children sauntered from side stage and plopped themselves into the tub. Again, this shows that the backstage aspect of Phish is changing to a more positive, family friendly atmosphere – something that bodes well for all going forward.

Phish :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley, WI
Another “Wolfman’s Brother” was more rocking than previous funky versions and remains a staple in the catalogue. The joyful, celebratory mood surrounding everything, especially the band, saw Trey single out a fan who had “been holding that sign for two days. Your arms must be tired! So, we will play this one for you.” And the band launched into a fiery “Funky Bitch” with sharp licks by Trey and low end bombs by Gordon.

The second run through new tune “Joy” was sandwiched in between the opus of “Divided Sky” and the loose, funky Fishman driven “Get Back on the Train.” Fishman seemed to have one of his stronger efforts of the tour this night as he was much more prominent throughout. “Joy” can be construed as sappy by some, but last night it hit me, especially with the line that seemed to speak to the band, their families and the crowd by proclaiming, “I just want you to be happy/ This is your song, too.” It is our collective song, the one Phish is now leading us through once again.

A thunderous “Taste” showcased McConnell‘s baby grand piano chops, while “The Horse” > “Silent in the Morning” featured one of the most triumphant solos by Trey all summer and great interplay by all four.

Anastasio & Gordon :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley, WI
However, in my opinion, the bust out of the entire tour was the Gamehendge themed “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.” An instrumental lullaby that is slow and beautiful, the band proved to me right then and there that they are 100-percent fully back – no ifs ands or buts about it. Phish might have played the same batch of songs this summer for the most part, but they still know how to reward those who stuck with them or traveled, with surprises like this super-rare gem. I still can’t believe they played this. “TMWSIY” sandwiched the Jewish prayer “Avenu Malkenu,” which again featured Fishman’s driving thunder. “Time Turns Elastic” closed set one and was a solid rendition, again climaxing with the end jam-portion.

After what seemed like a longer than normal set break, the band reemerged for the final set of the early summer tour. I had a talk with my exhausted legs to please hold out for just one more set. That proved to be a mute point, as the band launched into the Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless.” All I can is that maybe more so than any other tune Phish plays, the crowd reaction to “C&P” is not unlike a school of piranhas attacking fresh chum dropped in their tank. The jam was extended, razor-sharp and saw Trey simply going off while Fishman pounded his kit into oblivion. As the jam devolved, the band found themselves in a few minutes of spacey territory, before Gordon dropped the hammer on “Down With Disease.” Trey tore the patented guitar riff to shreds, while grinning like the Cheshire Cat and delivering the appropriate line to close this leg of the tour: “This has all been wonderful, but now I’m on my way!”

Phish :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley, WI
Another soaring jam landed in a mid-set “Bug,” a tune normally reserved for end of set duties. Again, it seemed lyrically this night that the band was speaking directly to me, as I was a able to put aside my thoughts of work, 401ks and meetings and realize “spending or saving/ credit or debt/ it doesn’t matter to me.” Phish was back, enjoying life and helping us escape the normality of ours, while delivering another monstrous effort with enthused playing and the kind of setlist I’ve been waiting all summer.

“Piper” was seen for the second time in three shows, but again allowed Trey to play some tension-and-release licks, before finally exploding in a sonic chase and burst of energy. “Wading In The Velvet Sea” was a breather song, but again, tonight the band could do no wrong and the positivity on stage was contagious to the nearly 40,000 people in attendance.

A funkalicious “Boogie On Reggae Woman” served as the unofficial ass-shaker of tour, and has been one of the best songs of the summer. Gordon owns this song, plain and simple. As if the weekend at Alpine could not get any more perfect musically, the band spread out the delicate thunder of a perfect “Slave to the Traffic Light.” During the calm-before-the-storm section, the crowd was eerily quiet and swaying along, possibly realizing the epiphany of the return to form by the greatest jam band of the last 30 years, back in more ways than this semi-jaded vet could have ever hoped for.

Phish :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley, WI
Another encore of “Grind” saw the band sing their days alive again, before the real treat of “Frankenstein.” Page was again playing his Keytar, while Mike donned his new, flaming bass (a birthday present this year), while Trey sported – count ’em – a FIVE-neck guitar that looked like Led Zeppelin meets Spinal Tap. The band finished off a very strong first leg of summer tour by not only playing this tune with fire but having a goof doing it – the two biggest positive signs I’ve noticed throughout the summer.

And, with that my friends, Leg I of summer tour came to a close. Big thanks to a ton of people – friends old and new, and simply too many to list here. But most importantly, a huge THANKS to TreyPageMikeFish for rekindling a love affair for so many of us after five long years apart. After a healthy slew of shows on the road this summer, I can safely say that Phish are back in their element, swimming with a renewed vigor that promises many more amazing results.

Now, take it easy and I’ll see you all at Red Rocks next month!

Phish :: 06.21.09 :: Alpine Valley :: East Troy, WI
Set I: Brother, Wolfman’s Brother, Funky Bitch > The Divided Sky, Joy, Back On The Train, Taste, Poor Heart, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Time Turns Elastic
Set II: Crosseyed and Painless > Down With Disease > Bug > Piper > Wading In The Velvet Sea, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Slave To The Traffic Light
E: Grind, Frankenstein

For more pics of this show go here.

Phish perform next at a four-night stand at Colorado’s fabled Red Rocks Amphitheatre beginning July 30. Check back for setlists, pics and full reviews as the summer tour continues. Complete Phish tour dates available here.

And to relive the glory of Phish’s Leg I of Summer Tour, go to our Phish Summer Tour Page.

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