Phish | 08.14.09 | Hartford, CT
Phish :: 08.14.09 :: Comcast Theatre :: Hartford, CT
Over the past few shows, there has been an almost formulaic nature to the setlists; often large selections of succinct songs dominating the first set. On this evening, however, we were greeted with a full ranged onslaught that surpassed expectation. After climbing the wide staircase towards the lawn, a collective sea of roars attempted to will an early commencement. Firecrackers soared from what looked to be an off limits area behind the upper green wall, and it was this and other random playful acts of mischief that allowed the time to go by until the band arrived on stage just before 8:45 p.m.
The opening licks of “Punch You In The Eye” set the tone for what would be a playful night. Moving intently through the structured portions, Trey Anastasio‘s guitar play gave and took subtly in coordination to his own dancing feet. The view from the lawn was interesting enough, but the sound space was heavily littered with distracting shouts and emphatic fan declarations. The song progressed into a patient funk, pulled further towards Jon Fishman‘s concluding hot-n-tot drum rolling. Where some recent takes of “PYITE” have ended abruptly, this version eased away from us like a wave pealing off a distant shore.
Anastasio’s sustained guitar wails during the opening moments of “Birds of a Feather” pulled us into a more hard-edged groove. After a series of smaller peaks, the track could have taken a turn towards incoherent space, but while not really pushing any envelope, persisted with a mature and fun style. And throughout, it was Fishman’s energizing drum whacks that gave the song much integrity. All in stride, the familiar concluding theme for “Birds of a Feather” appeared. The flow didn’t cease until the very end, where Fishman’s staggered beat interrupted where the final chorus usually interjects, adding a couple extra measures in just for fun to finalize the musical treat.
The casual nature of “Lawn Boy” allowed many of us a moment to cool off. Perched at the edge of the stage, Page McConnell seemed to beckon a sweeping breeze that flushed out the front concert space. Prompting the usual Mike Gordon bass solo, McConnell conversed with the fans in the back: “How about you in the lawn? Let’s hear it for Mike!”
“Ladies and gentleman, about to perform his first vacuum solo of the tour,” Trey comically announced during “I Didn’t Know” before sitting himself behind the drum kit, “a recent Juilliard Master’s Vacuum Program graduate, the one and only Jon Moses Quagmire Dewitt Hampton!” After the ensuing vacuum solo during “I Didn’t Know,” the newer Gordon track “Middle of The Road” was an upbeat number that efficiently bridged the time appropriately between two monster tracks. Although the vocal harmonies need some fine-tuning, the song shows potential even in its early stages.
The set one closer, “Character Zero,” has left many yearning for more in some of the recent attempts. A serious guitar-focused rock song at its core, “Character Zero” can almost be seen as a moment of truth whenever pulled out towards the end of a set. In the middle of a pocketed fury, Anastasio appeared to stretch his low-gauged guitar strings to the limit alongside Fishman’s fevered fills as tonight’s excursion was fun and aired out. By no means the pinnacle of the show thus far, this set ender did manage to leave us all with fists in the air looking forward to what they could possibly pull out for the rest of the evening.
While short, “Wilson” was compactly sweet. Anastasio exhibited a wrath that was consistent throughout the whole evening. There was a small pocket where the track could have broke past the five-minute mark, but the band had its sights on the next track’s larger premise. One of those numbers that is so deeply rooted within the DNA of Phish, the often-contemplative meanderings of “Slave” encouraged both feelings of past reflection and forward evolution. The playing field for all band members felt even. Given this moment of restitution from the crowd’s perspective, it bent the imagination to think of what the view felt like from the artist’s perspective as the ten-minute take both soared and resolved with the grace of a gravity-stricken feather.
With the start of “Ghost,” one couldn’t help but feel content with tonight’s song selection. The effortless rock flow brought me back into introspective mode, and tonight’s excursion gave even more evidence that Phish 3.0 can offer inspirational muses. Some of the best moments with this band are the ones where they encourage you to go deeper within one’s own soul and psyche. If not for almost seizure inducing lights by Kuroda, many of us would have been too entranced to see grimaces upon the faces of the band members as the song transitioned into another of history’s gems.
“Does anyone else love this song as much as I do?” Anastasio asked. “I love this song. I’m waiting for the day until they play stuff like this on the radio,” he admitted while dancing over the sonic pulses. “Driving along, you know? Cranking it up?” Trey’s further ramblings about our most recent generation’s reliance of iPhones and DVD players over his elderly use of plain ole’ books made this ad-libbed version of “Icculus” very relevant, and shed our current time and place in a somewhat satirical light. With the stage soaked in a full range of reds after the structured portion, the set two closer of “You Enjoy Myself” sealed the deal. Although possibly cut short at the strike of midnight because of a late start, the tight improv section and ensuing beatbox-infused vocal jam left many of us fans in awe of what lay ahead for the evolution of Phish.
Existing almost as a large magnifying glass hovering above, the opinions and critiques surrounding this vast scene by both the greater media and the waves of adoring fans are definitely a dime a dozen. But walking away from the Comcast Theatre with the encore of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” still lingering through my head, tonight’s shows did seem special. Although the curfew snuck up on us, we left the venue resonating with that familiar and silently contagious buzz on a visibly very sleepy morning in Hartford. This feeling could not have been a fluke. And it will be further dissection and exploration of this emerging maturity of Phish that will keep many of us coming back for more.
8/14/09 :: Comcast Theatre :: Hartford, CT
Set I: Punch You in the Eye, AC/DC Bag, NICU, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Birds Of A Feather, Lawn Boy, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Middle Of The Road, Character Zero
Set II: Down With Disease > Wilson > Slave To The Traffic Light, Piper > Water In The Sky, Ghost > Psycho Killer > Catapult > Icculus > You Enjoy Myself
E: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
For more images of this show, go here.
Phish perform next on Saturday, August 15 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. Check back for live Tweets, setlists, pics and full reviews. Complete Phish tour dates available here.
Keep up to speed with all things Phish at jambase.com/phish.
JamBase | New England
Go See Live Music!