On the train from AC to Philly on Saturday morning, I'm confused, exhausted and inspired by what this band did the first two nights. Is it possible that they keep getting better?
You'd think Phish would feel the pressure of having to please a sold out crowd and an insanely critical fanbase on a weekend when expectations were sky high. Instead, they sat back, loosened up and delivered 2 of the best shows I've ever seen. When they went into the full on "Under Pressure" jam during Twist on Friday night, I think the band was telling us something: they feel no pressure.
Back to Thursday. Before the show, we all saw the playbill, and the mood was split. There were people who were clearly bummed that they weren't going to get a cover album. But there were plenty of people fired up for new music and a break from tradition. We expect Phish to go to 1972, and they go to the future. Typical.
At the beginning of the "Wingsuit" set, a lot of the crowd was quiet. I was one of the quiet, confused ones. It's really challenging to fully take in 12 brand new songs, so I spent more time concentrating on hearing the music, as opposed to jumping up and down and karate chopping the air, of which there was plenty in the other sets.
At first, I was a bit disappointed about Wingsuit. But that's why we always say "check your expectations at the door." To be fully engulfed in the Phish experience, you have to go in with an open mind. The disappointment was short-lived in person—ended while walking into the building—and upon relistening, it's clear that the band is rejuvenated by recording music together. And I think it's the recording of new music that gives them the confidence to open it up and take things into outer space.
On that, the 3rd set Thursday and 2nd set Friday contained some of the most energized, loose, exploratory jamming that I've heard in years.
The last set of Thursday felt different. When they came back on, it was a party. We all needed to blow off a little steam, and that Ghost and Carini combo was an excellent backdrop for a full-on blowout.
Those 2 songs come out to about 35 minutes, and there's not a break in there. The Ghost got straight down to business, with some great interplay among all 4 band members. Then came Carini, which might be the song with the most jam potential this year. It had a few breakdowns, an excellent blissful peak and a graceful landing. We also got a beautiful Harry Hood and an intense Antelope. That was one set.
The 1st set Friday was very solid and well-played, ending with a very nice Bowie that this fan was calling all set. But the 2nd set was just on another planet.
From the bluesy start of Twist, we knew we were in for it. They kept the rock jam going for a while, and then it took off. They fell briefly into a dark little jam, then brought it back to a blissful build with Get Back teases from Trey. Then, it kept going, building, peaking, all bliss all the way. They were giving it to us and we were giving it back. This is the hose. Welcome.
Next up was Gotta Jibboo, amazingly only 10 minutes long. Another loose, fun song that paid off. They went into a Makisupa with Trey talking about smoking kush under a bush, then they took Light into the stratosphere. Oh, did you know they encored with Sneakin' Sally? It was that kind of night.
Tonight will round out what has been another excellent tour. The low points have been few and far between, and the high points keep getting higher. I can't help but compare this tour to Fall '97, when Phish famously destroyed America. But this is even better: they've introduced us to a ton of new music, and they're loose, comfortable and feeling no pressure--and that's a great place to be.