Friday, June 8th 2012
Last night in Worcester Massachusetts Phish returned to the stage for the first time since their three set New Year’s Eve performance at Madison Square Garden. Fans from coast to coast had two questions burning a hole into their brains in the weeks leading up to the foursome’s return to the stage. How rehearsed would the boys be after a sloppy New Year’s Eve run and would the lengthy improvisational jams return?
The first set started out with a nice opening run of Buried Alive>Runaway Jim>Torn and Frayed. While no one expected the band to top the 58 minute version of Jim that was busted out in Worcester back in November of 1997, last night’s version featured tight playing and plenty of tasty licks from guitarist Trey Anastasio. While the transition from Jim into Torn and Frayed was a bit rough, the band quickly recovered. While the song may have been written by the Rolling Stones; the lyrics reflect what happened to Phish in the late 90’s and has been a rare yet welcomed treat since the group first performed it as part of their Halloween costume at Festival 8 back in 2009.
Other highlights of the first set included the return of Nothing which made its live debut back in 2004 and had only been played live four times since as well as an energetic take on Possum. While many fans are burnt out on the moving tribute to road kill (per Phish.net it has been played at 29.8% of Phish shows for a grand total of 1,520 appearances) Possum cemented the fact in everyone’s mind that the band is no doubt well rehearsed and communicating as only Phish can upon the stage. The band kept the country fried funk flowing from Possum into a set ending Rocky Top. With the boys set to close out the 2012 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this Sunday, it’s clear they already have Tennessee on their minds.
Set II was pure rage sauce out the gate as the group opened with one of their heavier numbers Carini. A tribute to their former drum tech Pete Carini, it is one of the few Phish songs to feature the word shit. While Anastasio’s guitar tone could have used a bit more umph in the intro, it was barely noticeable as bassist (and scarf aficionado) Mike Gordon dropped his trademark low end bombs in perfect unison with drummer Jon Fishman. As breathtaking as this five string fret work was, the real excitement came from the jam leading out of Carini and into Taste. After a brief power struggle between Anastasio and Gordon, the two lock up to guide the band into a sludgy Primus meets Kyuss on Ambien anti-jam before dropping into the lush serenity of Taste.
The highlight of the night was without a doubt what came next. Clocking in at just shy of 36 minutes, Ghost>Boogie On Reggae Woman>If I Could proved that Phish is not fucking around this summer. Ghost felt more like the slower laid back late 90’s version of the song versus the tighter post hiatus jam vessel that the song has evolved into over the past decade. The jams from Ghost built wonderfully into the Stevie Wonder classic Boogie On Reggae Woman. On most Boogie jams Anastasio tends to allow Gordon and keyboardist Page McConnell to guide the ship. While the jam begins in this fashion, Anastasio eventually pops into the mix with some clean tone noodling that begins to take a life of its own as it overtakes Gordon’s heavily distorted low end groove. After the jam reached its first peak Anastasio and Fishman now deep in the unknown take a moment to hook up before starting to build up again. While it felt as if a second tight locking jam was to come, Anastasio ended up dropping into the opening licks of the ballad If I Could. Perhaps inspired by his recent four night run with various philharmonics across the country, If I Could made its first appearance in 102 shows and as far as the softer Phish material goes it worked not only as a second set breather, but as a chance for fans to chant “Let’s Go Celtics” before jumping into the next run of songs.
Other highlights of the second set included a cover of Bob Dylan’s Quinn The Eskimo, a breathtaking Harry Hood and the first ever Buried Alive Reprise to close out the set. While there was no doubt a few bumps in the road, it is clear that Phish is ready to make the most out of their limited time on the road in 2012. Based off the first night, the band sounds tight and it’s clear that they have heard the cries of fans to return to lengthy journeys of improvisational madness.