Tuesday, August 10th 2010
When it comes to the jam band Phish, you either get them or you don’t. It could take days to explain the fearless foursome from Vermont’s 25-plus year history, and still not make a dent into the complex annals of their career. If you “get” Phish, chances are you’ve devoted your life to them simply because, to you and most Phish fans, no band can even come close to making you feel as good as they do.
While some may call that a cult, I call it a family. Thanks to a Miracle (Phish heads know what that means) and some good karma, I was lucky enough to return to my home soil, the Bay Area, and throw down with Trey, Mike, Page and Jon for three earth-shaking and very over-sold shows at Berkeley’s intimate (by Phish standards) Greek Theatre.
Chilly temperatures and heavy fog choked the 107 year old stone amphitheatre for all three nights, but that didn’t stop the band from heating up the outdoor landmark. Things got off to a great start Thursday with an inaugural set (the band’s shows are broken into two sets that each last approximately 90 minutes) featuring fan favorites Possum, The Divided Sky and a smoking take on Run Like An Antelope.
It was clear during the first set that the band was just warming up for a long weekend, as the real gems came during the second set, with the band kicking things off with an unrelenting Down With Disease>Free. Bassist Mike Gordon was on fire all night and the heavy bass slapping of Disease rumbled so hard I feared the ancient venue’s cement steps would crack at any moment. I’ve seen the band perform Maze a few times over the years, but this version of the classic blew the rest out of the water as the band rocked it well beyond its normal limits.
The set closed with a powerful 1-2 punch of Tweezer>Fluffhead. With the jam heavy Tweezer and prog-friedly Fluffhead joining forces, the band took their faithful fans on a nearly half-hour journey that left the crowd begging for more. After making one fan’s night by acknowledging his sign for “stage banter,” guitarist and lead vocalist Trey Anastasio had the crowd thank former sound man Paul Languedoc for a brand new custom-built guitar that was making its stage debut. The band then took a trip though the oft-covered Rolling Stones classic Loving Cup. The song’s line about playing a bad guitar managed to get a louder cheer than usual from the crowd after Anastasio’s rambling and much welcomed banter. Wrapping up with the almost punk-rock-esque Tweezer Reprise, the band sent the crowd of 8,500 into the streets of Berkeley with huge grins and high hopes for the next two nights.
In my opinion, Friday night’s show was the highlight of the run. The first set was smoking, starting off with Chalkdust Torture, which seemed appropriate given that the show was held upon a college campus. After great versions of classic Phish songs like Guyute and It’s Ice, the band went all out nuts on the raucous crowd. Cities>Moma Dance>Bathtub Gin>Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan was ferocious. The highlight of the four song run was Cities – a Talking Heads song that has found its way into the Phish repertoire. With Anastasio singing the line “home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks” you knew you were witnessing something truly special, as the band could have easily booked two sold out shows at the spacious 22,000 seat Shoreline Amphitheatre across the bay. Instead, they booked the intimate Greek and ended up with the hottest ticket in town for the 2010 Bay Area concert calendar.