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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ask And Ye Shall Receive...A Little Southern Hospitality: Charlotte/Raleigh/Portsmouth Review

   To say Phish put it all back in perspective this past weekend would be an understatement. After several mediocre shows from Camden-Atlanta, Phish laid it down in NC/VA. What had seemed to stand out most at those sub-par shows - especially to those who had been traveling with the band from show to show -  was the lack of jamming, creativity and the relentless onslaught of several over-played phormer phavorites. Although those shows contained the occasional bust-out and the sporadic jam Phish made it sound as if they were recording "A Live One 2: This One's For The Custies".  I racked my brain searching for answers as to why they would play Possum and Bowie a combine 15 times in 18 shows, why songs like Suzy Greenberg, Harry Hood, and Antelope made the rotation over 33% of the shows played: Sometimes I thought the band was literally trying to get some of us off tour; at other times I thought it might be some forced pathetic attempt to get hordes of previously uninterested weekend warriors to purchase highly-over priced Super Ball IX tickets. And while both could still be true, Phish proved - once again - that not only do they still possess the skills and chops to lay it down, that they can turn it on whenever they want. That's actually partially frustrating, if true, but if we're treated to three gems after three quasi-duds, I've decided I'm willing to accept. Perhaps what this latest tour taught me is that there's a point when one can't follow Phish to every show, even if your job, monetary position, and marriage allows for it. In other words, maybe one Icculus isn't worth  six Antelopes...maybe  one Forbin's > Mockingbird isn't worth seven Possums...maybe a Lonesome Cowboy Bill isn't worth eight sub-par Bowies. Or is it???
   There was no denying the frustration of the dedicated rolling into Charlotte Friday afternoon. The worst storm in recent tour memory had just torn through Alpharetta, but instead of taking advantage of the energy and blasting off Phish decided to play a set of repeats and essentially took the energy right back out of the place. Yet everyone still held on to hope. It seemed like a statistical improbability to play Possum, Bowie, Antelope, or even strangely over-played songs like 2001. Such a large percentage of the shows (20%) had belonged to so few songs (11) that it seemed like the only thing left to do was bust-out, at which point by then a bust-out could've been a fucking Bouncin' Round The Room. We passed Hick Palace, the sight of the Coca-Cola 600, and into the lot at a steamy 94 degrees. Charlotte Shakedown was one of the best of the tour. Dozens of food vendors, plenty of party favors and beers, and three trillion people selling water...phans STILL haven't figured out that a case of water only costs $5 at Wal-Mart and ice costs $3 for four pounds...keep spending $20/day on cold water while these people handle fist-fulls of cash. I can hear the "What The Fuck, Just A Buck" chick cursing me right now. Don't worry lot vendors, the average Phish phan never learns, you'll always be able to make your money...just not off me except for the ONE bottle I buy off the hottest GIRL vendor AFTER the show. The last weekend of shows was here, and we were anxious to say the least.
   You can imagine our nervousness when Phish blasted into yet another Mike's Song (8:11), especially when it was the third standard Groove in four attempts. Mike's > Hydrogen (2:54) > Weekapaug (7:52). Rocking, but standard. That seemed to be the central theme to this everlasting spoof. We couldn't help but laugh at Bouncing Round The Room (3:44), as it would at any other time have been a head-shaking, bowl-packing situation. This time we were practically psyched to hear it - practically. Next was NICU (5:08), and although it was a great version, with a "Leo's House" shout-out and shredded piano solo, it wasn't really doing anything for us. We were starting to get nervous that we might be in for another mediocre show, but we kept our spirits up. NICU > Sample In A Jar (5:48). Wow, this was getting annoying. So they're not repeating like crazy yet, but instead we get Bouncin' and Sample? These are the two relative bust-outs? Things are getting out of control in an unpleasant way. Then, just when we were having that selfish, childish, flip-out "Mom-I-hate-you-because-you-didn't-get-me-a-PlayStation-for-Christmas-oh-shit-it's-the-last-gift-hidden-behind-the-tree-that-I-didn't-see" moments Phish blasts into the one thing I literally live for...the reason I go to as many shows as I possibly can. For the first time in almost exactly a year (7/4/10 Alpharetta) we got Forbin's > Mockingbird (13:27)! FINALLY!! It's the type of shit that you can hop off tour after...not that we ever do. It was as if the weight of the Phishing world had been lifted off of our shoulders. Next was a head-banging Axilla II (3:22), followed by one of the best Wolfmans (10:51) of the summer. Scent Of A Mule (8:07), only the seventh of 3.0, followed Wolfmans, and then STFTFP (7:37) to end the set. We were back on track. The Famous Mockingbird had helped fly us away from Nostalgia, the most boring place on Earth.
   Set two opened with BDTNL (8:21) > Rock 'n' Roll (5:56) > an OUTRAGEOUS Charlotte Jam (7:15), which got so dark it was qualifying for the jam of the summer > an UNBELIEVABLE Ghost (12:44) > a pop-off-athon Free (6:35) > Reba (11:49). The Reba jam was one of the best of 3.0. Phish was back with a vengeance! BDTNL > R 'n' R > Jam > Ghost > Free > Reba. That segue qualifies for one of the best of many Second Set segues of ST11:1. Just when we thought there was nothing left to hide, Phish waded through the Reba murk, slowly wound down, and set shit on fire: ICCULUS (6:10)!! Lets just say we read the book. Enough said. The last time Forbins > Mockingbird and Icculus were played together was Hartford '09, one of the best shows since 1.0. Nothing like some deep Gamhenge action to drag the phaithful back in. After Icculus, things got straight silly: HYHU (1:54) > Bike (4:50) > HYHU (2:18), which included a vacuum solo, Fishman claiming he forgot the words (although I'm positive he finished), and the usual run-around nonsense. It was awesome. Character Zero (6:37) followed and a most-appropriate - although very short - YEM (17:59) finished the set. The encore was Wilson (3:57) - what else, right - > Loving Cup (7:45), which was called by the Texas bell standing next to me. Every single person - myself included - that was grumbling about the previous few shows stacked with repeats and Nostalgia Rock were shut up immediately. But at least we all called the "At least they'll bust out in NC/VA", which by that point none of us were really sure about. There was no denying it anymore. We were about to find out if this was a one-show burner, or if Phish was about to hype the scene to get Super Ball IX sold out - shit, did I just say that out loud again...oh well, you weren't fooling yourselves otherwise, were you???
   The buzz for ST11:1 was at it's highest pitch since Bethel as we rolled into Raleigh and dealt with more heat and high humidity. Shakedown clacked as usual at this forest-protected site as everyone prepared to unload before the long drives home. Dark clouds seemed to follow me as we rolled through the lots before showtime...was another storm looming? Security asked everyone to get into the venue due to coming storms, and as we waited in line to be searched, the drops started falling. Shit. Light drizzle peppered the venue as the boys came out and gave us weary travelers a bouncy travel reference shout-out with the fourth Cars, Trucks, And Buses (6:50) of 3.0, and the first such opener since Riverbend in 2000. When you travel 4,917 miles in three weeks to see Phish, you want a Cars, Trucks, And Buses. Thanks you, boys. Then Peaches en Regalia (3:26)!!! ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?!?! Only the third Peaches since 9/24/99 (last played 12/2/09 MSG)!! AC/DC Bag (8:01) followed, then Guyute (10:13). Guyute Stu, where you at homeboy? We hope to see you at SBIX! We didn't even bitch that much at what had to be the 7th or 8th Possum (9:18) of ST11:1, the boys were ripping so hard. Halley's Comet (7:56) followed, which > a SICK 46 Days (7:31). The always beautiful Divided Sky (14:29) was next and was followed by what I consider the best Curtis Loew (5:01) I HAVE EVER HEARD. Page's solo almost made me cry. Then the fact that they ended the set with yet another Antelope  (9:36) actually did make me cry - tears of sorrow. I'm obviously kidding, but what is the fucking deal with this constand Antelope set-ending shit? Do they love Antelope Greg that much? It's just a little sad when tunes like Possum, Hood, Antelope, etc. make die-hard phans say "ugh". But those "ughs' are awfully quiet when they're tearing up Icculus and the like. So I'll shut up.
   Set Two opened with an AWESOME Twist (7:41), the first Twist set opener since Set Three in Coventry (I swore I'd never acknowledge those shows...oh well). Twist > Rift (6:00) > Caspian (8:06) > ESTHER (11:58)! FUCKING UNREAL!!! Some people say they hate Esther. I want to kill those people, even if they're my phriends. It just happened to be the best one I've heard in 3.0. I guess I should point out that it slightly beat out Hartford '10, I had swine flu and was dying under my car in the desert heat on the ground during Indio, and I couldn't hear it at Merriweather '09 because of those drunken hicks. Don't ask me about Philly '09 and I missed Red Rocks '09. So again, best Esther of 3.0. Next was shit that makes shows legendary: Been Caught Stealing (3:22...was it really that short???) with auto-tuner on the mics to make it so the boys actually sounded like Perry Farrell! IT WAS FUCKING SICK!!! Oh yeah, it was also the first Been Caught Stealing since the NYE run in 1998! 298 FUCKING SHOWS!!! What repeats??? As if we could breath after that Phish launched into a 8:35 minute Piper, which > My Friend, My Friend (5:57) > a ROCKIN' KDF (7:30). HEAT. Next we were treated to RAGING Split Open And Melt (14:20), only the second of the summer. Golgi (4:38) followed and First Tube (8:23) ended the set. Absolute fire. GTBT (6:04) closed out yet another insane southern show. Maybe the south does have that "rising" effect. Phish sure rose to the occasion on these two nights. The only remaining question was: What the fuck are these guys going to pull off on the leg ender, especially being the third father's Day show in a row (sorry, Dad!). Brother was a no-brainer.
   nTelos Pavilion in Portsmouth, VA is a pretty sick venue. It's GA, with good seats and a large pit. It's right on the harbor. Boats sail by with battleships in the backdrop. The only thing that sucks about the venue is the cops, and if you're not being shady, even they're slightly cool. The weather was pretty unbearable because of the humidity, but at least we had the harbor breeze. A few assholes took advantage of the southern hospitality and kept getting back in line to horde posters and merit badges as we made our way into the venue to scoop some sick pit space. Roars came and went as we spotted many of the band member's dads coming on and off stage. Expecting that family was in Portsmouth for myriad reasons (and the fact that Red Light is stationed around Portsmouth), we really thought nothing of it...until the stage crew started setting up four mics. A Capella to start the show maybe? NOPE. Harpua (12:25) started this show! Although probably one of the shortest Harpua's in history (no worries here, I come for the music, not a 20-minute Trey story about Senior Nutbag - although I love it anyway), it featured the bands fathers taking turns voicing the parts of Jimmy's dad!!! IT WAS UN-FUCKING BELIEVABLE!!! Every father did a different part and then Phish raged through the remainder of the song as the fathers filed off stage. It was EPIC. Next was the expected Brother (6:50) which had everyone getting DOWN. For the third year in a row the bands kids came out and sat in or around the bathtub as Trey introduced them all. It was awesome. It's great to see these kids grow...and how normal they seem to be. I heard some commotion behind me and realized that Trey's, Page's, and Fishman's dads were directly behind me on the back pit rail. I turned and shook their hands, thanking each and every one of them for being the fathers  of and  properly raising the greatest band to ever walk the Earth. Dr. McConnell was especially kind and friendly, even giving me the grandfatherly handshake with the overhand on top. It was awesome, one of my favorite Phish moments. Then things got sweaty. The boys teased Leave It To Beaver, an obvious family reference, before launching into DWD (8:34) > Back On The Train (6:40). Funky Bitch (6:57) got the ladies going and then Timber [Jerry](6:29) got the whole crowd rockin'. Next was a NASTY Wedge (6:52), then a knee-breaking Moma Dance (7:16). Next the band gave tribute to Clarence Clemens, the sax player from The E Street band, with Thunder Road (6:01), a Phish debut. R.I.P. Clemens. The standard why-do-we-play-this-anymore <4 minute Tube followed (3:36) before the boys ended the set with a SICK Alaska (9:29) > ANOTHER Bowie (10:41).
   Set Two blew the tent right off of nTelos. Before I even get into it let me say this: In a Leg rife with Second Set explosions, THIS WAS THE BEST SECOND SET OF THE LEG. HANDS DOWN. Crosseyed And Painless (11:12) opener. Crosseyed And Painless > Walls Of The Cave (11:19), only the fourth of 3.0 > Slave (9:26) > another Fluffhead (14:13) > THE SICKEST SAND (13:18) EVER, which even included a stop-start jam going right back into Sand >  a FUNKY Sneakin' Salley Through The Alley (5:38) > Light (7:31) > a forced, short, but still rocking BDTNL (6:40). ABSOLUTE FIRE!!! The set ended with Suzy Greenberg, my most hated song, although once again Page destroyed the piano solo at the end. The boys encored with a predictable but awesome Julius (7:36) and there you had it. Some of the best music of the leg, definitely the best moments of the leg with their families joining them on stage. It's an incredible feeling seeing all that. And unlike last year coming from GA, this ride home from Leg One would  be only 9 hours instead of 18. Joy.
   So after all that complaining about repeats and nostalgia, Phish blew the bone off the tops of our skulls again. These guys are fucking amazing, which is the reason we get so annoyed with complacency and the old going-through-the-motions attitudes. The last three shows proved that not only can Phish still rock it in that Phishy way, but they're capable of blowing minds on a nightly basis. Perhaps it was a last-ditch effort to sell Super Ball IX tickets. I don't care. If it takes Forbin's > Mockingbird, Icculus, Been Caught Stealing, and a DEADLY Sand to get people to buy future tickets then I hope Phish never sells out a show ever again. Now we have 10 - well, we HAD 10 - days to prepare for Super Ball IX and everything that shit show is going to entail. I have no doubt that we'll see every repeat we complained about this First Leg. I also have no doubt that Phish will blow minds, festival style. It's in the northeast, it's on July 4th weekend, and IT'S A PHUCKING PHISH FESTIVAL. But that's another review. The last three shows were the best set of collective shows in the first leg, PERIOD. Bust-outs, sick funky, spacey jams, and Gamehenge galore. What a weekend. Now we get ready for the next big weekend. Getcha' popcorn ready!

- Trigger Treinta Uno

Trigger31.com

Thanks to LivePhish & Phish.net for the set list help. Thanks to my crew for making the first leg so much fun, and thanks to my wife for being so understanding about the shows she couldn't make it to. Dad, I'm sorry I missed your day for the third year in a row, but I know from your texts you were happy just to know I was so happy at these shows.

4 comments:

  1. Just when I think Phish cant play any stupider, they go and play a show like this......... And totally redeem themselves!!!

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  2. Superball will bring the jams all in one set -- I hope! Still need a RUN of shows that puts it all together imo. not just two here and two there.
    3rd peaches. They played one at MSG in 2009

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  3. Thanks Anonymous #2...you're right. I was looking over the set lists and saw the last time they played it before 3.0 was that '99 show. I guess I got so excited I wrote it down as being the last one...I may have also been confusing Peaches and Been Caught Stealing (as far as bust-outs go) when I was writing down all the bust-outs.

    Thanks for the clarification, I'll fix it!

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  4. if you add up all the bust outs then divide a bunch of possums, you've got 3.0 phish

    but in reality you've got a bunch of nostalgia in 4-5 minute dose bust outs followed by possum, dwd, hood, bowie, suzyyyyyy zzzuuuzzzyyyyyy, and a jam or two if you are really extra special lucky!

    -ANONYMOUS #3

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