, attached to 2009-08-05

Review by thephunkydrb

thephunkydrb It was a swell evening to have spent with Phish. I just love the West Coast crowd, where people so mellow, perhaps more willing to look you in the eye and smile that knowing smile than their counterparts from other parts of the country. So, the vibe was set from the outset. And then Phish came onstage and regaled us as only they can"...

First set was alright. It had some nice moments, but was uneven. Mainly, "Time Turns Elastic" was - as has been mentioned over and over on phan boards - pretty much a buzz kill. As I experienced it, it broke up the phlow of what would otherwise have been a solid set. But, more importantly, the highlights"...

First off, it was a trippy start to the show. As soon as the band hit the stage, this giant, multi-prop military cargo plane flew RIGHT over us in the lawn, arcing the grass bowl perfectly. It was low and loud, and perfectly timed - I mean, perfectly. The crowd went nuts, and it felt like a mad bomber show was imminent. Oddly, the plane(s) kept making passes, back and forth, several times throughout the first set, though none as low and intense as that first one. I couldn't help but wonder if the band had hired the damn thing to do this"...

In any case, it was great fun to kick things off with "Golgi," "Halley's," "Chalkdust," and "Divided Sky." High energy stuff that had us all ready to go. And the four of us, my dad, and two of my best friends, where READY TO GO. The "Chalkdust" had a an interesting moment where they took a left turn in the jam, where they went abstract and out there. I was super intrigued, and hoping they'd really go for it, but they chose to bring it back to the traditional build and conclusion of the song. A look ahead to the jamming that would, indeed, come later"...

It's always a treat to hear "When the Circus Come to Town." I personally didn't need a ballad break (too ready to keep going, too pumped), but I've always dug this song. It's beautiful, and somewhat rare, and they played it with total heart"...

Again, the "Time Turns" mid-set was just lame - a buzzkill for me. I've been trying to give the song the benefit of the doubt ever since first hearing it, but between the cheese-ball lyrics and the ponderous prog rock, it seemed to go on forever. And, looking around, nobody was into it. Not quite sure why they bother playing it (especially as often as they do). I know, I know, Trey gets to have his fun - Lord knows he earns these moments. But, they thankfully made up for this by working the energy back up right away. About 30 seconds into "Ya Mar," I knew we were right back on track. This was actually a show highlight for me. Mainly, Gordeaux was going to town on his bass. He was actually super on all night; for me, the MVP of the show (if you download the show, it's worth tuning into him specifically). He was taking the standard bass line and playing extra stuff all around it. It was busy even as it was airy and light. Playful to the max. And it made the song just pop with good energy. My friend, Keith, had never seen, or heard much of, Phish. And it was during "Ya Mar" that he began to really beam and "get it""...

The rest of the set was fine. The new "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan" is a solid blues-based rocker. There's something appealing about it, and about singing - no belting -  "got a blank space where my mind should be""... And "Suzy" was a welcome bit of upbeat hollering, played with appropriate gusto (another place where Mike's on-ness was evident, along with some killer soloing by Page). But it was the "Bowie" that really capped off the set, was the payoff. They didn't go far, far out, but they broke it down and then built it up quite nicely. There was a full moon (in Aquarius) that night, and it was just starting to peek out of the bay and the clouds, over Shoreline's two-spired tent, while "Bowie" was unfolding. As Keith pointed out, the dynamics of the jam they were laying down seemed to mirror the moon's coming in and out of the clouds. Pretty cool stuff"...

But it was the second set that had the real treats in it. I was all too happy to have it kicked off with "Backwards Down the Number Line." Though I didn't know what to make of it when they debuted it at Hampton, later listens on my iPod have made clear to me that this is a sweet, sweet song. I love the story behind the lyrics and the song's coming into existence. All about friendship, and looking back while moving forward. Quite fitting for what we all, band included, seem to be experiencing with Phish in `09. It's just a happy song, plain and simple, as only Phish seems able to do happy. And they jammed it out a little more than usual, which just got us all super ready for what came next.

So, as soon as the bass whooshes that intro "DWD" hit, we knew that it was really on. And, boy, was it ever. As Mr. Miner stated the following day, it was "a jam that reached several distinct planes, Phish's bravado was on display as they confidently blasted off into the nether regions of sonic manipulation. From blistering rock, to gorgeous passages of layered psychedelia, this jam wove together many musical milieus organically with a daring spirit. Unquestionably the centerpiece of the show, this piece brought balls-out improv, illustrating that Red Rocks was - in fact - not some magic oasis up in the mountains." Indeed. It was a good one. Can't wait to hear it again. I just remember being very impressed by the band's willingness to really go out there, all the while listening to each other quite well; keeping it coherent and purposeful, even as they explored way out there abstractions. Glowstick wars burst out for this one, one on the lawn where we were, one below. Full moon madness"...

Out of the big "DWD" jam it seemed perfect for them to drop into "Limb by Limb." As happens to all of us at points, I had a real oh-now-I-really-get-it moment with the chorus. Being dropped off a Chinese wall, fingers peeled from the rim, and coming unglued in midair to re-form limb by limb... An existential moment embraced - fully, humbly. This seemed like the exact thing that was happening to all of us at that point. And it most certainly had some personal relevance for me, stuff well beyond description here. This is another one I'm looking fwd to re-listening to. It wasn't drawn out much, but there was some interesting improv built into this one, with a somewhat different sounding take on "Limb."

Then, as it was time for a breather, I couldn't believe what I was recognizing. Velvet Underground's "Oh! Sweet Nothin'." I loved this song the first time I saw it played, for Halloween '98, in Vegas. A perfect ballad, combining the everyday, despair, and beauty, as only Lou Reed can write about them. And now, playing it for only the second time ever (I guess I'm one of the people who gets to say I've seen the only two performances of the song!), the band was relishing it. A sweet song, and a totally left-field bustout"...

To get it going again, they then dropped "Cities." I knew I should have put it in my parking lot picks list, as I suspected it was coming (damn!). And it did come. They stretched this one out, too, and had us a-funkin' for sure. Another one I can't wait to listen to again, as it had some relatively far-afield jamming that was oh so groove-y. I mean, it had to go out there for it to be able to segue, as it did, into "Maze." And what a song "Maze" is. It may be one of the better marriages of form and content on Phish's part, with the song's structure and feel mirroring what it might be like to undergo the fabled maze. The tension-and-release of the jams is just so much fun, and they were working that crowd, big time, at Shoreline. A re-listen is in order to assess just how big it really was, but it felt pretty big...

Then they dropped a "Mike's>Simple>Weekapaug." Some happy, high-energy jamming on "Mike's." I'm not a huge fan of this song, as I've grown a bit tired of it, and it seems like a bit of a clichè© to me, unless they really do something with it. But, at least it was well-played and high-energy. The "Simple," however, was a welcome drop, since I'd been wanting to hear this, though did not expect it out of "Mike's" (I wonder when the last time they did this segue was"...?). It had good energy, and then morphed into the kind of jam I like in a "Simple" -  like the one on "Hampton Comes Alive": pretty and melodic, breaking it down to subtle particles of distilled, pure beauty"... Before kicking into a solid, fun "Weekapaug,"which had buoyancy and kick to spare, leaving us feeling the joy of that groove"...

At this point, as I realized the second set was over, I was feeling two things. I'd just had a really, really fun time. The crowd was undoubtedly into it and felt palpably cohesive and positive. There'd been glowstick wars and good crowd-band swells to dig on. You could just feel the California people being SO glad to have Phish back on their turf. It had been a good, solid show in that respect. But, I was also feeling a bit disappointed. I mean, it was a fine show, with some super solid highlights - and oodles of fun were had, believe me. But, other than the "DWD," nothing mind-blowingly awesome or huge went down. Mainly, it was not a perfectly-flowed groovefest from beginning to end. The first set was choppy and disjointed, mainly because of stupid-dumb "Time Turns Elastic" (I really hope I don't have to hear this in Indio).

In sum, I feel the band held back, was basically taking a night off. I was not surprised, as I expected this, it being after Red Rocks and before The Gorge. They didn't really wow us. Even for a mellow night, though, it was still VERY enjoyable. And, the sound was better than I expected, given my previous experiences at Shoreline. In all, they did keep it solid, and still totally took care of business. A good night with Phish I am not really going to complain about, but relish for its definitely-there worth.

Though Shoreline wasn't as full-blown as I'd have liked it to be, I'm still so freakin' thrilled this band is back, and in the way that they are. Listening to this summer's shows, feeling it all out, reading reports from phans; it's clear they're here to do good in the world again. I discern a clear sense of purpose and communication. There's risk-taking, playfulness. And, most importantly, a sense of joy. The upcoming album could not be more aptly titled. It's good see/hear/feel that again, to be feeling the feelings I forgot"....


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