What can you say about a band whose first songwriting effort yielded "First Tube"?
Trey walked out, jumped around like a kid, pumped his fists. It was gonna be a big old love fest tonight.
"What's Done" was the second song, and already, it was as if Clapton circa '74 (they used to call him God) was standing up there, albeit toxin-free and in complete control.
Hearing "Push On 'Til The Day" for the first time in over four years...when we thought there might never be any more Phish, this was the first song that made that prospect seem tolerable. Tonight, it was an old friend I hadn't seen in forever, but we both still remembered the secret handshake.
"Let Me Lie" just does something to me. It has that askew knowing-innocence that only Trey and Tom can evoke. I can't read anything into it. I can't dissect it. Just feels good.
Ray's best solo of the first set came in the tour debut of "Sleep Again". It must be weirdly comforting for Trey to sing those words now, as if they've come true.
"Birdwatcher" was like being transported into a speakeasy, sparking the party portion of the show. "Valentine" didn't blow me away, although I did spend part of it in line for a toilet. "Cayman Review" was solid, and "Gotta Jibboo" extended the drinking motif...Trey appeared to be chomping at the bit, but as the horns backed away, Ray took the reins for a while, leading to a keyb/gtr/bass/drum jam not really like Phish at all, but still...Red. The horns returned for the first of many instances throughout the night when the seven-piece ensemble locked into a single-minded groove with the unnerving determination of a Terminator and the pulse of a heart attack.
"Sultans Of Swing" figured to be the set-closer, but we were treated to a solo acoustic interlude. This manner of "Bathtub Gin" at the first Bonnaroo was a heartbreaker, not knowing if or how we'd ever hear it again. Now Trey with the acoustic is a plain celebration of the new reality. He just makes you smile until it hurts. I'm a fan. Never expected "Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan" or "Backwards Down The Number Line" but this little showcase only served to remind me how much these songs have already become complete Phish songs to me.
At setbreak, I had my first internet community>actual human interaction experience. SillyWilly and albert walker look nothing like their avatars. A flurry of Phish banter that made my head swirl (and Will's as well, I do believe). A couple of cool cats from the coolest gathering place in cyberspace.
It was Jim's birthday, after all. So naturally, he called the second set opener: "Curlew's Call". The band was in the zone from note one.
"Sand"...Why must Trey deprive the Phish audience of this nugget of grand blues funk?
Because it's just better with the horns, folks. Classic TAB=not experimenting, just locking in; that's how "Sand" was created. Trey keeps a jam going exactly as long as he wants; no Fishman to end it early (just sayin'). To sustain the kind of intensity that brewed up in this jam takes something beyond mere musicianship; to harness it and bring it all back around to a point of closure takes the will of a superhero. Harrowing, and absolutely perfect.
Let's say in 1999, the "symptom" was a lack of direction, and the "cause" was drugs. Maybe today, the symptom is the fear that the jams won't work without the drugs. Then the stated goal of "Sand" is a rousing success now just as it was then; it just reflects a healthier reality.
I just love the main riff of "Night Speaks To A Woman". I'm back at Bonnaroo 2002. I'll be back in twenty minutes or so.
Trey and Ray engage in a raging battle. Trey toying with a harmonic variation on the main theme is pretty insane. The climax is as unexpectedly perfectly timed as the best "Harry Hood"s.
"Goodbye Head" is the TAB "Time Turns Elastic", except everyone seems to like it much better for some reason. I'm easy, I love 'em both. This is a brilliant composition, impeccably nailed tonight in all its reverse-"Kashmir" glory. It slides gracefully into "Words To Wanda"; getting this and "Let Me Lie" in the same show is kind of a full-circle moment for me. I just remember feeling like these two tunes blew away almost all of the non-Marshall songs on Bar 17/18 Steps, and where are those now?
"Money Love & Change". You'll have to excuse me for a spell. I'm back at Alpine Valley 2001.
Phish 2.0: Trey trying to turn Page into Ray. Phish 3.0 + Classic TAB: Trey having his cake and eating it, too. These musicians SO commit to the groove, and to Trey as commander-in-chief. He rallies them into this fury of sound, and they return to the main theme in the end because it just couldn't have gotten any more intense in that room.
Breather: "Small Axe". "All That Almost Was" feels more like a celebration of what is and what will be.
I'll be pretty shocked if I ever hear a version of "Spin" that tops the one from the Vic Theatre in 2006, but I'll always get a little freaky feeling when I hear the song now because of that night. The song proper ends in a whirlwind crush of guitar, and the jam is a totally separate animal. Trey slowly, deliberately unsheathes the lightsaber and just slays the Wampa. There's no one else on that stage.
A virtual Johnny Ramone strum-fest through "Tuesday" as the horns have their way ends the set. The encore is a repeat of New York's two nights earlier, and also exactly what I'd hoped for: my first live "Magilla" of any kind, and after a heartfelt tribute to everyone in the band, "First Tube". I could get this every night and never get too much of it. Guitar aloft, screeching, a huge grin on the axeman's face, the crowd in rapture.
Ultimately, the same way I feel after every TAB show: it's not Phish, but Trey still takes me to places nobody else can.