Phish: UIC Pavilion, 8/17/11

Mon Aug 22 2011

UIC Pavilion is one venue that Phish has only played sporadically but each time will go down as legendary.  It has the dubious honor of hosting the first known glowstick war in the fall of 1994, but musically, the most talked-about highlight (at least, prior to 2011) was probably the beastly “AC/DC Bag”>”Ghost” from November of 1998.  “AC/DC” has remained firmly IN the bag since Phish returned in 2009, and the specter of a big “Ghost” loomed large over this final night of tour, so in a sense, even though everything after Monday night was essentially gravy, hopes were exceedingly high for some sort of further madness to keep the scene abuzz for two weeks until the quasi-festival in Denver and during the long wait for more Phish in 2012.

As it happened, things got notable from the very first note: confounding every opener-guesser in the house, the band started the show with the Gamehendge centerpiece of “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent”>”Fly Famous Mockingbird” for the first time in over two decades.  The complex piece was a little more than Trey’s fingers (er, “weary carcass”??) could handle, but just pulling it off competently was a major kickdown for long-suffering fans who figured we’d probably never get to hear these tunes live (even sans narration).  Same for “Weigh”, played for only the fifth time since 1997, not incredibly crisp by Trey but sooooooooo nice to hear all the same.

Truth be told, Trey was anything but hot in this first set, turning in unremarkable if not downright sloppy performances in several tunes.  Page and Mike valiantly made up for Red’s lack of inspiration most of the time, rescuing the ubiquitous “Possum” from utter dullness and elevating “Maze” to rip-roaring status.  Fans anxiously waiting for “Bathtub Gin” to return to glory weren’t rewarded tonight; the last major vehicular holdout remained restrained, although again, Page was playing for his life and Mike was thunderous.  Portentously, everything came together for the set-closing “First Tube”, as Trey finally found his mojo and led the boys on a triumphant quest, reaching the summit with a roar that shook the building.

Anybody remember when “Crosseyed And Painless” was a rarity?  The band has played it as many times this year as in its entire pre-hiatus run and, um, I don’t think anyone’s complaining, actually.  Throughout the rebuilding years, the Talking Heads gem has yielded transcendent Phishyness at nearly every turn (see: Alpine and Red Rocks ’09, Charleston ’10 and many examples from this year), but tonight’s may take the cake simply because in the minds of fans who were there, it is still ongoing.  Despite a dearth of true exploration, this second set flowed with cohesion and purpose, all centered around the “Crosseyed” motif.  That’s not to discount the initial jam itself, which resolved naturally into a spooky, atmospheric haze and was reborn as “No Quarter”; this was the most eerily Zeppelinesque and remarkable version of the tune yet, a major highlight of the show.  Then, during the brief “Timber” jam, the cries of “still waiting” reappeared to everyone’s delight, not for the last time.

The much-anticipated “Tweezer” wasn’t exactly huge, but it descended quickly into some mesmerizing, trickly interplay before surrendering to “Prince Caspian”, which in turn shifted into “Piper” before it even approached an ending.  “Piper” might have faded from memory were it not for a full-on “Crosseyed” reprise that sent the energy through the roof.  We were allowed to believe that the sandwich was complete for a while, as the band barely played “Ghost” (hey, we like ‘em unpredictable, right?) before Trey wedged in “Makisupa Policeman”, a tune I’m somehow starting to like, thanks to hilarious versions like this one (“Harry Chronic Jr.?  Van InHalen?”).

It wasn’t until the growling, fake-closer “Character Zero” that “still waiting” rang out again in sinister fashion, and again in a nearly-botched “Run Like An Antelope” that was otherwise pretty standard (and, as such, awesome).  The antics continued even into the encore, making “Funky Bitch” actually somewhat interesting.  “Show Of Life” is, justifiably, the most-played post-Joy Phish tune; even though it shows no potential for expansion, it’s a solid, heartfelt anthem, and just when you think you’ve got this band nailed down…”Tweezer Reprise” is simply one of the most ferocious sounds Phish ever makes, but every version is nearly identical, except tonight, as the boys inserted some final “still waiting” action into their most beloved, least-likely-to-be-altered show-closer.

Rather than jam the shit out of everything, as many fans would have them do (um…*sheepishly raises hand*), they orchestrated three very different, peak-level performances that showcased everything they do better than everybody else, with very few missteps.  The UIC legend has ballooned again, with three shows every bit as good as any previous run here; if Phish ever plays this shed again, maybe we’ll get that “AC/DC Bag” sequel then.
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