Phish: DTE Energy Music Theatre, 6-3-11

Tue Jun 07 2011

I can’t help dreading the phone calls right after a show like DTE, to Phishheads from my crew who couldn’t make the journey.

“So, how was it?”

“It was probably the best show they’ve played since the return.”  I can’t just say that.  It sucks to be on the receiving end of that, knowing you could’ve been there.  But the words I do choose are true: that wasn’t just some fluke mind-blowing 25-minute “Down With Disease”.  This summer is going to KILL at every turn, and we’re all going to be there to see it at some point or other. In the Phish community, we’ve been consoling ourselves for over two years now like determined loyal sports fans; these are rebuilding years, and the moments of brilliance (and there have been many) have kept us just hopeful enough, even delusional, that the boys were really going to reach levels of greatness we’d only witnessed previously over a decade ago.  But did we really believe it would get to that point?

The members of Phish are getting old.  They’ve been a band for almost 30 years.  The new songs they’ve been writing…maybe they’re not as good as the old songs.  The old songs…sometimes it seems like Phish has forgotten how to turn them into monstrous works of art the way they used to.  What band, after three decades of performing, can still be relevant and vibrant after so long, especially after taking five years off and then reforming?  This was one long nostalgic reunion tour with flashes of the old spark, but deep down, didn’t we suspect that the halcyon days were gone forever?

So we’d say, “That was the best version of ‘Song X’ since the return.”

Now we can say, “That was one of the best versions of ‘Down With Disease’ of all time.  In the discussion thread “Best ‘DWD’ ever”, this one must be in the conversation.  It will be analyzed and fawned over for years to come.  But most importantly, it wasn’t a lonely highlight in an otherwise ho-hum show; it was a damn-near perfect show, the kind the makes the years of faith and good will all worth it.  For all of us fans.  Whether you were there or not, now you know: it WAS all leading to something.  Our patience HAS paid off.

“Disease” has never been one of my favorite songs, which is really stupid.  Not only has it been there at key moments in my personal Phish obsession, it has been the jam savior of the modern era.  It was the only standout jam in the opening three-show stand of Hampton 2009, the most notable moment in the band’s first performances in four and a half years.  When everyone stood lackadaisically in Toyota Park last June expecting another unremarkable tour opener, Phish shockingly openend with the jam and proceeded to play a killer show front to back.  At arguably the best show of the summer, Phish laid waste to the vast lawn of Alpine Valley with a brain-bending “Disease” jam that morphed effortlessly into “What’s The Use?” in a still-legendary piece of spontaneous art.  Point being, I suppose: when Phish 3.0 plays the Midwest, get fucking pumped when you hear that swirling growl of an intro.

So, then there was that intensely creative “Chalk Dust Torture” in the first set, not just stretching it out for the sake of jamming but moving patiently in and out of darkness and light but never losing sight of the prize, my favorite version since the return.  There was the point at which someone threw a beach ball at Page with the word “Tela” written on it, and after much discussion, the band played the beloved rarity, a little shaky at first but the way Trey nailed the lightning-fast ending trills you’d think he’d been planning this for weeks.  There was “Bowie”, which began with a grinding, hellacious doom drone, the evilest shit Phish has conjured since Vegas ‘98.  When it actually, discernibly became “Bowie”, before Trey ever played a chord, it was already the best “Bowie” of the past two years, and it did not cease to be that for one second.  It was a true remembering of the classic mid-90s, when you were never quite sure if it was even going to make it back into itself, but when it did you could barely move you were so stunned.

Little things?  Like the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to Mike as he walked out for the second set?  Like the most triumphant “Fluffhead” guitar solo in memory?  Like a soaring “Waste” that moved even the jaded vets?  Like the “Also Sprach Zarathustra” with teases of “Waste”, “Sex Machine” and “Super Bad”?  Like the psychotic, everywhere-at-once encore jam of “Good Times Bad Times” with the frenzied peak that everyone impossibly knew was the end?  Okay, that wasn’t even a little thing; that was huge.  An encore jam worthy of a show that will, inarguably, go down as a classic, regardless of era, in the Phish pantheon.

Yeah, everything is relative, and Phish has been playing steadily better and better for over two years now, and in every year, there have been transcendent moments of music.  But if Trey, Page, Mike and Fish can do what they did Friday night with any consistency, we’re talking about a return to greatness, relative to nothing.  Or, if you prefer, relative to everything.

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