Phish, Deer Creek 2

Sun Aug 08 2021

Phish have so many damn songs, and the fewer of them they play in a night, the better we like it. Quite the conundrum for them, except I doubt they give it much thought. Some nights they roll out a greatest-hits show like any old band, and sometimes that results in a boring rock concert. I can only base my impressions on these two shows I’ve attended, but it seems they’re not too interested in playing boring rock concerts on this tour.

Of course the experience is enhanced by the long absence of shows. I don’t think, pre-pandemic, I ever got choked up hearing “Bouncing Around The Room”, yet there it was. I also never heard Phish nail the vocal harmonies in “Roggae” pre-pandemic; they must’ve made a point of practicing singing during the offseason. I don’t remember the last time I heard them singing as well as they’ve been this weekend.

In keeping with the greatest-hits feel, Trey was all about long-held high guitar notes last night, another thing he’s had trouble with in this century. I wish I knew exactly what combination of dexterity and engineering creates the ringing clarity of his sustained notes when everything is dialed in. When it fails it’s a lame gimmick. Last night in “Roggae” and “Down With Disease” especially, he cut the sky in half.

Amidst the overall happy, buoyant mood of the show, pathos crept in for one single song, and that song was “What’s The Use?” Deployed sometimes as a mere novelty, it works best as the emotional centerpiece of a set, and this latest version nearly escaped its own confines for a minute. Odd that a song born of pure improv would remain so structured for over two decades; maybe it’s never too late.

If anyone still thought Phish were some tired legacy act, they shattered that argument on Friday. On Saturday they showed they can still craft a vital, unpredictable show out of mostly overplayed standards. Sundays tend to either bring the long emotional arc of the weekend to a climax or dribble out in jukebox or prog-slog mode. I’m talking pre-pandemic, of course; maybe all bets are off these days. I still can hardly believe this is all happening and who knows when it could be taken away from us again. Let’s all bring proper energetic openness and focus tonight and find out what we’re all made of these days.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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