See, they wrote this song, shortly before the pandemic hit, called “Sigma Oasis”, and it has this lyric about “take off your mask”. And you might argue that the current world is no place for this new-age bullshit, regardless of whether or not you think they were singing this in blissful self-ignorance. I defer to the guys onstage in this matter; they know better than I do what might make a difference in some stranger’s life.
I think they’re probably enjoying the dichotomy; it’s not altogether dissimilar from the sort of faux-pas that occur on social media and have people mad at you forever, though, only in this case, face to face, there’s context and there’s history, and no explanation or apology is necessary. Just a goofy coincidence, that’s all.
Plenty of Phish fans, however, just like any conspiracy nut, will try to put extra meaning sauce on every word outta Trey’s mouth, meaning the singing of this song is at least a tiny bit risky. Who are we kidding, every one of us in that venue was taking a significant risk, with potential consequences only to be understood, maybe, a long time from now. For my part, I’ll admit that it’s hard to bask in the afterglow of something so uplifting and healing to the soul and think, ‘we shouldn’t have done this’.
Phish, for their part, can only do so much to make a journey like this worth the risks, because once they’re up on the stage, the rule is there are no rules. They can pick and choose their songs as they go, but the magic either happens or doesn’t almost independently of these decisions. However, there are certain no-brainer options to tilt the odds.
For instance, “The Curtain”. Everyone loves that one, right? Also, taking songs like “Mike’s Song” and “David Bowie”, sorely neglected jam vehicles in 3.0, and allowing them to breathe a little. Little reminders that anything is possible, little pockets of effort and intention where historically there has been very little. Pulling off a satisfying “Taste” helps, too, particularly as its lyrics become almost too on-point as our society program continues to degrade.
To be completely honest, it can be about what they don’t do, too. Clogging up the second set with “Fuego” or “Petrichor” or some other new-fangled prog behemoth, they did not, for instance, do last night. Instead they told us The Story Of The Sally. They decided to show us that they can still bewilder the hell out of the newb contingency if they feel like it. That they can just go in and out of whatever song they feel like, whenever they feel like it, regardless of key or cadence. That they don’t care how it’s going to sound, they’ll just go for it and trust themselves to listen and recover.
There were definitely a lot of awkward stumbles last night, and not one of them tripped the band up for more than a few bars. It didn’t matter who made a wrong move—the whole band worked to readjust and get back into synch, like it was old hat. Trey didn’t make it easy; the main jam of the second set, nobody could possibly have said what song it was actually in, until it wrapped itself up as “Twist”. That’s the thing, and they know it of course: we don’t want to know what song we’re in.
Taken at face value, this second set was…utter nonsense. You would not play this for a music critic you were trying to win over. Imagine a random person walking in off the street, trying to make heads or tails of it. I’m not generally big into the mashup fests myself, and this one practically reached the point of self-mockery. Whether it amounted to a Kaufman-esque self-own or Trey really thinks it’s fun and cool to push this gimmick as far as he can, I found myself just laughing the whole time. I guess I don’t feel like making any more time for resisting enjoyment of a thing I love based on some artistic hangup. Besides, I actually enjoyed tracing the intertwining elements of the song hybrids as they mutated. It’s not as much fun as surrendering to wide-open improv, but it’s still fun.
I loved the set; it was stupid, hilarious, weird, emotionally charged, and way better than all of last summer entirely. It may not have been your bag but I assure you it was a lot of fans’. (Bags.) Our only task was to dance in appreciation, ‘cause while plenty of Phish shows over the past several years amount to radio-friendly barnburners designed to impress, this one was created as something only a Phishhead could enjoy. Once upon a time that meant something.