Well, here we are. Memorial Day 2011. The 2010 New Year's Run doesn't seem that long ago in some ways. My winter and spring were busy, and I didn't listen to Phish all that much for the first time since their return at Hampton, except for a two-week stint back in March when I was obsessing on these YouTube videos.
So, when Phish took the stage Friday night at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and I settled in at HoodStream.com for Couch Tour 2011, I wasn't as dialed in to Phish as I normally would be. I was thinking, OK, yeah, a rippin' Chalk Dust Torture to open the summer, maybe an early first set Foam, perhaps some Country Mike, and maybe an Ocelot as Phish got warmed up.
There would be no warm-up show.
Phish signaled what was to come by dropping a first-song-of-the-summer Tweezer that segued into My Friend My Friend. After steamrolling a handful of songs, Stash appeared and like the tornadoes that ravaged the South and Midwest in recent weeks, this one kept gaining momentum, starting quietly, getting darker and darker, adding layers and growing wider until it was a full-fledged spinning beast laying waste to everything and everyone in its path. To give everyone a quick breather Phish then "ran through the motions" on Bouncin' before cranking up Kill Devil Falls, a great version that sailed along psychedelic style like a balloon dancing over the crowd.
Set two started off with the first-set, song-by-song flavor of Carini, Back on the Train and Boogie On Reggae Woman but once the verses ended to Boogie On Phish entered new, free-form territory. It sounded like a tape does when it slows down and the music and voices seem grotesquely stretched out and deep.
THIS IS TRUE HOSE. The likes we have not seen in years.
Finally, they settled into one of the spaciest jams I can remember hearing. There is something different about this one from anything that came before it. Trust me on this. Give it a listen. The free-flowing exploration continued through Waves and the band continued to nail it right up to the final notes of Wading in the Velvet Sea.
So, I figured, OK, that was a killer start to Summer Tour 2011, but they likely will tone it down a little on night two.
The second night at Bethel Woods is quite simply one of the best Phish shows I've ever heard since first being introduced to the band back in 1991. It's a face melter and I could go song by song here, reviewing the steps this monster took across my brain, but this show is better to listen to yourself than to hear my opinion. Do yourself a favor and download it.
Put it this way ... when the show ended and the chat room on HoodStream was thinning out I hung around feeling like I do when I witness a mind-blowing show in person. It was orgasmic, nostalgic (as Mr. Minor alluded to) and I didn't want the feeling to end. The crowd sounded like it felt that way, too. After the last note the cheers were more of a long, dull roar than a burst of excitement and applause. One of those, "What the hell just happened?" cheers that only Phish can milk out of a crowd that knows their music all too well. My friends across the country felt the same way; my phone started blowing up a couple of minutes after the show ended with people saying things like, "Did you hear that?" and "That was amazing."
Night Three at Bethel Woods (download it) didn't have the improvisational twists and turns of night two, but it was a solid barn-burner and a classic East Coast ripper of a show. Night three reminded me of the Machine Gun Trey days of the middle 1990s, especially Antelope; it doesn't always reach the highest of high peaks like it used to, but this version received the full-on windup treatment. And of course, to wrap up the entire weekend in a nice little Bag O' Phish, the band bookended the final encore with Tweeprise.
The Summer Tour 2011 circus stops next in Holmdel, N.J., on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. What's next? I'm hoping to hear some new material. Then again, if they continue tearing apart the space-time continuum like they did in Bethel, I don't care what they decide to play as long as they are playing.
LATEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE WEB
Phish Finishes Tweezer, Bethel Run (Jambands.com)
Friends, Food and Phish Delight Crowd (Times Herald-Record)
Police Fish Out Drug Use at Jam Band Concert in Sullivan County (The Journal News)
Phish Bethel Night Three: Setlist and Skinny (Hidden Track)
by Dave Vann Posted on 'From the Road'