Review: Phish – DCU Center, Worcester, MA – December 28

After a well-played Monday show to kick off their New Years Eve run of five shows in six days, Phish silenced critics calling Worcester’s first two shows with a second night that featured a number of impressive jams, a couple of worthwhile bust outs, two Phish debuts and quite possibly the best “Harry Hood” of Phish 3.0.

While Monday’s show might have raised a few eyebrows from the online Phish fan community, Tuesday’s performance showed that the band is ready for tomorrow’s show at Madison Square Garden, the first of three that will take place in the city.

A coughing, hoarse-voiced but still high-spirited Trey Anastasio battled through a winter cold and with the rest of the band delivered from the get-go. Phish opened the show with a nice version of “Kill Devil Falls,” with one of my favorite jams I’ve heard out of the song yet, setting an exploratory theme for the rest of the night which would carry throughout the rest of the band’s two sets.

Opting bluegrass/country, the band went with “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own,” played for the first time in 2010, edging the band closer to breaking its record of unique songs played in a year. The previous record was set last year with a total of 247 individual songs. At the end of the night the band would see themselves four songs behind the record they’re obviously trying to break.

“Alaska” saw special guest Sarah Palin join the band. Kidding, of course, but Anastasio was having loads of fun with a Palin sound/keychain toy and in the intro of the song he used it to great hilarity, having Palin sing the words “Alaska, Alaska” before using glorious quotes such as “We hunt, therefore we eat.” The song itself was rousing, just as good as the version I witnessed earlier this year in Hartford. It’s easily become one of my favorite “new” songs.

After a long discussion Phish gave Worcester its biggest bust out of the night as they went into “She Caught the Katy,” a song made popular by Taj Mahal. This was a nice treat and was really well-played, especially considering the band hasn’t played it since 1998.

The first four songs found the band in a pattern of typical peaking Phish jams in “Kill Devil Falls” and “Alaska” with fun, shorter tunes proving the band’s versatile worth in between. The pattern kept in line as Page dropped us into an absolutely spectacular 3.0 version of “Wolfman’s Brother,” the kind you’d expect from the tight playing of the band at this stage in its comeback. When Page initiated the funky clav orgy the crowd erupted and the night’s first glowstick war came into action while the band teared through the rest of the jam.

And no sooner than the next song did the band’s first set pattern of sorts continue as Trey introduced a new song he wrote with Tom Marshall six months prior. “Pigtail” was an upbeat, poppy track, more in the vein of “Heavy Things” than anything else. It was a fun tune to hear and with any new Phish song there’s always room for improvement. All I want to know is where can I get access to whatever sweet stream Marshall was listening to at home.

The second half of the first set was highlighted by a very nice “Stash,” a song the band has been trying to get back to perfection in 3.0. They’re definitely a step closer now. The band closed the first set with the debut of “The Birdwatcher,” an acapella song written in 2004 and played for the first time last night. It was definitely a fun one, and an extra treat on a set that could have simply ended with the scorching “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” that preceded it.

Set two started with fire as Trey sent the band in “Carini,” a song always welcome to my ears. Not as meaty as the version in Providence that followed a sweet jam out of “Rock and Roll,” but still an energetic set opener to put the entire DCU Center into the perfect mood.

Followed by “Backwards Down the Number Line,” the band next found itself in the highlight of the second set with “Back on the Train,” a favorite of mine that’s avoided my ears in the first four shows I’ve seen in my noobish touring career. The jam got dark, spacey and was everything I hoped the song could be. Trey perfectly segued into “Limb by Limb,” continuing what would be a run of seven tracks that would be the highlight of the second set.

While “The Wedge” was as standard as the song comes, “Frankie Says” came into play and let us relax, just as the song says to do. Towards the end things got darker, and the band could have gone in a number of directions, but I was pleased that they chose to go into a moody cover of Neil Young’s “Albuquerque.” It’s hard to explain without being there, but the vibe in the DCU Center was absolutely perfect at that moment, and part of the credit must be given to lighting director Chris Kuroda, who at the end of “Frankie Says” takees the lights off the stage and shines then high into the ceiling and crowd behind and around the band. When Fishman dropped us all into “Harry Hood” things couldn’t have been more perfect.

The near 17-minute “Harry Hood” became the highlight of the entire show, and while complaints on Phish forums say that it didn’t peak therefore it wasn’t great, you wouldn’t find a person inside the arena who wasn’t awed by the jam the band, particular the light, joyful play between Anastasio and McConnell, was pulling out late in the show. Gordon filled in the rest on bass and the band sort of hits a Caribbean tropical vibe and tone, transforming snowy Worcester into a paradise. The jam was unique in nature, and I’m not even sure where it came from, but it showed that this band is still creative and willing to go “there.” If there’s one track worth tracking down from last night’s show, it’s this one.

The band came back for an encore with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Shine a Light,” and while I don’t want to be a jaded noob, this was my third “Shine a Light” encore in five shows this year. I think it’s fair for me to want something else in its place. Nonetheless, it’s always a nice song to hear, and works okay enough in the encore position to send fans off happy into the night.

As I was coughing right along with Trey, it was awesome to see him with high spirits plugging through each and everyone song. The sips of his green tea were more bountiful than normal. I’m surprised they didn’t rest his voice a bit and choose a different encore that he wouldn’t have to sing.

If Worcester night two proved anything, it was that the band didn’t consider the two shows in Massachusetts to simply be a warm up for NYC. That said, fans attending any of the shows at Madison Square Garden in the next coming days should be prepared to face a band ready to destroy the infrastructure of the world’s most famous arena.

Song by song ratings (out of five stars):

*Note: These ratings mean nothing and should be taken with a grain of salt. The ratings are not in relation to Phish’s entire playing career, but only my enjoyment of the song combined with the band’s play and other silly things. It’s just for fun.*

Kill Devil Falls ****
My Mind  ***
Alaska ***
She Caught the Katy ****
Wolfman’s Brother *****
Pigtail **
Stash ****
Bouncing **
Rift ***
Stealing Time ***
The Birdwatcher ***

Carini ***
Number Line **
Back on the Train *****
Limb by Limb ****
The Wedge ***
Frankie Says ****
Albuquerque *****
Harry Hood *****
Bug ****

Shine a Light ***

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