Phish’s two-night run at Worcester’s DCU Center came and went in a flash.
Thursday night saw the band champion in a new touring year with a barnburner of a show that featured one of their best sequences of playing in a long time with a second set that began with Carini > Twist > Ghost > Boogie On > If I Could. Friday saw a fiery Trey Anastasio and finely tuned band pull off more of the same.
Friday night’s first set would have been a good second set. Things got off to a fast start with the second ever Free opener, which was followed by Kill Devil Falls, a newer Phish tune that Trey absolutely pulverized last night. I continue to love the jam hidden within that song.
The highlight of the first set Friday night was the band’s cover of Ween’s Roses are Free. It’s a fan favorite and is best remembered for the 27 minute version from the 1998 Island Tour. While Friday night’s version didn’t come anywhere near that one, it was the first time in a long time (10 plus years I am hearing) that the band elongated past the structure of the tune. Fishman pounded away at the drums at the end of the song and Trey kept playing. It was beautiful to see. The whole time, while a great groove was getting started, I kept hoping they’d keep playing. The patience from the band paid off and we were witnessing what would be one of the best moments of the night from the third song played.
A great selection of Theme From The Bottom, Axilla and Julius kept the energy alive and well inside the frenzied DCU Center. Halfway through Julius the band lays down a sweet, patient jazz jam before Trey took things home with big rock playing.
The first set ended just about as well as a set could. Maze and Bathtub Gin back to back is not for the weak. Maze featured some of the best Page playing of the night and Trey’s frenetic playing captured the essence of the tune. Bathtub Gin was more of the daring Phish we want to see and hear this year. They quickly deviated from the norm that Gin has provided over the last few years and launched into this slower moving jam that Mike’s bass carried along while Trey patiently attacked the song with a certain swagger not seen as much as of late. The band as a whole played cohesive throughout the jam, picking it up with a few minutes to go, absolutely laying into the tune. Hearing my first Bathtub Gin was a great way to close off a wonderful set.
It’s funny how much better a show experience is when you’re surrounded by good people. I was in the same spot as I was the night before and talked to some of the same people I had seen on Thursday and met a few others who respected the space around them. These vibes are huge to me. The faded drunks didn’t invade the area until the encore break, which was a huge relief.
Set two began with the rumble of Mike’s meaty bass, signifying we were about to get hosed by a Down With Disease. Always a welcome treat, the fan-pleasing tune once again impressed and reminded us all why it’s become one of Phish’s go to jam vehicles. The band was once again patient, letting things happen as they did. There was no plan for this jam, but it turned out mighty fine. I was hoping the little groove Mike was laying down at the end would keep up, but overall the jam explored the outer depths of the song with cohesive playing and full band involvement.
With a Sand following Disease, the crowd knew what they were in store for. It seemed like a longer sequence standing there, but the Sand, falling in just over 8 minutes, packs a lot of punch. And then Trey, somehow, someway, sequenced into bluegrass cover Nellie Kane. I am still not sure how that happened so smoothly, but it worked. The upbeat tune kept spirits high before Trey would launch into a fiery Mike’s Groove. Neither Mike’s Song or Weekapaug Groove were particularly long, but they too packed huge punches. An on point and swagged out Trey means an explosive Mike’s Groove, which is exactly what we got. Weekapaug Groove, an ode to the beach town I’ve frequented countless times over the summers of past, contained most of what to keep an ear out for on the recordings. Having Makisupa Policeman, a fun tune, sandwiched between the two pieces of explosiveness was perfect.
After a soothing Wading in the Velvet Sea, the band launched into 2001, which I had been thinking about moments before Velvet Sea started. I was lucky to hear a great version at MSG in 2011 but this Worcester version tops that. For nearly 10 minutes the entire arena was turned into a huge dance party. Trey kept plugging away and turned this cover into the weighty, meaty and funky song it deserves to be. With Chris Kuroda’s new LED lights streaming away I felt like I was at a modern disco. No one was standing still in that place and it became the highlight of the second set for me.
Like how the two-night run began on Thursday with an old school one-two punch of Buried Alive and Runaway Jim, the run closed in similar fashion with the band treating us to The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony and Suzy Greenberg, another old school combination. The band could have just played Suzy, but giving us Oh Kee Pa as well was a treat. The circus-like Oh Kee Pa paved way for one last fiery moment from the band in Suzy Greenberg, a song that Page absolutely tore up on all of his keys. End show.
If the two nights in Worcester are indicative of what is to come this summer, all Phish fans should be very excited. Song selection and placement was inspired and fresh and the band took risks that paid off. The energy spilled out in that arena was unreal and I can only hope Trey keeps smiling away. With cohesive and focused playing from the entire band, Phish cemented their 2012 tour with great beginnings. Now the challenge is to consistently provide the same to the rest of the country.