Summer Tour 2019 is the first actual tour since the creation of 10 Kasvot Vaxt iRokk songs and 21 Ghosts of the Forest songs. Assuming that all GOTF songs are on the table, that’s 31 new songs. What does a shit ton of new material mean? Huge risks, huge rewards.
I see two divergent forces driving Trey at this moment. On the one hand, he’s creating new music and always pushing forward and trying hard to make all of the new tunes work with his band. If you watch “Between Me and My Mind,” you’ll see how hard Trey works to get the rest of the band on board with his ideas, musically and otherwise. I think you can feel that this tour, particularly with the GOTF songs. This hard work is always present and recognizable.
And then there’s the flip side, the trying to let go. As Trey said in the recent New York Times interview, “I do as much preparation as I can, but once everybody gets in the room, I let go.”
That’s a tricky balance. Sometimes it works perfectly. Camden night one had an “About to Run” that was well placed, ferocious, but at the same time, comfortable. That set was the perfect example of that letting go and letting it happen. The highlights from night two were also from new songs, but getting there was a bumpier ride. Looking for jams, with some to be found.
The band came out swinging in set one, with a “Mike’s Groove” that captured the crowd’s energy and built on it. A classic “I Am Hydrogen” reminded me, yet again, just how perfect of a centerpiece that is to “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove.”
A “Divided Sky” followed, which was lovely as always, and this shot from the pavilion provided a nice divided view as well.
The band was wasting no time getting into jams. Although “Everything’s Right” was only 9:50, it got deep. I feel like Page’s effects and varied use of the keys has helped get these jams further along more quickly. I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve heard from him this tour. This song is becoming the go-to set one improv anchor, and I'm all for it.
Here you have a first set that had only one song that debuted after 2003 (“Everything’s Right”). The old school set one set us up to believe we were in for an old school rocker in Camden.
So what happens next? One huge jam like “Mercury” from night one? A “Tweezer”? As an aside, anyone who goes to a show with me will probably have two observations: 1) he dances his ass off; 2) he really always thinks they’ll play “Tweezer.”
“Blaze On” has become a dependable jam vehicle, with at least 10 of the 43 versions to date notably impressing us with solid improvisation. Similarly to a few others jams of the night, it didn’t take them long to get into the goods. This was a really great nine minutes, and I thought this could push into the 15-20 minute territory easily. Why are we so obsessed with jam length? Why can’t a nine minute jam be as good as a 20 minute jam? Well, because that’s not how it works. You need the time and space to push into truly original territory. I think that’s about 15 minutes, give or take.
We did not see the resolution this time. A sonically pleasing but nonetheless abrupt hard left into “NICU” brought us to the next chapter in this set. A “Golden Age” that started to wind down around six minutes made me realize that this balance of letting go and pushing new material wasn’t quite working this time. They were cycling through songs, with Trey looking for a comfortable space.
And then we landed into “Ruby Waves.” This one already works really well in the repertoire. This 13 minute jam gave us a window into what’s possible with the GOTF songs in the Phish canon. Page and Trey’s interplay was great, and Page was going between piano, synth, organ, clav, really almost everything in the rig. Trey found a pretty major key early in the jam, but instead of peaking too early, they moved on to a little bit of a darker space. This was the patience, the letting go, the pushing, all landing at once.
Also, what the fuck is going on with Fishman? How is he able to play for three hours every night without even taking a break? He absolutely drives all of this improv, without seeming to even need to slow down once. The psychedelic space they enter around seven minutes is exactly what I’m looking for. Spacious, sparkly psychedelia. Welcome.
Balance achieved. This is what second sets smell like. Right? We'll see. From here, we move into “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long,” which is appropriately incredibly short. A mid-second set “Rift”? Don’t ask me.
We get into another wonderful new space with “Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1.” I felt like I was living inside a 1989 “Dark Star.” One of the most unique sounding jams I’ve heard from Phish in a long time. This perfectly melded the GOTF sound with the Phish sound. I hope this one comes back. “We’re all here together and the weather’s fine.” Yes.
A late second set “Waiting All Night”? Again, don't ask me. But the “Ghost” that followed was, similar to other jams of the night, fast and furious. I couldn’t believe this was an eight minute jam. But it was nice to hear.
Let me take a moment to talk about “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” Holy shit, Trey’s soloing on this song this tour is just absolutely fierce. It’s like he took the Clapton/Hendrix mashup from the GOTF sound and combined it with his white Stratocaster from Vegas. Really just on fire. Extra mustard, all the technical terms. Listen to this jam. (Me expressing my appreciation for this jam in the photo below.)
Finally, back to basics with a “You Enjoy Myself” encore, which felt a little bit like a thank you to the fans for bearing with the experimentation and risk-taking involved with integrating new songs with old Phish and trying to let go while pushing forward and trying to keep fans, the band, and the jaded vets happy at once.
Trey’s dancing before the vocal jam reminded me what I look like when I dance, which made me laugh. “Grind” was a little extra treat that helped us all appreciate the wonderful goofiness of this band.
So you have risks, and you have rewards. These new songs are clearly the inspiration for the improv we are hearing, similary to how new material has played this role since 2013. We get new songs, we get new inspiration, we get new music. The cycle continues. It's a difficult balance to achieve, a push and a pull, between old and new. But isn't that how life is? We balance the old with the new, the pushing and the letting go, the exploratory with the familiar. It's not always going to work. But I'm eager to see where it goes next.
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