Thursday, November 19, 2009

Phish: Live In Detroit - Wednesday, November 19, 2009

As I tweeted yesterday, I was unable to make it to the Phish show in Detroit. Thankfully, my good friends over at were able to make it and have given me permission to post their show review. I recommend heading over to Dog Gone Blog for more pics and sound clips.

On a cool, rainy night in the Motor city, Phish opened their fall tour with a show that hinted at what will come as the tour progresses. Phish got started with some standard rock, bringing Cobo Arena back to its roots, one last time.

The first set flowed like one from a past era, sprinkled with new songs to add an original flavor. The setlist was surprising, and carried the night into a more of a rock-concert feel than a Phish show. However, certain moments saw a combination of the two which made for a perfect tour starter. “Sample in a Jar” heard Trey deliver one of his best standard rock solos this year, as he shed some of his edgy tone, and at the same time, brought back licks we have not heard in years. So many Phish fans have negative feelings for anything that isn’t wildly outside jamming, but this “Sample” reminded us how great, and diverse, Phish’s musical catalog is. Such a simple song, when played well, can have an incredibly powerful impact. “Kill Devil Falls” picked up on this vibe, carrying into an extended jam that continued to heat things up inside Cobo. “It’s Ice” came as a very welcome treat, and was executed fairly well. “Ice” is far better suited for arena shows, and as the tour progresses, will hopefully make a dive toward the depths it saw this year at Hampton.

“46 Days” was one of the highlights of the night, as the band took the song into a deep, percussive groove. Page initiated an ascending pattern that has been present in many jams in ‘09, and Trey quickly latched on, syncopating his notes amongst the rest. As the song risked being dragged into an extended guitar solo, Trey kicked back into the chorus to add some additional power to the song. Upon reentering the jam, the band diverged into a syncopated layer of crawling funk-filled notes that brought the show to a new level. Coupled with Kuroda’s psychedelic light show, Cobo Arena came to life, as legend had told. “Bowie” closed the set, as expected, and though we hoped to see it reach into its potential depths, it only hinted at greatness before coming to a close.

The second set saw the first dark “Disease” of the year, showcasing the band’s tight new form, and unimpeded new direction. The jam flowed perfectly into “Free”, another ultimate arena rocker. Trey, who in the past has referred to his guitar pedals as his “safety mechanisms” has slowly been using them less in his playing (has anyone else noticed?) as he becomes more comfortable and confident leading his old band.

Distortion pedals and effect pedals allow guitarists a certain forgiveness that Chet Atkins described quite elegantly. Known for playing in his high school bathroom to achieve a natural reverb, Chet simply said when asked about it, “it just made me sound better than I really was”. In March, and much of the summer, Trey’s sound was dominated by his effect-laden tone, with heavy use of his new favorite toy, the digitech wham II. After 8, as a natural energy took over, and Trey no longer required his safety cushions to falls back on, we saw him slowly return to a cleaner, less effect-heavy style of playing. Last night followed in this new development, as we heard him incorporate a greater use of his licks from the ‘98-’99 era.

The set featured an interesting mix of slow and fast tempos, laying the set out in a spontaneous way that all come together by the end. With two slow songs in the second set, I know people will be talking, but the spontaneity is what counts. Going into a Phish show, knowing what is going to happen, is my greatest nightmare. Last night proved contrary, with high and low points of many different kinds. On the first night of the tour, the band delivered a classic rock performance in a classic rock venue peppered with some of their own improvisational force. Almost every note was well played, and there is no doubt the energy has carried over from 8.

This weekend, as the band returns to another storied venue, this time one familiar to the band and their fans, we can only go upward in terms of quality. That has been the trend since Hampton, with every step of the way getting better and better. This weekend will be a significant time, the first two-night stand, in a place that holds a very strong Phishiness.

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