Monday, August 23, 2010

Phish - Alpine Valley Summer 2010 - Review

Phish @ Alpine Valley, Night One

Phish @ Alpine Valley, August 14

Phish's stop at Alpine Valley in East Troy, WI this past Saturday and Sunday was setup for success with its placement near the end of the group's summer tour. The quartet, like most bands, typically gets better with each passing show, so it's no surprise that the band turned in two sizzling performances at the familiar shed that's a regular summer stop for them.

[All photos by John Schulze]

Unlike Deer Creek it didn't take much time for Phish to achieve consistency at Alpine. Coming out with Tube was a strong statement and the band nailed it, though once again the tune came to a close after an all-too-short jam. A tight Oh Kee Pah followed and went into another raging version of Suzy Greenberg in which keyboardist Page McConnell laid down some nasty licks on the Moog. Bassist Mike Gordon – the MVP of the run, the tour and 3.0 for that matter – slapped the living shit out of his bass drawing all sorts of smiles from guitarist Trey Anastasio and cheers from the crowd. The applause was still going as Mike stepped to the mic to sing Funky Bitch.

Not only did this show start with fun and well-placed song selections, the band was tight and wasn't rushing through tunes. This patience paid dividends in a gorgeous Reba that like most of the rest of the Alpine shows was light on the "whale calls." Mike and Trey locked in a number of inventive patterns of notes while McConnell layered electric piano underneath and drummer Jon Fishman kept things moving. For the 99.9% of the crowd who weren't at Charlotte in July, our first Fuck Your Face came next and once folks realized what they were hearing they flipped. Despite only performing Fuck Your Face once since about 1987, the boys delivered a tight and nasty version that featured metal licks from Trey with a crunchy tone reminiscent of his early sound. READ ON for more on Phish @ Alpine Valley…

Alaska and Back On The Train kept the energy up before the one majorly trainwrecked composition of the Alpine run – Taste. Though Anastasio struggled during the composed parts, both his solo and McConnell's solos were blazing. Trey seems to have turned a corner with the end of his solos as multiple times each night he would just drop these jaw-dropping runs of notes that were way quicker than what he was able to play previously at the peak of his solos since Hampton. The apropos When The Circus Comes was a second leg debut and gave fans a breather after a ridiculously high-energy start. Hopefully the crowd took the opportunity to rest because after the Lawn Boy that followed Circus, it was right back to the fast pace with Sparkle, Gumbo and Antelope. Run Like An Antelope was straight out of the mid '90s as it contained multiple peaks, plenty of tension and release and the group nailed the transition into "Rye Rye Rocco." Trey gave fellow New Jerseyian – and his former GRAB band mate – Marco Benevento a shout out by replacing Esquandolas with Benevento to big cheers.

One of the trends that developed this year was opening set two with a jam vehicle. That wasn't the case on night one as a quick run through The Sloth – played in response to a Sloth sign near the stage – kicked off one of the better sets of the year. Turns out the band was only delaying the inevitable once Mike turned on the effect that signals the start of Down With Disease. Picking up where they left off in Hartford back in June, Disease contained at least three distinct jams all of which contained otherworldly full band improvisation.

The first part of the jam was extremely fast paced and showed off Trey's propensity for quick licks that I mentioned earlier. After a few minutes of Anastasio punishing the fret board, Gordon started slowing the pace down and the exploration began. Mike and Trey took turns leading the jam as Fish alternated between bashing a rock beat and offering funky rhythms. Towards the end of the delicious segment the group combined on a jam that had a Talking Heads' feel to it and then all of the sudden Trey started in with a few pretty, major-key licks that took the improv from dark to light. Before you knew it the quartet had connected to begin the powerful instrumental What's The Use? for only the second time since Hampton. While the beginning of this tour was marked by horrid transitions, this segue was a winner.

Scent of a Mule used to be a staple in Phish's repertoire but somewhere along the line it became a rarity. After the anthemic What's The Use? the group delivered the first Mule of 2010 – 68 shows after its last appearance at Great Woods in 2009. Page and Trey Mule Dueled and then it was time for Mike's. Mike's may not contain as much exploration as in years past, yet with Anastasio in "fire the afterburners" mode the Mike's jam was a scorcher. Trey dropped one intense lick after another and was creative in weaving the disparate riffs together.

Would Hydrogen follow? Nope, the predictable Mike's Groove sequence continues to be screwed with a bit as Dirt came next. Now we'd get Weekapaug, right? Guess again my friends because the funky Sneakin' Sally caught everyone's attention in what we thought might be the place of 'Paug. Whereas Anastasio led most of the jams on this night, Mike Gordon was clearly out front for Sally and the crowd ate it up. As nuts as the fanbase goes for Trey's moments of brilliance, at Alpine it was Mike who got the biggest reception, especially when he started his bass solo at the beginning of the Weekapaug that finally showed up post-Sally.

Apparently Trey had enough of following Mike during Sally 'cause the Weekapaug was just one giant shredfest. It was "buckle your seatbelts" time for one of Red's most blazing solos on a night – make that weekend – full of 'em. Weekapaug often closes sets that late in a show, so it was quite the surprise when Bug came after it. No one was complaining at this "Bug Bonus" and it served as a fitting conclusion to a powerful set of Phish 3.0. Quinn The Eskimo, the Dylan tune busted out just a few days earlier in Telluride, was the exclamation point for both the evening and for Mike Gordon as the one-of-a-kind bassist gave his new envelope filter a whirl leading to hoots and hollers from the tens of thousands of fans assembled on the hill.

Leaving the show it was hard to find anyone with many complaints. The quartet turned in a consistent, blistering performance that picked up where the Deer Creek shows left off. All four band members are hitting a stride and the band fed off the lively audience and vice versa. The first night of Alpine was one of those gigs that kept you guessing and when it comes to Phish that's a very good thing.

08/14/2010 Alpine Valley Music Theatre

Set 1: Tube, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Funky Bitch, Reba, Fuck Your Face, Alaska, Back on the Train, Taste > When the Circus Comes, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, Gumbo, Run Like an Antelope

Set 2: The Sloth, Down with Disease -> What's the Use? > Scent of a Mule, Mike's Song > Dirt > Sneakin' Sally through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove, Bug

Encore: Quinn the Eskimo

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