Phish – Wednesday, June 22 at Riverbend in Cincinnati, OH
By Michael Cornish, Jr.
I have to be honest. I wasn’t as excited about Phish’s Summer Tour 2012 as I have been in years past. I don¹t know if it was the fact that I have a family and other priorities, like the massive, somewhat expensive, family vacation we went on in early June. I don¹t know if it was lack of new material, as I¹d really hoped for new album by now. I don¹t know if it was the ticket prices of $60 with a $20.40 service fee from Ticketbastards err, Ticketmaster. Or maybe I am just getting old. But when the opportunity for me to go to Riverbend in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 22nd to review came available, I jumped at it.
Having seen 50ish Phish shows over the last 17 years has left me with high expectations from this band. They play a completely different set list every night, and seldom play the same song the same way. Simply put – they jam. When they are on, they are undoubtedly the best at what they do. And when they are off, they are still close.
For the week or so before the concert, I excitedly had been checking set lists on line. Somehow, somewhere, I kind of became lost, feeling like what I was seeing was more of the same. Like a concert I had seen in 2009, nothing seemed to be changing or evolving. I walked into Riverbend unsure of what my expectations should be for the night ahead.
And then they started to play. And I was reminded immediately why Phish is one of the greatest live bands on earth.
The “Wolfman’s Brother” opener was greasy and slinky as it ought to be, with a mellow jam in the middle that really set the tone for the night. A giant break out for the tour this night was also “Shaggy Dog,” a song that Phish shelved years ago and pulled back out for the first time since 1995.
Also a rarity for the first set was the playful banter that the boys had on stage. Usually, Phish is straight ahead with music, very little talk. When drummer, Jon Fishman allowed two songs in a row to fall apart due his own mistakes, the band became light and filled with humor. “We better start playing songs that start on the drums so Fishman can keep up,” lead guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio mused on stage. And the rest of the first set was just that. All songs that started with drums.
Set two was a fire storm of music. The first real standout was “Twist.” The light, happy melody suddenly took a very dark, twisted, dirty turn into a nightmarish jam that would surely leave the psychedelic drenched churned with fear and doubt. Also “Carini” was a welcomed hard rock punch towards the end of the second set. And with “Fluffhead” as an encore, the first as an encore for 1,124 shows, the night was complete, leaving me musically satisfied and reminded that no one plays quite like Phish.
Since their 4 1/2 year hiatus, there has been all kinds of accolades, criticism, love, and hate for this band. Gone are the days of the 20 minutes ambient jams and the four song setlists. But instead there is an approach that focuses straight on the music, playing every track to the hilt while still leaving plenty of room for experimentation and jams that are a little more straight ahead than the years of yore.
Simply put, Phish are as good as they have ever been.