Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Phish brings its circus to midtown

It’s been an up and down four years since Phish returned from their second extended hiatus. There have been some amazing highlights and St. Louis was lucky enough to witness one of them Tuesday night at Chaifetz Arena. This after experiencing one of the lowlights at the Fox Theater in 2009, a show that garnered all manner of bad reviews in the online world of Phish fans. Last night, it felt like a different band from that last stop here in River City. It was a pure rock ‘n roll show. The first set churned out rocker after rocker, starting with a “Punch You In The Eye “/”Runaway Jim” combo that immediately got the arena in full swing. Though it was relatively free of jamming (by Phish standards), they tackled some of their more intricate compositions like “The Curtain”, “Mound” “Reba” and a rare Frank Zappa cover, “Peaches En Regalia”. They also showed off their trademark goofiness with the barbershop quartet-inspired “I Didn’t Know” which also included an increasingly rare vacuum solo by drummer Jon Fishman. Yes, he plays the vacuum. He’s in fact so good at playing the “instrument” that guitarist Trey Anastasio called him the “John Coltrane of the vacuum”. There was a little jamming, especially in “Possum” but it was mostly crowd-pleasing rarities and cover songs, ending with Dylan’s “Quinn The Eskimo”. According to some online reports, Anastasio picked up a new overdrive pedal hand-built right here in St. Louis by Sarno Music Solutions on Tuesday before the show and incorporated into his rig. It definitely sounded like he was excited to have a new, loud rocking tone in his arsenal.

At setbreak, I commented that I expected the second set to feature more of the groovy/jammy Phish style after the hard hitting first set. They definitely stretched things out more as the set started with long-time fan favorite “Chalkdust Torture”, which blended seamlessly into the mellow “Frankie Says”, a song titled as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song “Relax” and the tee shirts that were so popular in the 80’s. The transitions continued throughout the first part of the second set, going from “Frankie Says” into “Undermind” to “Sand” and ending with a balls-out cover of the James Gang’s “Walk Away”. There was a momentary pause before launching into a monster version of “Limb by Limb” that may already have reached legendary status with Phish fans. A weirdly placed “Julius” kept the crowd dancing, but it was only a quick appetizer for the real dance/funk throw down: Phish’s cover of Deodato’s fusion version of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, which most people recognize as the theme song to the movie “2001: A Space Oddessy”. Glowsticks flew and the building shook while lighting director Chris Kuroda provided the visual highlights of the show. As if that was not enough, the band ended the second set with the quintessential Phish song “You Enjoy Myself”, replete with trampolines, a very funky bass solo from Mike Gordon and the always weird but always fun a capella vocal jam.
When the band returned to the stage, keyboard player Page McConnell thanked the crowd before launching into a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Shine A Light”, which they debuted in 2009 as part of a Halloween show where they played “Exile On Main Street” in its entirety. It was a nice way to cool the crowd down before they inevitably ended up at one of the many after-show parties happening in venues around town.
Set One:
Punch You In The Eye
Runaway Jim
I Didn’t Know
The Curtain
Peaches En Regalia (Frank Zappa)
Sample In A Jar
The Sloth
Camel Walk
Quinn The Eskimo (Bob Dylan)
Set Two:
Chalkdust Torture->
Frankie Says->
Walk Away (James Gang)
Limb By Limb
Also Sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss/Deodato)
You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Shine A Light (Rolling Stones)

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