21 in 21 of 2018: #16 08/10/2018 Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, Raleigh, NC (Jake Cohen, @smoothatonalsnd)
I saw exactly zero shows in the summer of 2018. Not that I didn’t try.
We weighed a trip to the Gorge for what seemed like months, but in the end, I was working a new bar job, my wife thought she might end up on Grand Jury Duty all July, and we didn’t want to fly all the way across the country without getting to make it a real vacation and not just a weekend of shows. Besides, Curveball was coming!
We were going to hit the East Coast shows in August, but then my wife won a grant to travel to Scotland for two weeks at the beginning of August. Sweet! We hit Glasgow and Edinburgh and then backpacked through the Highlands, taking in all the glory of this beautiful country, and checking setlists every morning if we happened to have internet. Besides, Curveball was coming!
Checking my phone at some point on August 11th, I exclaimed to my wife “whoa! They did
Luckily she shares my propensity for getting very excited about Phish. Returning home after tour ended a couple nights later, we got everything ready for Curveball. We prepped all our food, we coordinated our caravanning, we actually got out during the day rather than setting up in the middle of the night like we do for every other festival. Driving up through the Southern Tier on a glorious summer day, I wanted to listen to something from the tour since I hadn’t heard a note for the past two weeks.
I knew exactly which show to go right to.
For me, this sequence of wonderful (and as we’ll see, not-so-wonderful) segues will always remind me of those few hours when my excitement for Curveball was through the roof, before I knew what “turbidity” meant, when everything was perfect in the Phish world and I was listening to a brilliant bit of Phishy setlist wizardry.
“Runaway Jim” ambles out of the end of “Thread”…can I just say, I am a full-on “Thread” fluffer!! It is exactly the right kind of musical weird that I love, a two-measure vamp where the second measure is half a beat shorter. It feels like you’re always tumbling forward into the next cycle of chords. Anyway…
We get through the first verses and to the quiet instrumental break in the middle of the song. Especially since Bethel in 2011, this has been a fun spot in the song to find little bits of creative improv. Nothing crazy, of course. Trey is strumming away while Mike is taking the leads, as usual, but Trey starts playing around a bit more with the chords, and suddenly playing little bits of lead that sound almost like “Antelope”…and then yep, he just goes ahead and plays the opening “Antelope” lick. Like it’s nothing. Like OF COURSE these two songs go together. Fishman kicks over the hi-hat from a steady disco-bluegrass thing to that syncopated-bluegrass thing and Mike and Page come in with the chord change right on cue. It’s such a smooth transition, almost like the tunes were built to segue in and out of each other at that point, with their quirky rock bluegrass 1980s Phishy silliness in the same key, and yet somehow, they’d never done this before. I mean COME ON.
Hell, the only other time they’ve followed “Jim” with “Antelope” there was a full stop and long pause between songs (3/2/97), although, funny enough, each song had it’s own really fantastic segue into other songs.
So now it’s “Run Like an Antelope,” the crowd is going bonkers apeshit, they drop into the big rock chords, Trey does that little flick of a riff, and then into the dark jam. Excellent. But then suddenly Fishman comes right back with the “Jim” discograss beat, setting the stage. However, Trey et. al. are still cruising along in “Antelope” space, and we get another minute or two of that vital Em>D jam. And then suddenly Trey just doesn’t switch away from D, his E dorian becoming D major since they’re the same collection of pitches, and Mike is just hammering away on D, and before you can even tell what happened, Mike is back to the “Runaway Jim” bass line and Trey plays the middle riff! They’re gonna finish the “Jim!!” But what about finishing the “Antelope?” Fuck it, it doesn’t matter, they just pulled that shit off! “Jim” came right out of “Antelope!”
For some reason I always picture Jim as a Golden. Probably because of Marley.
They play the big climactic middle chords of “Jim” one more time, just to celebrate that they really did that. And then it’s right back into the final verses. Trey comes in a little early on the last verse, but he can’t be blamed, he’s still so excited from pulling off this Runaway Jimalope. Runaway Like a Jim? Run Like a Jimalope?
They hit the point where “Jim” would normally leap off into a jam, but Trey unexpectedly starts slowing down like he’s going to end the song. While he’s doing it, he’s shaking his head — he realizes this wasn’t what he wanted to do but muscle memory took over. Thankfully, Fishman and Mike just keep the beat going, Trey catches himself in time, looks up at the rest of the band, and they manage to awkwardly get back into the “Antelope” jam without really losing the beat. Trey smiles his big shit-eating grin as he realizes he screwed up but they fixed it, and we’re right back to E minor darkness.
The jam is picking up steam, and Trey starts hanging on a dissonant note and singing “You’re Alone!” before falling into high gear and blasting the jam towards its ferocious conclusion. Catching our breath, we ease into the reggae section but then, since segues are on his mind, Trey just flat out plays the “Makisupa Policeman” riff and everyone follows right over. Definitely not the first time the “Antelope” reggae section has devolved into another reggae tune, but combined with the earlier setlist antics, this has classic Phish seguefest set written all over it, reminiscent of the 2/20/93 “Mike’s Groove,” the Bomb Factory “Tweezer,” or the MPP Tweezerfest.
Runaway Like a Makisupalope?
Trey says “Kush,” which is something he used to say in the 90s when he still smoked weed and called it kush, and then Fishman takes over with some jibberish, says he’s about to say something, can’t figure out what he wants to say, so then Page takes over the keyword duties, but Fishman suddenly remembers, Page ends up finishing instead with some nonsense about “push” and laughing and “kush,” Trey giggles and says “I don’t know what that is!” and ultimately it’s the most awkward dadrock “Makisupa” ever.
Ummm…but wait, remember we played “Antelope” twice but still didn’t finish it? Shit, that’s right! Better launch right into the final chords, but what about “Rye Rye Rocco?” Trey just starts singing the reggae section lyrics over the end, because why not at this point, and it throws the whole thing off, and they get into the music for “you’ve got to run like an antelope out of control!” but never did the “Set the gearshift…” lines. The whole thing’s out of phase at this point, so Trey just skips ahead right to the final “you’ve got to run like an antelope out of control!” lyrics, tune ends, and so that’s probably the set, right?
Drop into “YEM.”
Somehow, Phish manages to kinda fuck up a bunch of segues yet still effortlessly segue in and out of three different songs. I love this band.
Jake Cohen (@smoothatonalsnd) is a musicologist who has appeared on NPR talking about Phish. Along with Mike Hamad, he is currently recording episodes of a podcast called Jamsplaining which they plan to release soon, where they nerd out on the music theory and analysis behind Phish’s music.