Greetings, and thank you for pointing your eyes at these words I’ve written about the great Starlight “Down With Disease” for Mr. Memo’s revered 25 in 25 series. Phish’s show at Kansas City’s Starlight Amphitheatre was number 11 of 25 – and the eleventh of 22 if you don’t count Dick’s – meaning that, at least by one count, we’ve now arrived at the midpoint of last summer’s tour.
Now, I don’t want to get too caught up in the “narrative” of the tour, because my job here isn’t to talk about narratives, it’s to talk about a jam. But suffice it to say that, by the time Phish arrived in Kansas City, on the heels of the Atlanta “Tweezer,” the second-jam-adorned Nashville “Mike’s,” and the even-better-than-either-Mike’
and the only thing folks were wondering was where the next flames would be lit and what SPF sunscreen they’d need to properly protect themselves.
Which brings us to this ultraviolet jam.
Well, it will bring us there in a second. But first I have to put my tail between my legs and let you know that I have never been to Kansas City, including for this show. I did enjoy it as it was going on, but only thanks to a good-hearted fan who made a stream available. Therefore, I won’t be able to offer any colorful personal stories – I don’t have a buddy who was asleep on the lawn for this jam, like Adam Piede’s friend Joelalope was for the Atlanta Tweezer (though my wife may well have been asleep in the next room while I was touring away on our couch).
What makes this Disease so special, to me, is that it all happens with Trey playing 2nd or even 3rd fiddle. I admit to being a Trey fanboy (though it doesn’t quite reach the below-the-belt levels bravely divulged by Zac Cohen, who appears to have some kind of Oediphish complex). The man is always the musician I’m most attuned to, and I had a lot of trouble listening to Phish when he was struggling in the early 3.0 years, despite the other band members’ fortitude.
But Trey obviously spent 2015 in peak form. So he didn’t take the back seat in this jam out of any inability to drive. Instead, Page and Mike were heating up, and Trey chose to support them, boosting the level of their play. He was Steph Curry, dishing out assists and holding it down on defense during Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter.
Mike was all too happy to take center stage, and he made the most of it – first with some almost Radio City Ghost-esque lead lines, and then, with some bombs that could have provided an offensive but musically satisfying commemoration of Hiroshima’s 70th anniversary a day later. Page worked the full keyboard rig in the driving yet light jam, massaging the synth keys to set the elevated tone as the band went stratospheric.
Trey, hanging on the Whammy pedal, provided nothing but color. It worked perfectly. The jam just sailed along, wind at its back, for a solid eight minutes or so.
And then Trey got cocky. Things got a little more upbeat, a little more hard rock. So Trey decided to take the joystick back.
Fish heard him do so, and he started hitting his skins a little harder, and we all know Trey can’t resist a little prodding from the greasy one behind the kit. Two minutes of slashing ensued that would make a lawn mower engineer proud. Some might accuse Trey of going a bit Wankee Doodle Dandy here, but I have no complaints. It’s a great thing that Phish doesn’t need Trey’s acrobatics to make magic. But it sure is nice that those acrobatics still exist.
And so we reach the end of this jam, which was the midpoint of the halfway point of the summer. I’m someone who, every year, gets paranoid that this time around the sun, the band has gotten too old to play well, or that they’ll have lost the creative drive that leads to great improvisation night in and night out. The Kansas City “Disease” was, for me, the moment when I realized it was all going to be okay: Phish had proven over a week of hot shows that they were still really, really good. And with half of the tour still remaining, that they were still going to play a lot of good music. As you probably know, that understates how good the second half of tour would in fact turn out to be. I’m looking forward to reliving the rest of it over the next couple weeks with the esteemed 12th through 25th of the 25 25-in-25ers. And with that, my goal of ending this review with a horrendous and ugly sentence is complete. Thank you for reading.