I stepped up to write about this show forgetting this series was intended to be about a single jam. After looking up the word “jam” itself, I became confident enough to go my own way which has sort of been my fake plan throughout life. BTW – “to fill often to excess” was the best thing found when looking up jam if wondering.
To me the show itself, heck tour, better yet Phish is jam. Everything and everyone brings something to the table and we mix it all together and get what we get, everyone taking away something different but it’s all the same and boils down to one however you slice it. So Walnut Creek, the ingredients start with an already smoking hot tour that in most eyes had just peaked with a ridiculous second set containing enough type 2 jamming to satisfy the most jaded vet and jam enthusiast. I streamed that show and battled conflicting forces of “wow” and “why am I not there?” from my couch. Those are the shows I hope to catch. I knew instantly that Walnut Creek would fall in the same position as CMAC summer 2014, which came after the smoking hot Randall’s Chalkdust plus. To me the band seems to feel and understand these moments and trys their best to “top” the “untoppable”. This was done at CMAC with a “Buried Alive” opener and at Walnut Creek with the debut of a slowed down funky “Llama”. Both openers were hits with the crowd, vibe, scene, etc.; however, in most eyes the rest of the shows sort of fizzled.
In fact, this Walnut Creek show is basically remembered for the “Llama” and then nothing much of consequence, other than maybe the end of the rebirth of “Mike’s Second Jam”, a glorious streak of two consecutive versions. For the haters I’ll dig into the rest of the scene to try and find other elements that led to the perceived down show. Look no further than the ticket situation; not just at Raleigh, where pavilion tickets sold out in minutes, despite this a pavilion ticket could be bought at the box office the day of the show, this must stop. The main ticket point of drama was that it was announced prior to the show that there was a low ticket warning for Magnaball. No one believed it, I include myself in that, I mean how can you sell out a festival at a site that once held a reported 600,000 fans for Summer Jam (featuring the Band, the Allman’s Brothers Band and Grateful Dead performances)? Despite my disbelief, I was glad to have already secured my ticket. This situation was the talk of Shakedown, and certainly hung over the show a bit.
So you had the landmark second night of the Mann, Magnaball sellout warning, a crazy hot summer day in the south, and a looming last stand of tour before fest weekend in Merriweather that many had chosen to get to early thus skipping Walnut Creek. That sets the probability of a clunker rating at an all-time high. I was ready regardless. It was my 95th show which is also the year I graduated high school. That gave me the thought that this would be my graduation from noob status show, which despite my now 20 years of being a fan I still feel from time to time. About ten seconds into the show I knew it was silly to ever give up being a noob. I had no idea what was going on during “Llama” till the lyrics kicked in, I got excited at a similar sounding to “Weigh” bass lick from Mike in the intro. I’m still chasing “Weigh” so that got me crazy excited. Once I realized what was going on I got excited for Alex aka @phishAtTheMann who had called a “Llama” opener.
This opener really showed that you just never know what will happen with these guys and it’s what keeps me coming back.
Rest of the first set was fine. Every first set I’ve seen this era has been solid, maybe lacking “jams” but well executed most days. Today was no exception however the high number of slower songs definitely brought out some haters. Got to believe the heat played a role in that, possibly even the “Llama”. Other complaints that irk me are, “they play “Moma” way too much”. I would be down with “Moma” at every show, it is a song born from not just a jam but a tour, some might say “the tour”. “Black-Eyed Katy” first appeared during Fall 1997 and appeared bunches before turning into the “Moma Dance” the next spring. It is pure phunk and should be cherished not hated for coming around too much.
The second set starts with “The Wedge”, I’d be lying if I said this pick didn’t scare me a bit. Nothing to do with the song, I love “The Wedge,” many do, Jim Pollack, famed phish artist mentioned it as the song he hoped to hear at Superball. However, “Wedge” jams are few and far between. Second set openers are historically Jam vehicles and the longer it takes for a second set to “take off” the less likely it is to be well received, there are many examples against this theory and the best one for me to site seems this past years new year’s show. 12/31/15 Set Two, also a “Wedge” opener, doesn’t really find jam meat till “Kill Devil Fall”s which appears much later in the set. At that show I flashed to Walnut Creek when the Wedge started up. At Walnut Creek we didn’t have to wait long as beloved cover and jam vehicle, “Golden Age” filled the second spot of the set. My fascination with song times and reception of show leads me to my next tangent:
Imagine if the 8 minutes of “The Wedge” were divided up throughout the rest of the show. (I.E., give 2 minutes to the Golden Age jam thus pushing it over the semi-sacred 15 minute mark, give two minutes to the “Reba” jam also pushing it over 15 minutes, give three minutes to “Mike’s Song” as a second jam thus pushing it over sort of sacred 10 minute mark and keeping the second jam in “Mike’s” alive, and place the final minute in the “Weekapaug” jam pushing it over 10 minutes and giving the second set 5 songs over 10 minutes, 2 over 15, a well executed “No Quarter” that came out of no where and a raging “First Tube” Closer. That show in my opinion would have been singled out as a landmark show as I believe Walnut Creek should be even with “The Wedge” second set opener.)
But “Golden Age” really gets the party started, and this party doesn’t stop, unless you hate on “Farmhouse,” but then “Fire” sent everyone home happy. “Golden Age” starts off good, Trey doesn’t slip on the lryics till after the second clap your hands request. TV on the Radio’s classic really presents a challenge to Trey’s word per second abilities. Shortly after the 6 minute mark we are in jam land and the boys don’t mess around, some lines of “Golden Age” remain but slowly fade away as effects bounce from all areas and we find ourselves in a playful groove grown in the teamwork that has made the last few years so strong. Intensity begins to build at 8:30ish and Trey gets a bit note heavy and Fishman starts to really build as the others follow. Soon after Trey enters full rev it up mode, where it feels like he is pulling a toy race car backward repeatedly to gather energy before releasing it on the floor. At the 11:30 mark the revving is released and Team Phish slides back into a chill “Golden Age” vibe that dissolves into an awkward but welcome transition to “Reba.”
I love “Reba.” Phish is dance music but one can’t forget how fun it is to dance along with the crazy compositions contained in classics such as like “Reba.” “Reba” also has a nice jam built in and this version provided that dual wild ride I crave. The launch into “Mike’s” turned yet another corner in this interesting as all get out setlist. Trey fires up Mike’s the second “Reba” gets closed up, a half arrow or > for those scoring at home or at the show (I don’t give out half arrows but do enjoy them and try to write the next song really close to the previous one on my setlist to show such things). Trey is in full rock star mode for “Mike’s Song.” He really is feeling it and the energy of the show continues to build. At 2:45 we launch into the “first” Mike’s jam, a good place to be, Trey stumbles out of the blocks a bit probably from the excitement of firing up the Mutron but Page picks up the slack a bit and Trey is back to all systems go in seconds. A dark intense building jam follows as prescribed by the era. Did I mentioned Trey stalking around the stage, intensely, haven’t seen him this animate outside “First Tube” since the 90’s. Turned out the show wasn’t so much as “graduation” but rather “rebirth” as I was taken back to my days where I longed for rock star Trey jumping around and hoped to hear “Character Zero” at every show.
Trey closes up “Mike’s” at 7:15 and we get 15 seconds of ambient land that seemed to be intended to turn into Mike’s “second jam”. Trey’s got that loopy siren sound going, however, in my mind he loses the patience it takes to pull off such a move, especially with a crowd he himself has wiped into an unreal frenzy. Trey coyly starts “Ghost” ever so slightly, Fishman picks up first and they semi-start-stop it till all are on board, Mike even letting out a few fight bell rings to show how on it truly was. I love “Ghost.” More than “Reba” even, more than anything. This certainly is the place to talk about “Ghost” too (I usually say my favorite “Ghost is the IT “Ghost” cause it was so long, bang for buck you know, Truly love at first sight though so mad love to my first 7/21/1997, but I think the one I might have listened to most took place not that long ago on Randall’s Island in a criminally overshadowed by the next night show that I love dearly.)
“Ghost” is a song that you shouldn’t mind hearing a lot since the song section is prime ground for improvisation as well as the fact that more often than not it is followed by a satisfactory jam. This version hits on both cylinders. When the song slides to jam Page is dragging the ghost seemingly across the bottom of the ocean with his trusty clavinet, MurtronMyTrey loving his sound and trying not resist entering rev up land why dabbling around the fire that is being built by Fish and Mike. The peak might not be to the level some need for success, but as Page goes jazz piano and “Ghost” fades away to a murky valley which calms all as “No Quarter” announces another area of enjoyment. Out of nowhere is my favorite way to find anything, especially beloved Led Zeppelin covers. I mean sure, there was some disappointment in no second “Mike’s jam,” but a “Mike’s” Groove that has “Ghost and “No Quarter” as the meat is hard to argue with. Speaking of “Weekapaug,” again a fine version, raging as always after a slow drum and bass entry point, “No Quarter” teases from Trey to help the party later.
This set just kept going and strong, energy off the charts. I really didn’t expect the “First Tube” closer but Trey was ready to jump around and I wasn’t complaining. I love phish. I loved this show and every show, there is always something to love and something to keep us coming back.
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I have no tickets yet but plan on being at the second two nights of SPAC, Hartford, Syracuse, and Lockn’. Feel free to talk to me or tell me I’m crazy but please not during the show. All Love and Thanks for letting me be a part of the great series. Oh, my favorite “2001” is probably Star Lake 1997 cause it was my first and also the first I thought of which is my default system for answering anything.