25 in 25 of 2015 #5 07/28/2015 Austin 360 Amphitheater, Del Valle, TX (Matt Burnham, @therealburnham)
So. Phish played Austin. Finally. For the first time in 17 years, Phish was playing a 2 set, non-festival show in the great state of Texas. In fact there were two. While it began as a lark earlier in 2015, I started a Twitter campaign to get Phish to play in Austin as a New Year’s Resolution and although it really (really?) didn’t make them decide to play at the Austin360 Amphitheater it felt wondrous to know that for once, just for once in 3.0, I would be able to easily drive to a show. And sleep in my own bed. What a concept.
As an aside, leading up this show I arranged for a little meet-up at a local brewery and met some fine fine people from all over the country there. This was really cool and as, in my opinion, the “jam scene” (ugggh) in Austin really isn’t too dominant, it was great to meet and just converse with some big fans. I love stuff like that.
To the show! As mentioned, first real Texas show in 17 years! Gotta be a barnburner right?
Welp. Now I’ve never had an objectively bad time at a Phish concert. And it’s likely that all of you reading this haven’t either. In that moment, things are usually going pretty well. But when you’re not physically at a concert it can be a bit easier to pick out the issues. It’s human nature. Couple that with an available webcast (meaning lots of people tuning in) and it’s not a huge reach to see why this show is low rated on phish.net. Listening back to this concert, when Trey flubs the end of “Bouncing” it does sound pretty grating and I can imagine that was jarring to everyone who tuned in. But I don’t remember hearing that happen in the moment. Things like that fade with time and reflection. The first set is first setty. Trey seems to be a bit off on his rig. There are a lot of songs. There is perfect rendition of “Dirt” in the first set that is breathtakingly beautiful. Trey messes up “Bouncing.” The band plays “Water in the Sky” to almost taunt us as it was approximately the temperature of the surface of the sun that day. Some momentum is built with a pretty nice Antelope closer. It was a first set.
But the second set is where things tend to get good. As they usually do. The summer of 2015 really kicked and elevated a couple of songs to the top shelf. In much the way “Chalkdust” and “Harry Hood” were huge in 2014, “Twist,” “Tweezer,” “Gin,” and “46 Days” have multiple high water versions. Right off the bat, Trey has a little jangle in his walk. “46 Days” is one of those songs that is pretty damn versatile as it can open or close, be in the second slot, and has many uses. As an opener, it could set the stage for a monster “Tweezer” to come or open up a bit and get outside the box. This version speeds through the composed section and Trey’s tone and soloing around 4:15 is clean and pure. Almost immediately after the “46 Days” section closes, at 4:45, the band already starts building into “The Dogs.” Which is a wonderful pick (one of my favorites from Halloween 2013). “The Dogs,” to me, is a song that just builds energy. It overflows energy. It creates energy.
By the time Page hits the barking and screaming samples the entire amphitheater was ready for lift-off. Eight minutes in, they turn it back on a dime into “46 Days.” By nine minutes in, this cool Page-led groove starts taking hold and mellows everything down a bit, but in a good way. If there’s any portion of this entire show that is a must-hear, it’s this section. Mike is all over the place but somehow it feels like he’s staying real close to home. There’s something eerily reminiscent in this section to some of the Fall 99 shows. It’s just really good. Unfortunately this peters out (I would have personally wanted another 60 minutes of that jam) into’ “Piper.” Well, not unfortunate that it goes into “Piper” because I love “Piper” quite a bit. By this time in the night, it had finally started to cool down a bit and Piper outside with a breeze blowing and the moon overhead is just a nice moment to remember back to. I hope that 2016 Summer shows favorably on “Piper.” It’s due for a resurgence. This is a good but not great version that melts into the typical ambience and moves pretty smoothly into “Ghost.” This being lawnmemo.com, I’m sure that the resident “Ghost” expert will have some words to say on this one eventually. It hits the typical big “Ghost” spots with a better-than-average drop. Seven minutes and thirty seconds in and the band takes it to a major key and one of those patently awesome “Ghost” Bliss jams emerges.
One of the reasons that I love this band so much and will travel across the country to see their shows is for moments of Bliss like this. I think we as Phish fans tend to feel more of our music. It can appeal to our ears and CK5’s lights can be awesome to watch but there’s something that really hits us all in our hearts when it’s really good. And this jam leading up to and after the 10 minute mark is really good. It’s not the best jam of the summer or anything like that but it’s all I can do to not smile like a giant goofball during this portion (and I’ve listened to it like 10 times in a row now). I sometimes feel bad for those people that I know that don’t get to have those feelings about music. It’s liberating to have such exultant joy just from listening to a four minute passage of music. It’s what we chase. “Ghost” ends and “Shade” starts.
The last song of this opening ‘suite’. And “Shade” is a beautiful song. Delicate. Only played three times and I wonder if it’s destined to not be played again. It reminds me of “Frost” or “Secret Smile” (and I really like those songs!). Heartbreakingly beautiful songs that, due to them being ballads, mean that they’re groaned at and often overlooked. But we’re all getting older and the sentiments and emotionality of these songs resonate more with me. “I only like the shade when you’re blocking the light.” That makes me feel, too. A different kind of feeling for sure than those represented just 10 minutes or so earlier in “Ghost.” But feelings that are just as important.
The rest of the set continues with some big highs (“Suzy” > “Tweezer Reprise!”) and, like the first set, lots of songs. But that’s ok. That opening 35 minutes of the second set is wonderful and terrific.
It may not set the world on fire with crazy Type II improvisation or have any 20 minute jams but it’s a lesson point that even when the popular opinion notes that the band is off their ‘A’ game, you’re still going to have to drop your jaw and stand in bewilderment a few times a show. 32 years later and they still can always make you smile.
From Matt Burnham:
I’m Matt Burnham. I’m 32, married, and have a one year old son who, while started on the Grateful Dead, is really starting to get into Phish (I think, he likes to dance at least). I’ve listened to every Phish show that circulates, a project that took almost 5 years. They have played some really good shows. I’ve worked with our esteemed host, Lawnmemo, on the 2001 jam chart which was also quite fun . In terms of ASZ it’s hard to beat Lemonwheel or Drum Logos. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing me on Summer Tour this year due to many conflicts but if this proposed fall tour passes through the South and Texas well, that’s a different story.