25 in 25 of 2015 #14 08/09/2015 Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI (Andy Cary, @TweeterReprise)
I love Alpine Valley. I’m nostalgic for it. It’s in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin, which is pretty much all of Wisconsin if you’re not from Wisconsin. Located an hour outside of Milwaukee, it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s damn near impossible to get to and from unless you’re sober enough to drive. You’re not getting an uber in East Troy Wisconsin. You’d have better luck getting a blow job from a Walworth County Sheriff.
Alpine is the Widespread Panic of venues. It’s dirty and forces you to hang out with rednecks, but you’re always going to get schwilly and have a good time when the lights go down.
And it’s the nostalgia of Alpine Valley that keeps driving bands like Phish back to play the hallowed grounds. But the writing is on the wall for Alpine. For good or bad, bands have slowly started playing more obvious venues in Chicago than force people to drive to the heart of dairy land to catch a show. I don’t know if they’re going to blow it up, but opening the show with a spirited “Very Long Fuse,” in retrospect, seems ominous.
From there, Phish launched into the always welcome “Forbin’s Mockingbird.” Trey rarely talks anymore. Some asshole even brought a stage banter sign to a show once to get him to talk more, so when he took the opportunity during “Mockingbird” to talk about how much the band loved playing Alpine, you couldn’t help but wonder if this was a goodbye or just a chance to tell a shitty dad joke. Capping off the Alpine funeral, they slid into “Brian and Robert.” “BR” always draws me to Bittersweet Motel where they seem to long for home even though the tour is just getting started. Maybe I’m just reading into it all too much, but it seemed like the end for Phish at Alpine.
The rest of the set was a fucking rocker, with the exception of the always oddly placed “Esther,” but even that was a welcomed and necessary reprieve after the heart stopping and defibrillator starting “Saw It Again” that had us all grasping for our $14 Lime A Rita’s. No one is going to complain when you get Gordo singing about cutting off people’s heads and weighing them like Jeffery Dahmer. Followed by T”he Sloth,” a song so great that not even a stupid Outkasty hoodie from Dry Goods could ruin. The set and trip down nostalgia road was perfectly capped with “Sanity.”
I know what you’re thinking, the set didn’t end there. Well, it could have. I’m not a “Melt” fan. It’s a tune that rarely goes anywhere “productive” in 3.0 and I don’t think you’ll find anyone who said this particular version did either. Presumably I took the opportunity to head up to the disgusting Alpine bathrooms and buy another $14 beer before the second set got underway.
If this show was a meal, the first set was a great Caesar salad and a hearty basket of bread with some good butter. But a meal is all about the meat and potatoes and so is true for a show and the second set.
They must’ve forgot that they had already closed the first set with Melt because they opened with another first set closer, “Antelope.” Hey, I’ll take it. At least it wasn’t “Character Zero.” I’m always a little disappointed when Trey just goes with the classic Marco Esquandolas line. Then again, Making a Murderer hadn’t debuted yet so we weren’t getting a Rye Rye Rocco, Free Steven Avery Esquandolas.
Nevertheless, the mood was set and their ambitions became even clearer when they dropped into a short, but rowdy “Carini.” About the time everyone’s nasal drip kicked in, “Carini” oozed into a spacey ether but stayed close and true to the jam. They call this “type I” jamming. No joke. You can google it if you want.
It’s fun to drift around the venue a bit during the second set, especially Alpine. Catch the show from different vantage points so a few buddies and I walked up the hill to grab a beer and watch the “Waves.” This a nice little version that eventually loses its path. It’s at this moment Trey falls into a familiar lick.
Side note, some of my buddies decided to turn this Alpine run into a mini-bachelor party for me. That occasion mixed with these being my only shows of the year, I really fucking wanted a “Tweezer.” On the drive out to the lake house we were staying at for the weekend, we were listening to the Cuyahoga stream. When they ripped into “Tweezer,” a bit of my heart sank knowing I wouldn’t get it at Alpine. When Trey found himself lost in a segue and just went with with that sounded familiar, I lost my fucking shit, sprinted down the mountain back to my seats and enjoyed the glory of “Tweezer.”
If you’re going to listen to any jam from this show, this is it. It’s got everything you want. Gordo hits the hit notes, Trey funks out the wah wah wah wah stuff, the timing is impeccable, and there is minimal bullshit. They find their groove, hit a pocket, the jam grows legs, and we’re off to the races. They finally settle into a valley and noodle around a bit until a little “Franklin’s Tower”-esque jam emerges around the 9 minute mark. They ride out Trey remembering his little jaunt with the Dead and carve out a fantastic jam. I’m telling you, go back and give this one a spin. It’s a keeper. The Alpine “Tweezer.” The Franklin’s “Tweezer.” The Babs “Tweezer.” Whatever you want to call it. You’re going to start to lose your mind when Trey starts aiming for the peak around 12:30. Roll the window downs and take a bite out of it.
For a semi-rarity, “Dirt” has been played at the last 3 Alpine runs, so it was a great landing pad after that “Tweezer.” The intermission was brief as Trey shot into “Mike’s Song.” Just a few days after Drew became the teacher and helped Trey relearn the second’s “Mike’s” Jam, they did it again. Launching into an exploratory jam that even featured a little Trey induced wooing. Just like at Noob Camp when your Thrill Sergeant says “BUMP!” and you say, “HOW HIGH?!”, when Trey says to “Woo!”, you “Woo!” Rules are rules.
Simmering into their chart smashing summer hit “Blaze On,” the dance carried out as white people everywhere swayed to this Anti-Establishment reggae tune. At this point, it’s bonus time. Anything from here on out is extra butter. A fairly typical “Blaze On” leads back into the “Weekapaug” everyone knew was coming but still wanted. You looked at the schwilly person next to you, you matched their moves, you shared in the groove, and waited for the set to come to a close.
But Trey went to the John Varvatos sale rack and found a few more minutes left at a discounted rate to pull out a monster “Reprise.” Page got up so we got down. You chugged the rest of your warm beer, pumped your fist like it was “Zero,” and thanked the good lord Phish is still around so you don’t have to go on Twiddle tour.
Always fun when they bust out a “Contact encore and close a show with “Frankenstein.” Both seem to be favorites of theirs to play at Alpine. So who knows if this was their last go round at Alpine Valley, but if it was, it was a helluva show!
I’m a 30 year old guy from Milwaukee who likes good music, cheap beer, and a dirty dive bar. My favorite Phish song is “Sample in a Jar”…and I’ll defend it to my death! Please play “Reprise” at my funeral.