26 in 26 #3 07/06/2013 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY (Matt Burnham, @therealburnham)
Selection “Split Open and Melt”
From Matt Burnham:
Sometimes you find Phish and sometimes Phish finds you.
I wasn’t planning on attending any concerts in the summer of 2013. Instead, I was engaged to be married in early August so travelling across country to try to hit some shows wasn’t really on my priority list. Sometimes, though, fate and happenstance can connect in weird ways. My wife and I live in Austin, TX but our families are from Detroit and Upstate NY, respectively. They wanted to throw her a bridal shower and there was some debate about where it should take place. Then it was determined that my sister’s house in Schenectady, NY would be the location. When deciding the date, only one weekend would really work — we would fly into Albany before the fourth of July, the shower would be the sixth, and we’d fly back home on the seventh. Most of the days and nights had things planned (since my family lives ~2000 miles away, we try to plan things well in advance) but the wedding shower was from 2-6 PM on Saturday and the night was left open in case it ran long. So, from a planning perspective, I had a free night and Phish was playing 40 miles away. My wife (then fiance) and family gave the green light so I got a lawn ticket and away I went back to SPAC for the first time since 2004. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty amped.
As a venue, SPAC is sometimes looked down, especially the lawn. Sight lines aren’t the best (to say the least) but from the lawn, the screens are large and the sound is fine. Of course I would have rather been in the pavilion but I was just excited to be there. One a side note, this is what StubHub displays as the view from the lawn:
Man, eff those guys.
Anyway, I was excited to see the band on this random excursion and they could have really played anything and I would have been ecstatic. Two beers in hand, I found my way to a nice spot on the lawn and just exhaled and relaxed. I made it.
As the first set started and progressed, it did seem a bit songy. A slightly extended Tube was a welcome treat but as Julius started, I thought about how time in the first set might be wrapping to a close. First sets are sometimes maligned but they provide a useful purpose. Ideally, they bring the energy level to get the blood pumping and provide some nicer moments (bust outs, rare songs, etc.). Jams should not be expected but if they occur, you know you’re in for a treat. So when Split Open and Melt started up post Julius’ fade out, it was clear that we could be in for an adventure. (As an aside, the Carini -> Architect from the second set is an absolute must-hear as well. I think that the Melt is a bit more telling in the larger scheme of things but don’t skip the lady with the lumpy head.)
Melt starts in standard form with no signs of any of the journey to come. Up until the four minute mark, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Maybe Mike is a bit more prominent in the mix but it’s normal and good. On a side note, Melt is one of my favorite type I songs in general just because the standard groove and the repetition in the three note sequence just make me smile. Throughout my years of seeing the band there are no occurrences when I’ve been disappointed by the opening notes. Even at Coventry, the sloppy mess of a composed section erupted into one of the greatest jams of 2004. Melt is a song that can tend to go wherever it wants to. Once it breaks off it’s normal structure, there are really no limits. This happens early in this version at around 5:30 and things are starting to get weird. People are screaming on the AUD. This is real life. I feel pretty good about this.
This leads to a Trey-led but full band jam of just beauty. I love how Phish can sometimes seem like all four members are playing their own lines but they just come together in this cohesive picture. This is in full effect at around 8 minutes. It’s hard to tell if anyone is driving this train or if the train is driving itself. Everything is just coming together and sounding good. At 8:30, Trey steps back up to exert some level of dominance and starts a high register riff which is so damn glorious. This goes on for about a minute when Trey steps back into a more supportive role. The band is grooving here through the 10 minute mark. Page gets a really nice fill and steps up a bit. Fish is playing with the closing drum beat a bit here which really would have been a shame. The band really isn’t ready to let Fish do this after a mini bass and drum segment at 11 minutes and instead, pull him back in. And we’ve made it — we’re in full “What song is this?” territory. Always a fun place to visit.
At twelve minutes, the band takes it to a soft blissful segment. Page is playing really tenderly. Trey is leading, but gently. Mike and Fish are laying down a soft beat. Mike-led jam portion noted at 12:45. Trey’s tone is very ethereal here and very nice. Mike lays a little bomb note at 13:33 which causes a cheer from the fans and the jam just keeps going. The jam itself is a bit all over the place at this point with Trey, Page, and Mike all stepping up and backing off very quickly. It’s as if the band is trying to figure out where to go next. Not the most cohesive but definitely not bad by any stretch. Another Mike bomb at 15 minutes. He and the band are doing their own things now and don’t have any cares about what’s going to happen next.
To illustrate this further, Mike practically takes a fight bell solo right after this. Trey’s itching to play What’s the Use. The band is wantonly doing what it wants. At 16:20, it looks like we’re heading towards unfinished territory and set end. Everything just kind of stops. But at 16:40, Trey starts up that closing riff and he and Fish have a funny interplay where they just can’t (or won’t) fully reconnect. Yet smiles are had by all as they eventually get it together to close out this 19 minute monster. Even the end of the ending is atypical as it just ends on a downbeat. But who cares? It was different and not in a bad way.
This was the first time in 2013 that the band really pushed the envelope as far as they could. Was it picture perfect at every moment? No. But was it a precursor for the fully developed band led monster jams of late Summer and Fall? I think so. If this Melt occurred at Hampton in the fall, it would have been a bit more fleshed out and everyone would have been more aligned but is that important? Phish has played 1697 concerts in their history (!). Not everything is pretty and not everything is perfect. But, in their thirtieth year, the band showed that they’re still not ready to back down from the abyss and sometimes, still jump in with reckless abandon. We, as fans, would be so lucky for this demonstrated reckless abandon to spontaneously occur throughout 2014 (especially in first sets). Really, what more could we ask for?
From Matt Burnham:
I’m Matt Burnham and I grew up in Fulton, NY which was the actual location of the 1999 Phish Festival. Unfortunately, I was a dumb 15 year old at the time who elected not to attend. Ugggh. Instead, I got into the band during the first hiatus and thus, am a huge defender of the 2.0 years because that’s when I cut my teeth. I write sporadically about Phish on http://soundandphission.blogspot.com/ . My wife’s favorite song is Possum so we named our first dog Possum. Also, my favorite Ghost was the first one I ever saw live, the IT Behemoth (with greatest glowstick war ever).
Matt is a great up and comer in our Phish writing community. Besides beginning to write, Matt is extremely helpful to everyone. He runs an active twitter feed @therealburnham and is always up for great conversation. Check out his blog listed above!