Review: Phish leaves its Phanatics satisfied
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Chances are, when you were in high school or college, you had at least one of those "Phish" friends. They'd scour the tour list, mapping out nearby shows and working every desperate measure to ensure they had enough money for tickets. Or maybe you were that friend.
Either way, there's a certain dichotomy between the usual "Phan" and the casual listener. Those who attend every concert, sometimes with the no-holds-barred fanaticism of the '70s-era Deadheads, can't seem to understand how anyone can resist the allure of the jam-band idols. And everyone else is left scratching their heads, wondering what all the fuss is about.
Regardless, all you have to do is attend a Phish show to see that there must be something to such unconditional devotion. Almost every dancing, dreadlocked flower child has that awe-struck happiness painted all over his face. At First Niagara Pavilion on Saturday, the lawn was absolutely packed -- the usual turnout -- and it was difficult to find anybody who wasn't having the time of his life.
However, the difference between a Phish performance and any other concert goes deeper than the counterculture experience. Diehard fans swap experiences like trading cards, with some songs more common than others. In fact, a number of websites have spawned solely to chronicle each set-list and discuss the rare or unique aspects of every show. And with the rampant spontaneity inherent to Phish, every show is different.
For instance, bassist Mike Gordon started the show as they opened with "Funky B• tch" -- evidently an infrequent occurrence for the bluesy fan favorite. At the end of their third song, "Gumbo," a funky piece with multivoice harmony, keyboarder Page McConnell played off the performance with a solo honky-tonk piano. A friend, wide-eyed and excited, tells me that this, too, is a rare sight to see.
In between those songs is the more mainstream "Backwards Down the Number Line," which more or less reflects how the joyful if not slightly bittersweet single appears on Phish's latest album. Those Phans closer to the stage might even be able to tell you that the song debuted live on March 6, 2009, or that it's been performed live 147 times since then -- yes, they keep stats like those for every song. And the free spirits with a touch more gray in their beards might even describe which of those performances was their favorite.
After a roaring crowd reaction to "Maze," Phish jammed through "Scent of a Mule" (with a short theremin solo) and "46 Days" before wrapping up the first set with ever-popular "You Enjoy Myself." Clearly the track was a welcome sight, with waves of glow sticks rising and cascading as the band sang the enigmatic "Wash Uffizi drive me to Firenze."
As is the custom with jam bands, many of the songs flowed into each other, and there was only one clean break between songs (which preceded the heavy crowd favorite "Bouncing Around the Room"). The jam magic of "Mike's Song" transitioned into the spacier "Simple," before eventually moving into "Seven Below" -- a more infrequently performed piece driven by a catchy, engaging guitar riff.
Phish rounded out the set with "Slave to the Traffic Light," a crowd-pleaser with deep roots to the band's history, despite its relative rarity. And then, just like that, there was only one more opportunity for the Phanatics to hear whatever song they'd been waiting years to experience.
Likely a good number of those at the pavilion were satisfied with the sole encore performance: "Lizards." And though singer Trey Anastasio seemed to forget some of the lyrics, the band brought more than enough energy to make up for it.
Finally, the experience was over, and each Phan was left with fresh memories to swap with other eager show-goers before the next Phish concert.
First Published June 25, 2012 4:19 pm