Phish’s sixth show at the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA since the famed August ‘93 tour closer began much in the same way the second through fifth shows did: incredibly long lines dotted by nitrous vendors, fans cutting in line at the gate and once inside, tarping large swaths of seats for folks nowhere to be found, and a general logistical failure in transporting the fans from outside the venue to the inside of the venue. Both nights this year have had such bad flux issues with the switch to digital tickets that can’t be loaded or verified on the overloaded cellular networks, that some staffers have resorted to just waving folks through once the posted showtime (6 pm PT) arrives. This of course has in turn led to the venue being overfull each of the first two nights. Doors opening at 4:30 pm instead of 5 pm yesterday seemed to help a little bit, but it still wasn’t great.
But, as usual, once everyone was in and settled and the pre-show tunes started (which included a nod to the aforementioned 8/28/93 show with a JJ Cale tune), all the annoyance from the run-up dissipated and everyone turned their attention to more important matters. Phish took the stage at 6:34 pm local time to raucous applause from the extra grateful crowd after Monday night’s elite second set, and we were treated with a rarity brought back in recent years, “Olivia’s Pool” (aka Slow “Shafty”). Unlike Monday night’s first set, the sound was dialed in from the jump - or so we thought - and the band sounded crisp and well-oiled. “Seven Below” batted second after taking last season off, and while the jam neither went too deep nor too long, Trey found a honeysweet high pitched tone and led the band through some beautiful melodic patterned play. Mike pushed for minor mode territory with his new bass, and unlike some spots Monday night, Trey heard him and followed, ultimately providing some time dilation action with one of his toys. My mind drifted back to Summer 2003 at the Gorge, where I witnessed possibly the G.O.A.T. “Seven Below” two months after graduating from the school in which I stood, a reminder that Phish has been really good for a long time and that I’ve been lucky to follow along for nearly 25 years.
Before I could wax too nostalgic, Mike’s growling bass effects brought the jam back home and shortly thereafter “Maze” began. Also played 30 years prior at the Greek, the first-set stalwart was welcomed by the crowd but the vibe took a sharp turn when loud pops began shooting from the PA around 2 minutes in. The sound issues the past year have been well-documented but things seemed to be stabilizing, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system to see the technological marvel that is the entire Phish operation suffer from issues uncommon for most of the band’s career. At least I was able to cross off “Popping PA” teases off my not seen list. Trey and Page did their thing in “Maze” and the peak was great, as is the custom. “Mountains in the Mist” did a fantastic job in the first set breather slot, and as far as the mellower tunes go, “Mist-comma-Mountains-in-the” is one of my favorites.
Trey called “Bathtub Gin” in the “Mist” fade-out, and Fishman greeted the joker with his new sampling toy (I’d love to know what that person is saying as I can’t make it out). After some watery tones from Trey (don’t think this was the Leslie - was it a chorus effect?) early in the jam, Mike once again stepped to the fore with his new bass and immediately began grooving on a bassline not unlike “CYHMK,” and before I could process whether or not it was truly a tease, the dance party was on. This “Gin” leaked more "2.0" vibes, and I was once again transported to 2003, thinking about the epic West Coast duo of 2/14/03 (Forum) and 7/9/03 (Shoreline) “Gin”s. Like those classic “2.0” renditions - and by the way please listen to every “Gin” from 2003 again if it’s been a minute - this rendition modulated into a different key. Once again it was Mike who led the charge and Trey and Page shadowing him, and 10 minutes in we were already in “Type II” territory. The middle section picked up steam propelled by Fishman’s driving drumbeat, reached a peak, and receded quickly into a delay-laden space that once again modulated and began a dark, pulsing groove. After a few minutes of probing, Trey found brighter pastures and led the band through one more round of “Gin”-induced bliss before expertly threading the needle back into the main riff. When we finally checked the scoreboard, we had 23 minutes of fluid, exploratory, top-shelf “Gin.”
Perhaps as a thank you to Mike for his MVP-level contributions the previous two sets, the band hopped into “555” next. After a little misstep in the intro, Phish quickly regained their footing and pushed for more dark, pulsing jamming. By the 5 minute mark, the jam pushed the boundaries of a typical “555” jam a bit, but it was quickly reeled in. Mike’s new bass, while lacking the low-end felt with his Modulus basses, cut through the murk of Trey’s tone as a nice counterpoint. With time for one more, Mike held the lead singer role as they jumped right into a set-closing “Possum.” Page fired off line after line on the Grand, and Trey pulled out his best bluesy riffs that he left lying on the stage after Monday night’s “My Soul.” Possum was a fitting set-closer - why shouldn’t a band approaching their 40-year anniversary keep slaying songs they started playing when they were teenagers? The first set wrapped up at 7:47 pm, and much of the crowd stayed put through the 30 minute set break.
The band took the stage again at 8:19 pm, and the consensus from my friends was that we’d be treated to a big “Down with Disease,” which opened the second set of the first night of the 2010 Greek run. It was not to be, as the band (perhaps?) sent a message to the crowd with Sci-Fi Soldier tune “Don’t Doubt Me.” The composed part of the song felt a little disjointed, but I quickly unheaded the knee when the jam took off with Page’s swirling synth and Mike’s thumping bass. Some of the improv touched on elements from the first set “Seven Below” jam, and the jam changed key a few times over the next 7 minutes. Mike pushed the band through what initially appeared to be a return to the main theme and things landed in a serene circus music section that gave off strong turn-of-the-millennium Phish hues. As the jam faded, Trey found the “Kill Devil Falls” bend on the neck which signaled his intentions to the band, and before we could process any doubt, they were off to the races into the second “3.0” song of the set. This time was pretty different, as Phish wasted no time jumping into the deep-end and taking a sharp turn into a bouncy section led by Mike dancing around the “Passing Through” bassline. The jam meandered for a bit before growing dark again; Trey wailed a bit, grasping for the next idea. Page hinted at “HYHU,” but instead, the band ditched “KDF” and dove headlong into “Fuego.”
The composed part of “Fuego” was rougher than usual, but it was quickly forgotten when the improvisation began. After a few minutes of typical “Fuego” jamming, with Fishman in particular shining, the venue began to levitate with Mike’s vocal reprise. Trey found a wonderfully weird off-kilter tone as a space jam collapsed into a black hole. CK5’s new rig shone across the crisp Berkeley sky, and for a moment we thought things might head to “No Quarter.” Instead, some light began to escape from the darkness, and new ideas were spawned from fundamental particles in a miraculous act of creation. Trey recaptured the millennial Everglades circus tones he had toyed with earlier, and the band presented the crowd with a simple gift. But the delicate melodic patterns were fleeting - a delay-infused storm started brewing and the band began yet another stomping march which culminated in a “Mercury”-like riff before the jam was extinguished in favor of “Light.” The composed section was nothing to write home about, but again the band jumped into the jam as quickly as possible. Mike’s bass attack was clear as day and he and Fishman kept things moving - it’s clear Mike loves his new bass. Another slow build towards a peak was cashed in around the 10 minute mark, and Trey dug deep for one more cathartic moment.
After nearly an hour of far-ranging improv tucked into “new” songs with composed sections performed at varying degrees of precision, “Lonely Trip” was the chosen landing pad. It was pleasant, as always, and Fishman seemed to have a little more swing than usual for this number. I was certain “Antelope” would take us home, but Trey had different ideas. “The Howling,” another Sci-Fi Soldier tune, continued the new school theme. I was a little weary in the moment that after all the first set nostalgia and Monday’s old school second set, Trey was digging into parts of the catalog for which I admittedly have some apathy. But when I jotted down “The Howling” in my setlist notes and saw “Don’t Doubt Me” at the top of the set, I got the message. “Farmhouse” followed, and Trey did that thing where he holds vocal lines too long (stylistically), and it throws the band off - so on second thought, maybe I’m not really getting the entire message! To punctuate the point that Phish can pull from 40 years of experience and an endless repertoire at any point in time, the set closed with “Backward Down the Number Line.” I do not allow myself to be anything but grateful for the song that led to Phish reuniting, so I’ll leave it there, as did Phish, at 9:48 pm. They played “Character Zero” for the encore from 9:52 pm to 9:58 pm.
There’s so much more to say (ok yes, we got fourth quarter’d, but that’s ok!), but I’ve got to hurry back up to campus to get in line early again. Have fun tonight, and remember to take a moment at some point today to be thankful we get to see Phish again at this historic venue and home of the ancient Greeks.
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