Phish :: 08.16.09 :: Saratoga Performing Arts Center :: Saratoga Springs, NY
After driving thru the humid tri-state area, the throngs arrived at the sprawling Saratoga Performing Arts Center to beaming sunshine and bustling lots for the Summer Tour 2009 finale. Needless to say, stakes were high as this would be the last performance scheduled for over two months, and a fitting bookend for the maiden voyage of Phish 3.0.It was the second leg of the tour that saw the band truly return to form at several shows, a steamroller of energy and reconnection. The West to East jaunt upped the ante along the way, coming to a head with a sleeper stop in Hartford (read the review here) that seemed to serve notice that the boys are indeed back.
Hordes of ticket-less hopefuls roamed the rural layout, desperation starting to creep in as the tour’s final show was drawing near. The police presence was evident, however, they seemed resigned to allow phans to gleefully congregate, consume, trade and imbibe in relative peace. As the masses began to trek toward the venue, the skies unexpectedly opened with a torrential downpour lasting approximately fifteen minutes. The sight of strangers stopping strangers, just to ask them if they had room in their car to wait out the rain, took us back to the helping, friendly camaraderie that once defined our band and scene.
Once inside the energy was electric, and as the lights dimmed a deafening roar gave way to the assertive chords of “Llama” galloping out of the gates. Terse and delivered with punk attitude, Trey charged through the selection with a reckless abandon that had been suspiciously absent from many early-summer 3.0 gigs. Fishman stopped the brief rocker on a dime, only to unwrap a hefty “Moma Dance,” delivered at nearly half the speed of its predecessor but retaining the same raw, unadulterated approach. Fish and Gordon measured the groove carefully, keeping Trey on a short leash early on. As the song progressed, Gordon’s bulbous anchor allowed McConnell‘s organ and Clav to claw their way to the forefront. Once a gaping funk channel was established, Anastasio broke loose with the song’s howling melody, stirring a concoction of distorted sustain and demonstrative themes. A typical “Guyute” rounded out the fifteen minute opening trifecta.
Slowing things down further, a crooning Anastasio dispensed a straightforward “Anything But Me” before McConnell’s “Cars Trucks Buses” brought the energy back with its NOLA groove, whistling B3 and choice Fishman swing. A less than riveting “Chalkdust Torture” tumbled into a spirited “Golgi Apparatus” that was delivered with a sense of enthusiasm that countless other versions have sorely lacked.The spacey prelude to “David Bowie” had almost an erotic quality, and the front end was spirited and purposeful. As the band navigated the closing stages of the composed portion, Trey began a gravity defying ascension skyward, laying a thematic blueprint that he strove toward with calculated tactics and a melodic soar. The Anastasio fueled “Bowie” outro jam scaled boundaries, soared to the stratosphere, and, with the help of Fishman’s always-keen awareness, peaked with precision. Bouncing around the stage, an animated Trey chopped the familiar dissonant chords that announce “Cavern,” employing a similar punked-up bombast that was toyed with during the opener and reintroduced during the “Bowie” peak. Upon completion, the band delved into a charged “Possum,” Trey steering the comical, buoyant blues as Cactus anchored the vessel with vocals and chunky bottom end.
Though most in attendance were certain “Possum” would conclude the set, the gluttony continued with new song “Ocelot” and a rousing “Antelope” that displayed nearly every idiosyncrasy of the band. The beginning was dynamic and tight, the band blasting off cohesively. As Fish and Gordo laid the foundation with a smart, economical rumble-groove, Trey weaved in and out of the supernatural with screaming Languedoc phrasings. At times otherworldly, at others murky, the tension built then fumbled, resurrected then disconnected. Anastasio harnessed the wail and brought us home on time with deep feeling to close the set.
The second set began somewhat predictably with “Backwards Down the Number Line.” However, once the boys delivered the bulk of the new song’s traditional structure, they collectively jumped to a Type II netherworld. As a united front, each player began to embroider effervescent themes with driving purpose. Trey led the pack of dogs through a psychedelic forest, opening up a lengthy journey that built itself into a veritable fortress of sonic might. The “Number Line” jam was dark, thunderous and soaked in frightening keys and foreboding tones, Trey flitting between major and minor keys with fleeting allegiance. As CK5’s shower of white light ushered in dissonance, the band and phans came to. Reeling from the trudging stoner rock and demonic axe wizardry of “Number Line,” the band retreated to safety with the overtly reflective “Twenty Years Later.”With the vocal bop intro of “Halley’s Comet” a deafening crowd sing-along ensued. The band fleshed out the happy “Halley’s” funk for some time, collectively driving the cut with a frenetic liveliness. The unmistakable chords that begin the Velvet Underground classic “Rock & Roll” sent SPAC into a rage, McConnell belting out the verses with a childlike glee as Fishman delved into a rugged, Brit-garage two-step. Again, Trey led a charging, rock-fueled pursuit, working a magnificent theme with wraith-like phrasings and lyrical prowess.
A somewhat lengthy chat between band members unveiled “Harpua” in all its reverential majesty. The boys obviously tightened this one up, and by the time they got to the “fat, sweaty bulldog” line, SPAC was in a state of bedlam. The first segment of the song was by far the best, the sludge-like, chugging funk stuttering behind the beat with strength and conviction. With huge smiles and stellar execution, the enormity of this selection truly deserves the term “bust out.” A succinct and not too corny narration that included Fishman singing Katy Perry‘s smash hit “I Kissed A Girl” (watch it below) only cemented the notion that this night was indeed truly special. The phans – shocked, awed and inspired – basked in the afterglow as the band discussed what to do next.That decision was a masterful one: “You Enjoy Myself.” Focused, emotive playing defined the intro with a serene, almost supernatural air to the deep breath portion that acts as a prelude to the freewheeling, white-boy funk section. A fierce-yet-measured Anastasio solo on top of the groove was the exclamation point to the evening, to the tour, to the comeback. During the retirement, Trey once said to Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke that if he could change things he would “give my left nut to play that song five times in a row every day until I die.” Well, if those renditions were anything close to this second set closer, even the most jaded internet trolls would be thrilled. It was unmistakable: everybody underneath the shed and sprawled on the lawn was jubilant.
An encore after a set like that is almost irrelevant, a token gesture for getting on the bus and enjoying the ride. On this night, it served to punctuate not only the performance, but the tour and the decision to return. After brief, borderline unintelligible remarks from an obviously beaming Anastasio, the band congregated at the front of the stage like a barbershop quartet, a hallmark of the halcyon days of yore. A spot-on “Grind” brought grins to the captivated crowd before Trey announced they would finally debut the remaining Joy cut that had been withheld thus far. Singing with authority, Page belted out the bluesy ballad “I Been Around,” and as good as it was, we knew there had to be one more. In a fitting tour closer, and apparently unable to shake the arena rock bug that had infused much of the weekend, Phish chose the classic ballbreaker “Highway to Hell” to bring the curtain down on the 3.0’s first tour back. The high energy, hard rawk anthem had fists pumping and metal horns out, and the band soaked in our grateful adulation. Blessed we are to have each other. This time we won’t get fooled again.
Phish :: 08.16.09 :: Saratoga Performing Arts Center :: Saratoga Springs, NY
For more images of this show, go here.
JamBase | Phree
[Published on: 8/17/09]
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