The Phish from VT :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather- (B.Getz on JamBase)

Words by: B.Getz | Images by: Kenny Pusey

Phish :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather Post Pavilion :: Columbia, MD

Phish :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Memories of the first (and best) “Sabotage” during 1998’s “Summer of Encore Covers” certainly race to mind when one mentions Merriweather Post Pavilion and Phish. Others recall the SS-like security forces that roamed the lots with an iron hand. The venue itself is average, an antiquated shed that was a haven for the Grateful Dead and JGB about twenty years ago. The pavilion is named for a philanthropic businesswoman from the 1950s, and sits upon the sprawling 40 acre Symphony Woods in Columbia, MD. Phish was returning to this familiar stage for the first time in nearly nine years and the natives were restless.When tour or run is nearing the end, the penultimate show is often the best and most riveting. See such evenings as: MSG 12/30/97, 12/30/98, Miami 12/30/2003 and even Camden’s pre-Coventry throwdown on 8/12/04. They often rise to the occasion just before the run comes to a close, playing satirical possum with their loyal masses. Another eternal Phish riddle is the geographic curveball that often arrives in the form of a trek way beyond a tour’s proverbial beaten path, i.e.: going way out of the way for just one show (as we did for tonight’s event). Those who keep the faith and make the journey are sometimes exponentially rewarded (see 11/02/98 UT). So the anticipation for Merriweather Post was obviously considerable.

This audacity of hope was more-than-slightly derailed by an absolute barnburner on Friday night in Hartford (see the review here), an effort that certainly both upped the ante for the final two nights of Summer Tour, and shushed most remaining naysayers and holdouts who may have been reserving their current 3.0 judgment. Several cagey tour veterans were brazenly proclaiming it to be the triumphant return of our fearsome foursome.

Phish :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Newer selection “Crowd Control,” off 2004’s Undermind, would subtly open the Saturday night show, an even keeled if uninspired opener. Continuing to search for proper footing, the band dropped into “Kill Devil Falls,” a new song that is slowly but surely developing a strong Southern swagger with some true country grit revealing itself before the “Chalkdust-esque” outro jam. Sensing urgency from both fans and the band, Trey took control with an aggressive “Sloth.”This was to be the first of several Trey/Page dalliances this evening. The beginning portion was delivered with purpose and quickly gave way to McConnell’s spicy Hammond work, awakening the nerdy prog rocker deep within Trey. Unveiling a mid-90s snarling tone, Anastasio used his meditative focus to whip the now popping crowd into a veritable frenzy with his Languedoc’s wail. Fishman‘s polyrhythmic undercurrents fueled the beast beneath Gordon‘s thunderous lead as the rhythmic rudders continued working their magic on the ensuing “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” creating subtle breaks and two-step riddims as Page and Trey again locked into hard-funk.

A groove-rock theme had begun to rear its head with a firing “Axilla I” that took off for the races. Anastasio assumed the Nectar/Hoist-era position of flexed arm cocked & loaded; tenacious in manner and mindset. Page’s B3 swells provoked the redhead’s inner shred; indeed this was machine-gun Trey.

Trey – Phish :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Ernest Joseph Anastasio III’s unbridled enthusiasm was evident. Between songs he literally bounced up and down waiting for Fish and Cactus to drop “Foam.” Despite a few minor missteps, the boys navigated the intricate staccato quirkiness, matching the focus with strong, rotund four-part vocal harmonies.Clearly needing more Junta, McConnell and Fishman led the band directly into the circus tent for “Esther.” Complete with further grand piano serenity and ethereal to the core, the band collectively nailed the seminal chestnut. A freewheeling, chatty Trey called out his drummer as they dropped a thunderous “Ha Ha Ha,” Cactus and Fish’s funkadelic bottom-end pulsating through the shed.

Truly a social butterfly, the charged guitarist further clowned Fish before they unveiled new cut “Party Time,” title track to a forthcoming Joy companion album. The jolly funk jam screams NOLA with buoyant Second-Line rhythms, Cactus not-so-subtly channeling Lesh. An “Iko” of sorts, this vehicle has surefire potential.

Anastasio again yucked it up with some phans riding the rail, resulting in a succinct yet super-crunk “Tube,” per request. Page cooked up an extended Clav cow-funk groove, leading into a powerful rendition of the Joy burner “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan.” An absolute juggernaut drenched in Iommi-riffage, vibrant vocals and a metal sludge-groove, if this is a blueprint for 3.0, then please deal me in. Following a standard-issue “Strange Design,” the band concluded a schizophrenic set with “Time Turns Elastic.”

Phish :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather Post Pavilion

A monstrous familiar groove announced “Tweezer” to begin set two, the aggro-rawk attitude returning to the forefront. Gordon and Fishman’s deliberate dynamics matched synergies with Trey’s demented axe-wizardry for a sinister jam. A palpable throbbing was briefly realized, only to be promptly fumbled away as it dissolved into “Taste.” A tense, almost awkward reading of the Billy Breathes number gave way to an inspired “Alaska.” A slinky juke-joint track, the new tune resonated with phans as Anastasio revealed a happy blues theme bleeding into a countrified twang.Trey has refashioned his Bar 17 cut “Let Me Lie” with overt indie rock leanings, a marriage of trite self-deprecation and Elliott Smith idolatry. Luckily, the arena rock bombast returned and the Maryland massive awakened with “46 Days.” The straightforward rocker evolved into an exploratory journey; weaving an afghan of color that meshed with Chris Kuroda‘s mesmerizing visuals. Teasing myriad themes familiar and foreign, Phish is taking chances again.

The passage was navigated gracefully as Mr. Keyboard Player Page McConnell commandeered the sometimes wavering ship and lovingly steered it to shore with a serene “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” The recently revisited Velvet Underground gem was a warm and comforting muse that laid the foundation for Fishman to kick-start “Harry Hood” with a dark and foreboding underbelly. Gordo and Trey broke off some ridiculous stutter-step dynamics during the intro, dipping into rugged dub-step breaks between the reggae upstroke. The band took several chances during “Hood” as well, and though the ride was a little bumpy, it still delivered an endorphin release at its apex to conclude a decidedly bipolar second set.

For an encore, the boys got busy in short order with a fast paced, tight and energetic “Good Times, Bad Times,” standard fare but forcefully executed. Trey continued in guitar god mode throughout the Zeppelin classic and onto “Tweeprise.” While everybody in the building knew it was coming, it never seems to let down, the bombastic adrenaline shot to stoke the flame of every beating heart in the venue and a radius beyond. Short, firm-handed and determined, “Tweezer Reprise” set us straight for the eve and on toward Saratoga for one final summer hoe-down.

Phish :: 08.15.09 :: Merriweather Post Pavilion :: Columbia, MD
Set I: Crowd Control, Kill Devil Falls, The Sloth, Beauty Of A Broken Heart, Axilla I, Foam, Esther, Ha Ha Ha, Party Time, Tube, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Strange Design, Time Turns Elastic
Set II: Tweezer > Taste, Alaska, Let Me Lie, 46 Days, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, Harry Hood
E: Good Times, Bad Times, Tweezer Reprise

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[Published on: 8/16/09]