Sunday 06/30/2019 by swittersdc

CAMDEN2 RECAP: RISKS, REWARDS AND RUBY WAVES

© 2019 215Music
© 2019 215Music

Summer Tour 2019 is the first actual tour since the creation of 10 Kasvot Vaxt iRokk songs and 21 Ghosts of the Forest songs. Assuming that all GOTF songs are on the table, that’s 31 new songs. What does a shit ton of new material mean? Huge risks, huge rewards.

I see two divergent forces driving Trey at this moment. On the one hand, he’s creating new music and always pushing forward and trying hard to make all of the new tunes work with his band. If you watch “Between Me and My Mind,” you’ll see how hard Trey works to get the rest of the band on board with his ideas, musically and otherwise. I think you can feel that this tour, particularly with the GOTF songs. This hard work is always present and recognizable.

And then there’s the flip side, the trying to let go. As Trey said in the recent New York Times interview, “I do as much preparation as I can, but once everybody gets in the room, I let go.”

That’s a tricky balance. Sometimes it works perfectly. Camden night one had an “About to Run” that was well placed, ferocious, but at the same time, comfortable. That set was the perfect example of that letting go and letting it happen. The highlights from night two were also from new songs, but getting there was a bumpier ride. Looking for jams, with some to be found.

The band came out swinging in set one, with a “Mike’s Groove” that captured the crowd’s energy and built on it. A classic “I Am Hydrogen” reminded me, yet again, just how perfect of a centerpiece that is to “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove.”

A “Divided Sky” followed, which was lovely as always, and this shot from the pavilion provided a nice divided view as well.

© 2019 Tom Marshall
© 2019 Tom Marshall

The band was wasting no time getting into jams. Although “Everything’s Right” was only 9:50, it got deep. I feel like Page’s effects and varied use of the keys has helped get these jams further along more quickly. I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve heard from him this tour. This song is becoming the go-to set one improv anchor, and I'm all for it.

This old school set continued with a “Guelah Papyrus” (hello Osiris!), a “Sparkle,” a “Roggae” and a “46 Days.” The closing solo peaks from Trey in "46 Days" left the crowd waiting for more.

Here you have a first set that had only one song that debuted after 2003 (“Everything’s Right”). The old school set one set us up to believe we were in for an old school rocker in Camden.

So what happens next? One huge jam like “Mercury” from night one? A “Tweezer”? As an aside, anyone who goes to a show with me will probably have two observations: 1) he dances his ass off; 2) he really always thinks they’ll play “Tweezer.”

Blaze On” has become a dependable jam vehicle, with at least 10 of the 43 versions to date notably impressing us with solid improvisation. Similarly to a few others jams of the night, it didn’t take them long to get into the goods. This was a really great nine minutes, and I thought this could push into the 15-20 minute territory easily. Why are we so obsessed with jam length? Why can’t a nine minute jam be as good as a 20 minute jam? Well, because that’s not how it works. You need the time and space to push into truly original territory. I think that’s about 15 minutes, give or take.

We did not see the resolution this time. A sonically pleasing but nonetheless abrupt hard left into “NICU” brought us to the next chapter in this set. A “Golden Age” that started to wind down around six minutes made me realize that this balance of letting go and pushing new material wasn’t quite working this time. They were cycling through songs, with Trey looking for a comfortable space.

And then we landed into “Ruby Waves.” This one already works really well in the repertoire. This 13 minute jam gave us a window into what’s possible with the GOTF songs in the Phish canon. Page and Trey’s interplay was great, and Page was going between piano, synth, organ, clav, really almost everything in the rig. Trey found a pretty major key early in the jam, but instead of peaking too early, they moved on to a little bit of a darker space. This was the patience, the letting go, the pushing, all landing at once.

Also, what the fuck is going on with Fishman? How is he able to play for three hours every night without even taking a break? He absolutely drives all of this improv, without seeming to even need to slow down once. The psychedelic space they enter around seven minutes is exactly what I’m looking for. Spacious, sparkly psychedelia. Welcome.

Balance achieved. This is what second sets smell like. Right? We'll see. From here, we move into “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long,” which is appropriately incredibly short. A mid-second set “Rift”? Don’t ask me.

We get into another wonderful new space with “Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1.” I felt like I was living inside a 1989 “Dark Star.” One of the most unique sounding jams I’ve heard from Phish in a long time. This perfectly melded the GOTF sound with the Phish sound. I hope this one comes back. “We’re all here together and the weather’s fine.” Yes.

A late second set “Waiting All Night”? Again, don't ask me. But the “Ghost” that followed was, similar to other jams of the night, fast and furious. I couldn’t believe this was an eight minute jam. But it was nice to hear.

Let me take a moment to talk about “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” Holy shit, Trey’s soloing on this song this tour is just absolutely fierce. It’s like he took the Clapton/Hendrix mashup from the GOTF sound and combined it with his white Stratocaster from Vegas. Really just on fire. Extra mustard, all the technical terms. Listen to this jam. (Me expressing my appreciation for this jam in the photo below.)


© 2019 Jesse Lauter
© 2019 Jesse Lauter

Finally, back to basics with a “You Enjoy Myself” encore, which felt a little bit like a thank you to the fans for bearing with the experimentation and risk-taking involved with integrating new songs with old Phish and trying to let go while pushing forward and trying to keep fans, the band, and the jaded vets happy at once.

Trey’s dancing before the vocal jam reminded me what I look like when I dance, which made me laugh. “Grind” was a little extra treat that helped us all appreciate the wonderful goofiness of this band.

So you have risks, and you have rewards. These new songs are clearly the inspiration for the improv we are hearing, similary to how new material has played this role since 2013. We get new songs, we get new inspiration, we get new music. The cycle continues. It's a difficult balance to achieve, a push and a pull, between old and new. But isn't that how life is? We balance the old with the new, the pushing and the letting go, the exploratory with the familiar. It's not always going to work. But I'm eager to see where it goes next.

RJ is the co-founder of Osiris and of the Helping Friendly Podcast.

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Comments

, comment by phish728
phish728 Excellent review, thanks!
, comment by Bemydemon
Bemydemon Great recap RJ. Nailed it! I can’t wait to see some of these GOTF songs myself.
, comment by ThinMan
ThinMan It was too bad they didn't do part 2 of Beneath, it is a really nice landing spot after part 1 and I love "the ghosts are out to greet me" section
Maybe tonight??
, comment by scottysmo
scottysmo Excellent review. Some solid insight. Thank you.
, comment by ben828
ben828 I appreciate this review very much. It echoes a lot of what I've been feeling about this tour. I feel like in 3.0, as with many eras of ph, they have been going through waves. There are years and tours that are high points on these waves (2012, summer 2015, bakers). the in between years can go many ways, sometimes they are down years but sometimes they are years where the band is taking lots of risks to see what works. Unlike 2016, which I think we can all agree was not a great year, summer 2019 is a year of exceptional playing and tons of fun. No there has not been a single show that has blown my mind yet, but there has not been a sub par show either. the band is embarking on uncharted waters filled with these new songs and will come out of this tour/this year ready to reach a new high much like they have in the past.
, comment by smoothatonalsnd
smoothatonalsnd Great review!

"Why are we so obsessed with jam length? Why can’t a nine minute jam be as good as a 20 minute jam? Well, because that’s not how it works. You need the time and space to push into truly original territory. I think that’s about 15 minutes, give or take."

I kinda disagree on this one RJ...especially in the more recent years of 3.0, it takes Phish very little time to push into truly original territory. Now, it might take time for them to push into truly original territory that is also a standout musical moment, but listen to almost any Light jam from the last 5 years and you can hear that they leap almost immediately into new keys and improvisational episodes. What I do agree with is that it's often the second or third improvisational episode that is a real "keeper." And sometimes those don't appear until after 15 or 20 minutes. But look at the much lauded Hampton "Tweezer," or of course the Tahoe "Tweezer." Both of them get into their first really exceptional improvisational episodes outside the norms of Tweezer-dom around 10 or 12 minutes.
, comment by bl002e
bl002e As an aside, anyone who goes to a show with me will probably have two observations: 1) he dances his ass off; 2) he really always thinks they’ll play “Tweezer.”

I sat across the aisle from RJ at 12/30/18, and can confirm observation #1 (can’t comment on #2, but to be fair, they’d played it the night prior).

Great review!
, comment by hambone024
hambone024 RJ, best thing I’ve seen you write. Nice work.

I don’t care how short some of the songs were, the jams in them were great.

Maybe I’m old enough to have finally settled down. I’ve just plain enjoyed the shows I’ve seen this tour (MPP and Camden).

Frankly, I loved Rift in set two. Just a fun and intense bounce. And I’m normally not hoping for a set two Waiting All Night. Last night’s was perfect for me.
, comment by dedph1sh
dedph1sh Pretty much dead-on review!
, comment by mabarnes
mabarnes Perfect review in my opinion. I couldn't agree more. From the couch I felt Trey was not comfortable at all. You describe it so well. But alas, I am not a jaded vet, as I enjoy almost every note, but Waiting All Night might be waiting a while in rotation after this version and it is one of my favorite newish songs. I have thoroughly enjoyed this tour. 10 year anniversary tour for 3.0. Crazy.
, comment by swittersdc
swittersdc @smoothatonalsnd said:
Great review!

"Why are we so obsessed with jam length? Why can’t a nine minute jam be as good as a 20 minute jam? Well, because that’s not how it works. You need the time and space to push into truly original territory. I think that’s about 15 minutes, give or take."

I kinda disagree on this one RJ...especially in the more recent years of 3.0, it takes Phish very little time to push into truly original territory. Now, it might take time for them to push into truly original territory that is also a standout musical moment, but listen to almost any Light jam from the last 5 years and you can hear that they leap almost immediately into new keys and improvisational episodes. What I do agree with is that it's often the second or third improvisational episode that is a real "keeper." And sometimes those don't appear until after 15 or 20 minutes. But look at the much lauded Hampton "Tweezer," or of course the Tahoe "Tweezer." Both of them get into their first really exceptional improvisational episodes outside the norms of Tweezer-dom around 10 or 12 minutes.
Great point. I guess it's perception vs. reality. There is a lot of the opposite in these shows, in that they get there quickly. Maybe it is the original + standout moments. But we can get into interesting territory quickly. Can we get to original and standout more quickly? I guess probably!
, comment by Doriannabanana
Doriannabanana I called Mike’s hot line last week (yes, that is still a thing!) and he mentioned that Fish plays drums eight hours every day— which just supports your point of how on fire he is! He’s dedicated. Great review, much love. Looking forward to rejoining the tour at Fenway!
, comment by BobbyPine
BobbyPine Despite overflow crowd that seemed ready to let loose, night two at Camden just never really hit its stride. The security at the venue certainly did not help matters as it took many (easily thousands) people over an hour to get in (we began making our way through the line well before 7:00 and still managed to miss Mike's. The BB&T security went from patting every single person down after going through a metal detector and emptying everyone's pockets to just letting everyone in once the show started. Really, why bother? Thousands of people missed the beginning of the show, and for what...to search people right up until it takes way too long and the band starts, at which point everyone gets let in? What a joke. This is already not a great venue as the pavilion is a concrete monstrosity. The band looks like its playing beneath a giant bunker.

Security and venue issues aside, the first set was a fun if rather uneventful run through some older faves. Divided Sky was a nice nod to the volatile weather of the past few days, as Phish is wont to do following a clearing of clouds after heavy storms. Everything's Right offered the most interesting jam of the first set (and quite possibly the entire night), although Trey seemed to pull out of it just as some darker Type II areas were being explored. Papyrus is always a welcome friend and Roggae featured some pretty playing. Nothing stood out as overtly memorable in first set, although the 46 days closer featured some old school fiery Trey magic. The fireworks at set break made it feel as if we were in for a something raucous...like we were being primed for a real blowout.

Then...the second set. Listen, I love a five or six song second set as much as anyone, but I'm also not someone who believes that a 10 song second set can't have just as much magic/interesting playing. This ten song second set just felt...disjointed at best. Blaze On was a solid opener that usually provides a good springboard to go just about anywhere. On this night though, they seemed to try to go nowhere. The transition to a conventional run-through of NICU was a bit clunky. Golden Age got rip-corded before any real exploration could be had. Then the Ruby Waves, DDHVL, Rift (second set??), Beneath the Sea of Stars, Waiting All Night stretch was just...confusing. There was not much, if any, flow and Trey seemed far too content to sit back (on this night, Page pretty much took the reins, which appeared to surprise him more than anyone) and play chords. Weirdly, Page and Mike didn't seem all that keen in taking the reins for long stretches either. And then there's the song choice/sequence, particularly, the Beneath the Sea of Stars --> Waiting All Night section, which just seemed to stymy a Saturday night crowd looking to really groove. The tempo and mood of both songs were so close that their being played back-to-back felt beyond redundant. Even the Ghost that followed was pretty subdued and was once again cut short before anything in the way of exploration could even begin.

By the time S.A.N.T.O.S. came around, Trey even seemed to acknowledge that the whole night went by without the band really attempting to cut loose. He did his level best to completely tear up the solos in SANTOS, but those 7 minutes of minor pentatonic virtuosity offered only a fleeting glimpse of the energy that was largely lacking for most of the night.

The YEM encore almost seemed like a bone thrown to the audience for the plodding previous 90 minute set. Even the YEM was just pretty run-of-the-mill.

Ok. So, they can't all be winners and clearly Trey wants to include the GOTF/Kasvot material into Phish. As with everything, it takes trial and error and it's important to give the band leeway to figure it out. Unfortunately, with these tours all being short, it becomes difficult for the band to figure out where and how to slot (in this case) 31 new songs into the rotation. As a fan, when you can only see the band but so many times every year, catching a night like night 2 at Camden can inevitably feel disappointing. But it's important that they keep growing and trying new things. Nights like 6/29/19 make nights like 12/29/18 possible. It's still a privilege to see these guys playing at such a high level this many years in. Since my first show as a 16 year-old in 1998, the band has privileged me to far too many awesome memories to ever hold a dud like tonight against them...because like always, you know the next show is gonna rage. Onward!
, comment by StanleeMouse
StanleeMouse "Assuming that all GOTF songs are on the table, that’s 31 new songs. What does a shit ton of new material mean? Huge risks, huge rewards."
Very well put , how to react to the truft of new tunes. I loved the balance between sets threw out the Weekend! After a True Groove to Open Sat., what a viciously wonderful start to Sunday night, opening with Curtain > FEFU> BURIED ALIVE > CAMEL WALK! I'm a huge FEFU fan, definitely in my favorite ballad pool, and from Rift a staple in my life!
REBA > Sample (got deserved cheer response as the 1.0 kept flowing). Pebbles the only odd man out was a NICE odd man out for the set. The set winding out with Tela>Mango, Driver > Bowie is nails. II:Loved 40ish min. between Completely and my surprise of the night an extensive 20 years that went somewhere... Most EVENTS, Makisupa Gas POLICE, & TWEEZER are always welcome. I like what they're doing with e) slot on this tour... Solid Night another tale of two sets which you articulated nicely in the review.
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