The lost Phish review, with a Bonnaroo dispatch

After gracing the relatively-intimate environs of the Civic Center, jam-rock heroes Phish moved on to the 80,000 + madness of Bonnaroo. Our reviewer Jake Frankel checked in (from his seat aboard the Toubab Krewe bus) on his way home to report that last night, none other than The Boss himself sat in with Phish on three songs.

“They did ‘Mustang Sally,’ Bruce sang it, and they played a dueling guitar solo jam. Bruce held his own, man. He can play some lead guitar,” Frankel reports. The Phish/Boss collaboration also included Springsteen’s “Bobby Jean” and “Glory Days.”

The jam apparently held special significance for Phish frontman Trey Anastasio.

“Trey is a Jersey boy and Bruce is like a god in New Jersey. Trey introduced him by saying the first show he ever saw was a Bruce Springsteen concert,” Frankel says. “He was looking over at Bruce like a little kid the whole time.”

And here’s the review of the June 9 Phish show at the Asheville Civic Center, which Frankel faithfully dispatched at 2:15 a.m. after the concert and before he left for Bonnaroo (that is dedication), and which this editor somehow misplaced. Also, check the Xpress photo galleries for three sets of shots from inside and outside the show.

“Phish didn’t disappoint fans lucky enough to get tickets to Tuesday night’s show at the Asheville Civic Center, the most intimate room the band’s played since its reunion last March. At their first local performance, the Vermont quartet — guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell — mixed inspired renditions of older songs culled from their vast cannon with new material likely to be on their forthcoming album, scheduled for release in July.

The band opened the show with “Kill Devil Falls,” a new song with a walking blues progression that allowed Anastasio to warm up his fingers (and the crowd’s dancing legs) with a pentatonic machine gun attack. The band then called on the crowd to join them in “The Moma Dance,” a celebratory funk song that had fans obliging with plenty of shimmying and shaking. They didn’t stretch the song long though before abruptly transitioning into “Sample in a Jar,” an often-played fist-pumping rock song from 1994’s Hoist.

Next came a long pause, as it seemed the band members couldn’t decide what to play. In what might have been self-commentary, they settled on “Stash,” a dark ode to indecisiveness with it’s refrain of “maybe so, maybe not,” the cryptic lyrics eventually giving way to the band’s first exploratory jam of the night. Anastasio lead the way, building crescendos over Gordon and Fishman’s salsa shuffles and McConnell’s delicate grand piano lines, their improv wading into haunted house territory before building into a goose-bump inducing peak.

An unusually talkative Anastasio introduced the next several songs as having their lyrical origins in lines he “stole” from Fishman’s journals when they were housemates. The Fishman-inspired mini-set included a bust out of “Dog Faced Boy,” played for the first time since their reunion, the deep New Orleans groove of “Gumbo” and the psychedelic-experiment-gone-awry funk of “Tube,” a surprising choice given that it was a repeat from the band’s previous show.

They kept the Fishman theme going as Anastasio talked the drummer into singing what he said from the stage was one of his all-time favorite songs, “Lengthwise,” a tune the band hadn’t played since 1998 which consists soley of Fishman repeating the line, “when you’re there, I sleep lengthwise, and when you’re gone, I sleep diagonal in my bed.”

It was a needed bit of silliness before the band embarked on the epic adventure of “The Divided Sky,” a cerebral composition that culminated in a guitar solo of Santana-influenced, heavily sustained, spine-tingling high notes from Anastasio.

The band then debuted a cover of Bill Monroe’s “When The Cactus Is In Bloom,” sung appropriately by Gordon, whose most common nickname is “Cactus.” Phish closed the first set with a rocking revival of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love,” a once frequent cover that they hadn’t played since 2000.

After about a 45-minute break, Phish opened set two with “Backwards Down the Number Line,” a catchy new song and likely candidate to be a single on their new album. One of the first songs Anastasio wrote with songwriting partner Tom Marshall since Phish broke up in 2004, the introspective, upbeat lyrics offered praise to friends and friendships that survive and overcome hard times, and were delivered with the clear voices of all the band members layered in harmony.

The song slowly transitioned and morphed into “Ghost,” and a clavinet-fueled, esoteric funk jam that found Fishman using his symbols and the subtleties of his snare to sound more like a melodic instrumentalist than a drummer. The pastel pink and purple lights framing the stage soon faded to blue, giving the room the feeling of filling with water as the band slowed down and improvised their way into a spacey version of “Fast Enough for You.” The repetitive chorus of the Rift favorite washed over the room like crashing waves, powered by Gordon’s bubbly bass lines and Anastasio’s reverb and sustain-heavy leads.

The laid-back vibe didn’t last for long, however, as Phish soon lifted the room out of the depths and into the stratosphere with a high energy version of “Halley’s Comet,” the band transforming itself into a four-headed improvisational beast intent on rocking the collective face off of its audience. They called forth both the ying and the yang, morphing from the positive bebop of “Halley’s” into the nightmarish jazz-fusion rock of “Maze,” its refrain of “You’ll never get out of this maze” playing like a bad-trip horror anthem.

Further displaying their ability to play a complete clausterfuck of styles, Phish then steamrolled into its debut of “Alaska,” an Anastasio tune that brought to mind the roots-rock of The Band.

They closed the set with the holy trinity of “Theme from the Bottom,” “Golgi Apparatus” and “Possum,” long-time insider favorites that served as springboards for more explorations into tension and release.

The encore of the Rolling Stone’s “Loving Cup” was rock ‘n’ roll at its best, with Anastasio’s inspired solo’s hopefully setting free anyone in the audience still trapped in the maze, the sing-along closing chorus of “Oh what a beautiful buzz” ringing true for both the recently reunited band members and their fans.”



6/9/09 Asheville Civic Center – Asheville, NC

I: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance, Sample In A Jar, Stash, Dog Faced Boy, Gumbo, Tube, Lengthwise, The Divided Sky, When The Cactus Is In Bloom, Bold As Love
II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Ghost > Fast Enough For You, Halley’s Comet > Maze, Alaska, Theme From The Bottom, Golgi Apparatus, Possum
Encore: Loving Cup

— Jake Frankel


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4 thoughts on “The lost Phish review, with a Bonnaroo dispatch

  1. Ezekiel

    I second that, Great review! On a side note, I tried to find a recording of Bill Monroe’s version of “When the Cactus Is in Bloom” without success. I did however find one with the same lyrics by Jimmie Rodgers. I’m not certain, but Rodgers’ version probably came first. I wonder if Phish’s live debut of the tune in Asheville was a recognition of Rodgers’ time here, or if the Vortex caused the coincidence. ;-) Either way, it’s pretty neat.

    Rodgers’ version:

    Phish version:

  2. Rooer

    Quote from above: “…Fishman using his symbols and the subtleties of his snare…”

    Symbols? Really? Try Cymbals.

    Still, good review. But there was a whole lot more to the ‘Roo shows than Bruce showing up.

  3. Jake Frankel

    Whoops – Thanks for catching that typo Rooer!

    Maybe you already saw it, but I posted another piece on Bonnaroo a couple days after the fest:

    Still barely scratches the surface of all that went down that amazing weekend, but adds a bit more flavor than what we were able to include in the above.

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