Sunday, February 23, 2003

Phish delivers stretched-out jams

Concert review

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It is a love reborn, and this weekend it was on full display at the U.S. Bank Arena.

After more than two years away, Phish, the world's most popular jam band, is back. Some say back from hiatus, others from a break-up. None of that matters now, because the love in a Phish fan's heart is unconditional, and Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Page McConnell and Mike Gordon are again as one.

This fanatical devotion was obvious throughout Phish's sellout concert at the U.S. Bank Arena Friday night, a 31/4 hour show (40-minute intermission included). It was the first of a two-night stand and the 10th show of the band's return. The crowd greeted each and every song by the Vermont foursome with wild enthusiasm, even the weaker stuff like a jam-boogie embellishment of the theme to 2001. The same goes for "I Didn't Know," a barbershop quartet-style a cappella number, with would-be fourth singer Fishman instead "playing" a vacuum. The song, which closed the first set, is an example of the band's patented hippie goofiness, and it's nothing special, but the crowd reacted to it as if the world of popular music had just been knocked off its axis. Some people screamed; others whispered reverently about this being the first "I Didn't Know" appearance since the regrouping.

There were several moments when the band justified the hype. Many came early in Set One. A cover of the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein," with Anastasio's guitar, Gordon's bass and McConnell's keyboards locked in on the giant "Beavis and Butthead"-approved riff, led into the Phish original "Down with Disease." The song was a single in 1994 and it clocked a bit of airplay back then. But that version sounded nothing like Friday's, an extended 10-minute-plus jam with a spacey instrumental middle that ebbed and flowed in all the right places.

"Lifeboy" followed, a slower number showcasing Anastasio and McConnell's folksy harmony vocals, one of the band's few characteristics that justifies the ubiquitous Dead comparisons. If the first set - which also included a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" - proved anything, it's that Phish is not a by-the-book jam band.

The second set was 20 minutes longer than the hour-long opening set, and featured several stretched-out jams.

Highlights included the opening number "Mike's Song," sung by, of course, Gordon, and "Harry Hood," which started as a reggae tune and took about 10 different time-signature-and-style changes before meandering to a close about 15 minutes later.


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