Phish thrill in Worcester

A review of Phish at the DCU Center on June 7, 2012

, Staff Writer

Summer is here, and that means jam band stalwarts Phish are back on the road. Since their reunion in 2009, the quartet has consistently shored up its musical footing by increasingly working their way deeper and deeper into jams and pulling out rare tunes. The result is a band that captures the spontaneity of the live music spectacle that so many fans of the genre have been looking for. Phish stopped by Worcester’s DCU Center for a pair of shows last week, the first of which was filled to the brim with great songs and a second set of virtually non-stop improvisation. The result was a show that left fans with everything they were hoping for, and definitely started the tour off on the right foot.

The show kicked off with “Buried Alive,” which eventually segued its way into “Runaway Jim,” a reliable jam vehicle throughout the years for Phish. Guitarist Trey Anastasio brought a guitar tone that was slightly sharper than what fans may have been used to, but he used it to great effect, laying down confident licks throughout the entire evening. Although most of this was reserved for the second set, “Jim” did feature a creative tease of “Buried” not minutes after the first song had been performed.

From there, it was a fairly standard first set – songs typically ran about seven minutes, which is a bit short for a band like Phish. The band was more focused on playing a number of beloved tunes instead, it seems. That didn’t deter the audience from having a great time, however. “The Moma Dance” was as funky as it had ever been, complete with crunchy clavichord riffs from keys player Page McConnell.

It wasn’t until the second set that things really started to take off, and Phish definitely hit the ground running after the break. “Carini” started off in typical fashion, played cleanly and confidently by the band, and once the jam started, the quartet wasted no time in taking it apart and messing around with various musical ideas. It was the sound of a band clearly happy to be playing with one another and ready to discover new horizons to take songs they’ve been playing for decades. They even segued into a “My Left Toe” jam, which hadn’t happened since 1999!

From there, it was an effortless transition into “Taste,” which doesn’t often show up in the second set. But Phish definitely gave it the second set treatment, opening it up for some unique jams before working their way into the introduction of “Ghost.” Although “Ghost” has been a beloved Phish song for years, the band hasn’t used it for bouts of particularly adventurous improvisation for quite some time. Apparently all that has changed – over the next 15 minutes, Trey propelled the song to brand new sonic boundaries, which the rest of the band happily partook in.

After such furious improvisation, Phish decided to give people a little bit to dance to with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” It’s been a standard of the band’s for years, and was definitely placed perfectly in the set. After playing “If I Could,” Phish dropped into Bob Dylan’s “Quinn The Eskimo.” At about seven minutes, it was easily the shortest tune in the set, but one that set the audience into a wild sing-along.

“Quinn” would have been a fine place to end the show, but Phish had a little bit more to give the crowd. An immediate drop into “Harry Hood” gave fans yet another lengthy bliss-out, followed by “Cavern,” which ended the show in earnest (Trey dropped into “Buried Alive” one last time just to tie a bow on everything). For an encore, it was the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup,” which got everyone in a great mood before heading out of the venue.

Many were skeptical that Phish would be able to capture the same magic of their live shows that they did throughout the 1990s, but they’ve been improving their playing year after year. With the confidence that only comes from years of experience on the road, 2012 may very well be a year for the ages, especially once they’ve run through their entire summer tour.

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