Phish Finish Merriweather Run with “Tweezer” Fest, “Jennifer Dances”
From the opening bass drum hits of "Fee," fans knew they were in for an evening of old-school Phish last night at Merriweather Post Pavillion but little did anyone know that they'd be treated to a specifically '94-style show. The vintage vibe was apparent from the megaphone-enhanced opener, which featured the band going back at the end to hit the "nectarine" verse that they missed, before delivering a rusty yet competent "The Curtain (With)," whose jam portion rivaled any other rendition of the song in the 3.0 era.
From there, the band briefly dipped in to their post-hiatus repertoire, with a strong "46 Days" preceding the solid Mike Gordon-penned "555" before the show steered itself back towards the past with the second "My Sweet One" of the tour. Following a brief detour into the funk by way of a nine-minute "Sand," the first of three set one jams that ran longer than any single tune from the second set, the journey back in time continued with a slightly sloppy "Bouncing Around The Room" before the band busted out only the fifth "Saw It Again" since their reunion (interestingly, two of the five have been played at Merriweather). The underplayed rocker segued in to the expected "Fuego" in an unexpected first set spot. In an interesting portent to the absence of long jams in the second set, the band closed out the first with a super-funky "You Enjoy Myself," which continued this tour's tradition of Trey only minimally soloing in the jam, plus a brief reappearance of the megaphone.
For the second set, a loose "Wilson" kicked things off, before cutting into the "Tweezer" riff during the final flourish and from there it was like 5/7/94 (the famed Bomb Factory show in Dallas, TX released as Live Phish Vol. 18) all over again. From the moment where Fishman kicked in with the beat, it was apparent that this would be a very different "Tweezer," with dramatic manipulations of the rhythm and dynamics happening throughout the composed section of the song. The stage was set by the first post-"cold" break, with Fishman breaking out of "Tweezer's" driving syncopated backbeat and instead straightening out the pulse to something much more akin to "Back On The Train," though not actually teasing the beat (yet). Once the band dropped into the jam in full, following the "Uncle Ebenezer" line, Fishman again straightened out the rhythm, switching to a snare-and-kick pattern that slowly morphed in to the actual beat to "Back On The Train." Seizing the opportunity, the band cut directly into an accelerated "BOTT" for a pair of verses, before switching back to a rocked-out Type I "Tweezer" jam via a brief transposition of the riff in to "Train"'s key. Only to return an even number of bars later to tackle the remaining half of "BOTT."
Unlike the Bomb Factory show, where the "Tweezer" essentially launched a long segued series of jams, this "Tweezer"-fest kept the Nectar staple as a motif throughout, repeatedly returning to the main riff between trips to other musical lands. As the post-"BOTT" portion of the jam slowly brought the volume down, the band deftly segued in to the only second set song from this millennium, a perfectly placed "Waiting All Night" that seemed to signal the end of the "Tweezer" adventure as it dissolved into "Free." Not so though, as the band quickly shifted gears from "Free"'s typical jam back into "Tweezer." Repeating his previous trick, Trey starts playing the "Simple" riff in the key of "Tweezer," leading the band to take on the live staple in full. The band ripped through a high energy version of the tune with a brief foray into it's jam before taking it back again to "Tweezer" territory. This was where "Tweezer" broke in to it's more common Type II exploration, allowing Gordon the harmonic freedom to modulate back to "Free"'s jam progression, which in turn quickly dissolved into an arrhythmic interplay between the band members that led to a very surprising "Catapult."
Continuing with what was essentially still the Type II "Tweezer" jam, the band members continued to push further out into atonal territory before being brought back to earth with a gentle "Slave." Unwilling to stop playing after "Slave"'s final flourish, the band ventured back in to Type II territory, culminating with Mike occupying all the sonic space with watery bass arpeggios, until left alone by his bandmates to intro "Down With Disease." The uncharacteristically late "DWD" pumped the energy back up and featured one of the only semi-extended non-"Tweezer" jams of the evening. Said jam, of course, eventually settled back into "Tweezer"'s groove before Trey wrestled the time signature to a 6/8 feel, almost pushing the band towards a take on "Limb By Limb," but then instead forcing a complete turnaround by launching in to the lyrics of "NICU" while the band settled into the song's ska feel.
While a little shaky, the "NICU" was certainly high energy and again the band used its final flourish to return to what can only be accurately described as a continuation of the Type II section of "Tweezer," which continued until Trey started playing the "HYHU" melody in the jam, patiently sitting on it as Page and Mike slowly joined in. Once the entire band was locked into the groove, Trey removed his guitar and climbed up on the drum riser taking over from Fishman almost seamlessly. As is tradition, Fishman made his way to the front of the stage, Electrolux vacuum in tow, until the band made its first real stop of the second set. Fishman took the mic to admit that this particular "Fishman tune" was completely unplanned and that he had nothing prepared and no lyrics memorized to perform. After suggesting that he knew a good singalong, Fish conferred with Trey and returned to the mic with his bandmate cackling in the background as he explained that he had received a request from the drumkit. The audience knew something was up as Fishman stalled on the mic while Trey was obviously delivering instructions to Page, going so far as to suggest that he knew the tune and was just waiting for the rest of the band to figure out how to play it. Unfortunately, Fishman was only able to deliver the first four lines of "Jennifer Dances" before singing that those were all the words to the song that he knew, followed by the band breaking in to the chorus together. Once the band got their fill of the joke, they modulated back to an increasingly fast "HYHU" while Fishman took a pair of victory laps around the stage.
Once everyone was back in their usual positions, Trey got on the mic to ask Fishman where he'd been. After receiving the reply of "I've been here, where have you been?" Trey directed the question again to Page, who almost-smoothly set up the set closing "I Been Around," notable for Page stepping out from behind the keys and crooning from center stage while Trey and Fishman abandoned their instruments, leaving Mike as the only accompaniment. The band then proceeded to take a lap around the stage together as Page continued singing the song's final refrain, before once again returning to their instruments to give the song one last run through the chorus to end the set, with a final "Tweezer" riff thrown in for good measure.
The band came back to the stage for the encore obviously still in the mood to jam, and dropped the first "Boogie On Reggae Woman" of the tour. The show finally wrapped up after a nice bit of encore jamming with an exceedingly high-energy "Tweezer Reprise." The vast majority of the audience filed out of the venue laughing, smiling, hugging, and all very aware that this was why you never miss a Sunday show.
The tour continues on Tuesday in Portsmouth, VA.
Here's a look at the setlist as it appears in our Box Scores section:
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
Set I: Fee, The Curtain With, 46 Days, 555, My Sweet One, Sand, Bouncing Around the Room, Saw It Again > Fuego, You Enjoy Myself
Set II: Wilson > Tweezer->Back on the Train->Tweezer > Back on the Train->Tweezer > Waiting All Night > Free->Tweezer->Simple->Tweezer->Free->Catapult->Slave to the Traffic Light > Down with Disease->NICU->Hold Your Head Up > Jennifer Dances > Hold Your Head Up, I Been Around
Enc: Boogie On Reggae Woman > Tweezer Reprise