Rolling into Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion for a two-night run this past weekend, jam-rockers Phish offered few surprises on Saturday night. But the band provided two sets of blistering and succinct music, a blend of new and old, along with — for those on the lawn during the first set — buckets of rain.
During the enthusiastic albeit brief first set, Phish kicked its set off with a robust rendition of the summer anthem "Kill Devil Falls," a new favorite from the band’s most recent studio album, 2009’s "Joy." The set continued with cohesive versions of "Destiny Unbound," "Taste," "Halfway to the Moon" and ‘Twenty Years Later" before the Vermont virtuosos treated the sold-out audience to a powerhouse version of "Maze," the high-energy improvisational vehicle.
The band mellowed the crowd with the blithe "Yarmouth Road" as the muggy afternoon gave way to a torrential evening downpour, which those braving the jam-packed lawn embraced by the gallon. By the time the first set concluded with "Split Open and Melt," the sky had opened up and left the audience drenched and ready for another set.
The second set was one that most Phish followers would describe as a "vintage" set. It featured more of the songs the foursome has built its devout following upon over the past three decades. Nightfall allowed the band to utilize its acclaimed (also: new and improved) light show at the direction of unofficial fifth band member Chris Kuroda, which enhanced the show’s sound.
The band ran through "Down With Disease," "Free," "Bouncing Around the Room," "Birds of a Feather" and "Harry Hood" before "Architect," a cut from guitarist Trey Anastasio’s most recent studio work (2012's "Traveler"). The band was clearly gaining momentum as they wrapped up its second set, seamlessly moving through the groovy trio of "Mike’s Song," "Simple" and "Weekapaug Groove." As the band took its bow and left the stage, the deafening roar of the audience said all there was to say.
The encore featured a sincere version of the heartfelt ballad "Waste," which was followed by a scintillating cover of the Led Zeppelin classic, “Good Times Bad Times." As keyboardist Page McConnell belted out “I know what it means to be aloooone!,” the show reached its hair-raising crescendo. The energy and passion the band drew out of the Zeppelin tribute was met with a rapturous response that indicated few were ready to go home. (It seems safe to say most would have stayed were it not for the venue’s 11 p.m. noise curfew.)
If there had been a full third set on Saturday night, it would have been the best of all, judging from the night's building momentum. Phish, now in its 30th year as a band, showed no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Since Phish's 2009 comeback, Merriweather Post Pavilion has seen some of the band's most memorable shows — most notably the second night of the 2010 Merriweather run. And as impressive as Saturday’s show must have been for many, there was a slight sense of disappointment among the most seasoned fans because of the show’s brevity.
The allure of Phish for its most impassioned followers is the spontaneity most shows facilitate. As clean and lively as Saturday’s show was — and make no mistake, this was a quality show — it seemed as though Phish was not as willing, or perhaps able to go off-script as effortlessly and fearlessly as they are in their most profound live musical moments. The show also lacked “bust-outs" — the new and unexpected songs not previously played on this tour or otherwise, that has kept casual and zealous fans coming back for years.
Kill Devil Falls
Halfway to the Moon
Split Open and Melt
Down With Disease
Bouncing Around the Room
Birds of a Feather
Good Times Bad Times
Patrick Little is an English teacher from Bel Air. This is his first review for Midnight Sun. He has now seen Phish 26 times. Wesley Case edited this review.