Phish in Canandaigua: Cuddly But Muscular

The 2014 summer tour from Phish continues to be an ever-unravelling adventure in setlist construction and jam sequences. The show at Canandaigua Tuesday was no exception. Launching into the rarity “Buried Alive” right out of the gates, the foursome then segued into an oddly placed but adventurous first-set “Twist”, clocking in just over 8 minutes. From there, Phish went right into straight-forward versions of  “Heavy Things”, “555” (the first of 4 tracks off the new album Fuego) and “Halley’s Comet” before really finding their stride for what was potentially the most focused closing 2nd half of a first-set the band has played this summer tour. Starting at 8:06 p.m., When they started Bathtub Gin and really not letting up until the closing notes of David Bowie at 9 p.m., the band painted a melodic canvas for 54 minutes straight swaying in an out of intensity and exploration until the set finished.

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Harkening back to the aforementioned adventurous setlists, this writer can assuredly say pre summer-tour, he would not be clamoring to ooze compliments over a “Bathtub Gin”, “Wingsuit”, “Divided Sky”, “Wombat”, “David Bowie” First set closer. However, it as if Phish, whether it be intentionally or serendipitously, is beginning to find their footing for the new Fuego tracks. The Canandaigua setlist did not contain one cover and had a ton of new material, so it could be argued the band is carefully, and strategically trying to integrate the new material into their setlists, that in many ways in recent years, had become very predictable.

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Of note from the end of this first set, was the 17 minute “Divided Sky”, which seemed to perfectly jive with the divided sky and piercing sunset over Canandaigua Lake at the same time.  This version is definitely a top-3 version from the 3.0 era. Another impressive showing also came from “Wombat” (clocking in at over 7 minutes) which has quickly risen to be a ridiculously fun dance number with bassist Gordon and keyboardist McConnell having enjoyable interplay. This has got to be one of the silliest, yet funkiest phish songs to come out of the barn in the past decade with the chorus “Cuddly, but muscular.” The entire pavilion inside of CMAC was getting down with many observed to be thrusting their Wombat wings in almost mock Chicken-dance and shadowing the original Wombat strut from Abe Vigoda from last year’s Halloween set. The jam was shorter than many of us would have liked but was a tight little package of funk. Definitely: one of the “jammiest” highlights of the night.

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The Second set began with a monstrous “Down With Disease” that ebbed and flowed from a laid back sonic sound scape to an intense funky jam with Page McConnell crushing several sections of the arrangement with powerful keystrokes. All told, the DWD clocked in just over 20 minutes and was truly a playground of emotions. It perfectly summarized where this band is at on this summer tour installment. Seemingly firing on all cylinders, Phish has is leaving predictability aside and blazing new trails, especially in the song selection and placement in the second set, specifically the previously notable 2nd set, 2nd song which had previously been “thee slot” to expect an exploration. That continued Tuesday at CMAC when the band, coming off the heels of the raucous DWD, eased into a shortened “Back on the Train”.

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The second set continued in this quick-hitting fashion but never officially stopping and starting an arrangement and seguing set start to finish. Albeit short affairs with a 6 minute “Back on the Train”, a 5 min “NICU”  (first one of summer tour), an 8-min “Theme from the Bottom” and a 5 minute “Meatstick”, the set truly felt like one big melodic jam with a 9-minute “Gotta Jiboo” and a 10+ minute “Fuego” taking center stage before a longer than 2014 summer-tour standard “Run Like an Antelope” brought what was one, very cohesive set and show to a close. The encore was “Character Zero” and the band quickly exited the stage to hit the long overnight trip to Detroit for next show on the tour.