Review by Bill Whiting
Photos by Scott Preston
Phish’s return appearance at Cincinnati’s Riverbend Music Center on June 22 included many stops and starts, surprises, and power driven rock that would fit in nicely on a Mayhem Festival stage. Burlington, Vermont’s favorite sons got the party started with a loose and rollicking spin on “Wolfman’s Brother” from 1994’s stellar album, Hoist. Then, in a surprising change of pace, the group ignited a flurry of dancing in the aisles, and on the synthetic lawn with a jazz raving cover of the Frank Zappa instrumental gem, “Peaches en Regalia.” It set the mood for the entire performance, and the bulging phlock of Phish heads that travel around country with the improvisational troupe seemed at peace with the area’s Coney Island amusement park atmosphere. A pair of dog influenced tunes followed, as lead singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio led the ensemble through the bouncing, linear grooves of “Shaggy Dog,” and the bustling drive of “Runaway Jim.” Drummer Jon Fishman’s anchor of rhythm based percussion flavored a rich take on Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” Then, in another unique chess maneuver, Phish launched into the call and response classic,
“Wilson,” before cascading towards the compositional powerhouse, “Alaska,” both of which are quickly becoming Cincinnati area performed standards for the past half of a decade.
The highlight of the evening came in the guise of the guitar driven numbers, “Stash” and “Llama.” Anastasio pushed the band, and keyboardist Page McConnell responded with beautifully touching notes on piano, and brazen, edgy solo work on organ. “David Bowie” closed the first set, and the vibe from the denizens inside the aged amphitheater was euphoric. Bassist Mike Gordon’s booming bass lines announced the beginning of the second set with the powerful slam down funk of “Down with Disease.” “Guelah Papyrus” had the patrons on both the pavilion and lawn bouncing to it’s peppy orchestrations, and Phish flew into full rock and roll flight on “Kill Devil Falls” from 2009’s underrated disc, Joy. Their barbershop quartet influenced harmonies brightened a stunning version of “Halley’s Comet,” before Anastasio, Gordon, Fishman and McConnell careened wildly around the brutal rhythm and blues stops and starts on “Roggae.” Skiing down the slick and slippery slope that ends a Phish show is always fun to behold, and the warm summer evening of June 22 was no different in that regard, offering the exciting heavy metal influence of “Carini,” the anthemic pulsating pull of “Chalkdust Torture” and the ecstatic buoyancy of “Golgi Apparatus.” Leaving the stage to an overwhelming standing ovation, the four members of Phish hit the stage for one last encore, the complex, far reaching masterpiece, “Fluffhead.” It was an obvious choice to finish a wild night’s ride, and to set their followers on the road to the next stop in Burgettstown, PA.
Set One: Wolfman’s Brother, Peaches en Regalia, Shaggy Dog, Runaway Jim, Light Up or Leave Me Alone- Wilson, Alaska, Stash, Llama, Buffalo Bill, Saw It Again, David Bowie
Set Two: Down with Disease-Guelah Papyrus, Kill Devil Falls-Twist, Halley’s Comet-Sand-Roggae, Carini, Chalk Dust Torture, Golgi Apparatus