Phish @ Riverbend Music Center, June 5
Returning to Cincinnati’s Riverbend Music Center for the first time in over ten years, the band continued pushing limits, retesting recently played favorites and treating the crowd with tour debuts of rare fan favorites. Sunday’s Cincinnati show maintained the broader organizational theme of the recent tour with a more upbeat first set and more extended, darker psychedelic jamming in the second.
[All photos by Andrew Bender]
Phish opened with a solid AC/DC Bag that led straight into Punch You in the Eye, a song that Page always shines on in the song’s second half. As with the Hood > Have Mercy > Hood sandwich the night before, a number of fans were transported back in time the by the classic combo. Despite the sweltering June evening, the opening notes of Bathtub Gin was met with hoots and laughter as the invasive plinking of Page’s keys fueled the audience’s smiley, sweaty silliness. A somewhat short, albeit very tight, version of Bathtub was followed by Taste which brought out the best of everyone in its masterfully intense frenetic jam as extra flourishes of snare-cymbal and keys were answered by odd triplets from Trey while Gordon’s steadying yet mesmerizing bass lines walked the others around the jam. After Taste’s intense climax, the mellifluous sounds of a rare Lawn Boy gave the sweating crowd a welcome break. “Mike’s bass on Lawn Boy always gets me,” commented Biff the Whoopie Cushion and bass player for Florida’s New Gravity.
- Phish @ Riverbend: Setlist & The Skinny
READ ON for more on Sunday night’s Phish show…
And then, fans got a rare treat as the opening beats of Mound emanated from Fishman’s kit. Only the fourth time the band has played it since 1996, Mound was solid, although most would have liked to see it get the weird psychedelic treatment that some numbers saw the night before in Blossom. Next, following a slight jumping of the vocal gun came a particularly fun Gotta Jibboo; like many of the first set songs the previous day, Jibboo seemed to have a slightly slower tempo than usual, as if the muggy evening air introduced a little dirtier funk to the jam. Overall though, the fairly short Jibboo jam was impressively mature in both cohesion and restraint as once again Trey and Page played seamlessly off one another.
The silliness continued with a welcome Reba, the opening verses of which Page, Mike, and Fishman crafted well. Trey made nice use of space in Reba’s ethereal jam that Page subtly filled over Fishman’s foundation while Mike’s bass notes seemed to bounce all over everyone else more sporadically. As Trey and Page worked in more and more flourishes in between longer sustains by Trey and Fishman, Mike increased the pace, summoning energy into the previously airy improvisation. Reba could have gone considerably further, but the boys had other plans. Fish’s kick drum pushed out its classic ‘one-two’ and the island sounds of Fee ensued as Trey’s megaphone-filtered voice painted smiles across the crowd.
As usual, the end of Fee brought harmonics a plenty leading into an ambient jam with Trey providing a rhythmic framework as soft noise issues spewed forth from Page’s keys. Trey’s guitar then transitioned into the opening notes of Backwards Down the Number Line. Although not earthshattering, Sunday’s Backwards was a special way to end Gordon’s birthday weekend and an upbeat ending to the first set while still showing that the newer songs have immense potential as vehicles for improvisation.
The band’s third performance of Carini this tour opened the second set, confirming the pattern of a lighter opening set and a darker second for Cincy as well. Not as tight as some of the more recent versions, the song also clocked in on the shorter side in comparison to recent performances. Carini transitioned into the opening notes of Tweezer – a solid performance from all four, the power that Fishman seemed to consistently deliver stands out in particular. The band then transitioned into a somewhat more hard-driving version of Free than the one played the previous weekend in New York, which felt far airier in comparison.
Pushing forward in intensity, Phish began the second Crosseyed and Painless cover of the tour and the hard rhythm from the other three provided a multi-layered foundation for Trey’s brass-edged guitar line in the first break. A far more cohesive, albeit condensed, jam that ensued was entirely a group effort before moving into Light. Another newer piece that continues to show long-term promise as a springboard for improvisation, the initial musical build complimented by Kuroda’s display brought an almost gospel feel to the pavilion before the quartet launched into one of the best jams of the night. Initially the exploration was fueled by Trey’s searching notes that allowed ample room for space and complimentary fills courtesy of Page’s piano, and then the roles reversed before an abrupt segue into Boogie on Reggae Woman which although a funk-filled crowd pleaser seemed inconsistent with some of the headier psychedelic jams.
Out of darker psychedelia the party was back in full swing, although it would have been interesting to see Boogie On get the Possum halting slow down treatment from the previous night. The final notes led to a solid but otherwise unremarkable Julius that boosted the crowd’s energy with the faster rock number. Next, Anastasio looked at his mates, gave the count off and closed the final set of the three-day Midwest run with You Enjoy Myself. A subjectively superior performance to that of Holmdel a few nights earlier, the song’s dynamics just seemed more masterfully executed, with Page seeming to push his use of clav, and Fish making greater use of spacing (and cowbell) which Trey was happy to add his own brushstrokes to. All the while, it seemed that Mike, who has been particularly loud over the last tour or so in comparison to years past, continued to show why he’s so well regarded by fans with constantly mind-boggling bass lines. A solid YEM vocal jam closed out the set, more rhythmic and less droning than that from Holmdel a few nights earlier. The encore of sure-fire crowd pleasers: the Rolling Stones’s Loving Cup and Tweezer Reprise, provided the perfect cap to the weekend, leaving the crowd cheering for more.
Although it didn’t have the rocking force of Friday night’s classic Phish set in Clarkston or the intense but playful psychedelic energy from Saturday’s Cuyahoga Falls show, Sunday provided a strong end to an unforgetable three-day Midwest run. As fans look forward to the next 20-some shows and Superball IX, one thing is certain – the band that loves to keep everyone guessing continues to deliver.