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Phish Goes Dark And Ominous With Radiohead Cover, Fantastic “Fluffhead” On Lemon Night

On Friday night, Phish began their final mini-“run” of the Baker’s Dozen with a “Lemon”-flavored performance. But although the official theme of the day may have been “Lemon,” in reality the word of the night was weird. With two more nights to go and a shrinking list of songs to work off, Phish turned in a fantastic start-to-finish show that resided virtually entirely in entrancingly dark, evil space, both musically and thematically.

The band started things off with yet another cover debut: a rendition of eerie post-mortem lament, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The ghostly late-20’s Blind Lemon Jefferson number has hovered around some of the best live concerts going since its creation–including covers by Bob DylanB.B. KingMike Bloomfield, Lou Reed, and even The Grateful Dead [whose 7/30/66 rendition, dubbed “One Kind Favor,” was immortalized on The Golden Road (1965-1973)]. The well-executed cover served to firmly establish both the evening’s “Lemon” theme and the ominous atmosphere that permeated the entire performance.

Watch Phish’s cover of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” below via LivePhish:

“Punch You In The Eye” got the call next, getting the Phish started in earnest and spiking the energy in the packed-to-capacity arena despite some missteps from Trey Anastasio on the song’s arpeggiated “Landlady” bridge. “Party Time” came next, as Page McConnell powered the song to a fierce Type I peak for an amazing first set rendition of the Jon Fishman original. The “Party Time” also began to establish the final overarching theme of the evening, a theme that’s held true throughout the run but felt especially noteworthy last night: Chris Kuroda is a damn wizard, and this light rig is some next-level shit. And somewhere along the way, they changed the lights. Moved sirens up. They did do that, I’m not just crazy after 11 nights, right. Right?! After a second show in 218, behind the stage, right up in that beautiful beast’s grille, this fan is beyond sold. Hold on to this one, CK5. She’s a keeper.

The unhinged madness got stranger still as a particularly maniacal “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars” followed, before a well-received “Dinner And A Movie” was served for the first time since Northerly Island 2013. As the band had tweeted prior to the performance that the entire weekend was completely sold out with no re-releases coming, the 164-show bust-out felt like a sly nod to all those who will inevitably be making other plans when they’re left on the block tonight and tomorrow.

Speaking of “left on the block,” “Ocelot,” slouched through the garden next, as the band built its plodding groove to a high-flying peak. Page took the reins on the “Poor Heart” that came next, pushing the bluegrass ditty to its limits with incredible work on the keys. “Winterqueen” followed, with its “Prince of Music on guitar” line receiving appreciative cheers from the audience. While always a slower, simpler tune during its composed section, “Winterqueen” began to resound and fill the space inside the Garden, with more prime Page leading the way and several more “whoa” moments courtesy of the man behind the light board.

Jimi Hendrix‘s “Bold as Love” was powerful and celebratory as always, appearing days many fans predicted it would during “Jimmies” night (where the Phish debut of “The Wind Cries Mary” held down the “Jimi-” end of the “Jimmies” bargain). Finally, Mike Gordon and Fishman powered the band into an appropriately explosive “First Tube” set closer, launching the band into multiple enormous white-light peaks. Trey was the star of the show on this one, emphatically bouncing to his left into “rocker pose” with each guitar hit during the song’s final buildup. Dancing, bobbing, weaving, and grinning from ear to ear, Anastasio was visibly and infectiously having so much fun, holding 20K fans in the palm of his hand. Trey loves the Baker’s Dozen, and in case you were wondering, Red, we whole-heartedly agree.

With the funk already firmly established in set one, “No Men In No Man’s Land” felt like a perfect call to start “Lemon” night set two–after all, I doubt we’ve ever collectively been more “happy to be here.” The Big Boat jam vehicle was delivered in fine form, as a fantastic vamping guitar jam (and still more “did you see that?!” lights from Kuroda) led into more dark, bass-heavy boils.

Watch Phish’s set-opening “No Men In No Man’s Land” below via LivePhish:

After a time, a pretty, faraway breeze swept in, and Fishman began to play a rattling drum pattern that sounded like…no..it can’t be…it is! Phish is playing Radiohead! One of the worldwide alt-rock heavy hitters’ most celebrated songs, Kid A opening track “Everything In Its Right Place” is a staple at Radiohead’s live shows, and the crowd erupted with approval at its unlikely appearance during a Phish show as “Yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon” echoed through the world’s most famous arena. Trey Anastasio took great joy in playing with his Kaoss Pad effects processor, virtually ignoring his guitar to help add surreal, haunting sonic texture to the song.

The cover marked the first time that a Radiohead tune has been covered by Phish, but it’s certainly not the first time we’ve heard the two mentioned in the same breath. Last Fall, fans of both bands were excited to see Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien at Phish’s Vegas run–after which he, Mike and Trey appropriately nerd-ed out together. Adorable. In addition, as Mike Gordon had explained late last year in Phish’s full-band feature interview in Rolling Stone, “When I’m really liking it, it doesn’t feel like a jam band – it feels like Radiohead, meditative and creative.” On Friday night at the Garden, you can be sure that Mike Gordon was really, really “liking it.”

Watch fan-shot footage of Phish’s cover of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” below, via William Corcoran:

Following “Everything In Its Right Place,” Trey pulled the band back from outer space with “What’s The Use?,” the closest thing Phish has to an answer to Radiohead in their extensive catalogue. As always, the song was an emotional powerhouse, flowing from near-silent delicate musical romancing to grinding, mechanical gears, to towering rock peaks with endless beauty and grace.

The rest of the set finished in supremely strong fashion, with notes of Radiohead-inflected, Kaoss Pad-assisted weirdness peppered in throughout. “Scents and Subtle Sounds” made its second appearance of the summer out of the mist of WTU?, stretching out into a big, gritty, sexy jam (with “sucking on a lemon” vocal ad-libs replacing Fishman’s “colors in the void” refrain) before returning to “No Men In No Man’s Land” for a truly impressive climax. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better, more towering, soul-wrenching peak than the “No Men” “reprise.” Listen to this one at all costs. Listen to this whole set at all costs. Hell, listen to the who damn run at all costs. But definitely, without a doubt, listen to this one.

The “Scents”/”No Man’s” jam climax eventually gave way to “Prince Caspian,” the whole arena singing along for yet another big, emotional ride. The final, biggest peak built methodically, its tension rising to glorious release with masterful control and patience. Finally, with time for one more big song to close the set, Fluff finally made his hotly anticipated trip to New York. “Fluffhead,” as always, was the perfect exclamation point on an incredible, unique set of live Phish, taking on the evening’s ominous tone with more Kaoss pad work from Trey and “Everything In Its Right Place” vocal quotes from Fish.

When the band returned to the stage for the encore, Page grabbed his keytar–evoking flashbacks to the incredible “Jam-Filled” Tuesday performance on Night 4. As expected, the keytar’s cameo signaled “Frankenstein,” and the fan-favorite encore mainstay continued to carry the surreal, echoing Radiohead-type sound into the mix, making for a particularly memorable version of the tune.

The fact that Phish continues to one-up themselves this deep into the run is legitimately stunning. Just when you think you’ve seen them do it all, Trey, Mike, Fish and Page throw you a curveball of a show like this, and bring an entire arena to its knees. Two more nights to go. The long alluded-to “Boston Cream” show on the docket for tonight. Baker’s Dozen. Home stretch. Let’s party.

[Photos by Andrew Blackstein]


Hot Takes:

Repeat Watch: No Repeats. No Prisoners.

Today’s Donut: “Lemon” [“See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (by Blind Lemon Jefferson); “Everything In Its Right Place” (“Yesterday i woke up sucking on a lemon”)]

We Tired Yet?: Remember sleep? I don’t. Maybe I just don’t need it anymore…Baker’s Dozen Phish is better for your mind, body, and soul than R&R could ever hope to be.


SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 11 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 8/4/17

SET 1: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean[1], Punch You In the Eye > Party Time, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Dinner and a Movie, Ocelot, Poor Heart, Winterqueen, Bold As Love, First Tube

SET 2: Dem Bones, No Men In No Man’s Land > Everything In Its Right Place[1], What’s the Use? > Scents and Subtle Sounds[2] > Prince Caspian > Fluffhead

ENCORE: Frankenstein[3]

[1] Phish debut.
[2] No intro.
[3] Page on keytar