Disclaimer: I go to shows to have fun. I don’t take notes. I dance, I drink, and I’m probably writing this hungover. I don’t use a thesaurus, I call em’ like I see em’. This is what I thought.

After two of their best shows in recent memory, Phish head south to close down the 2012 Bonnaroo Music Festival with a four hour headlining set on the main stage. The opinion’s on this show on the way out stretched from jaws dropped “best show i ever heard” status to just standard disappointment depending on who you talked to. The former coming from Phish virgins who got their first glimpse of exactly what this band can do, and the latter from grizzled vets who trekked for hours expecting a masterpiece that just didn’t happen.

To put this in perspective, I spoke to many fans who really had no idea what to expect. They raved about Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but many only caught Phish by accident; there wasn’t much, if anything, left to do. These new fans got a set list full of Phish classics – Tweezer, Down With Disease, Wilson, Harry Hood, Chalkdust Torture, etc.- that were generally polished but never really went anywhere past standard. For the few of us who made the complicated journey from Worcester, we were treated to many (I count 13) repeats; many that just couldn’t stack up to the incredible versions in Worcester. To be specific, the Down with Disease, Possum, 2001, and Funky Bitch all had extended jams in Worcester.

That’s not to say the show was terrible, or that show lacked any great segments. The second set was a return to form, featuring an awesome Carini->Shafty segment (the first Shafty since December 30, 2003) followed by a jam packed Rock and Roll>Alaska>Hood>Light segment that displayed the bands ability to really rock out. The show just felt like more of a rock concert than usual, but I guess the band wouldn’t want to scare away any new fans that may need to be broken in. Another hate it or love it moment that fans will no doubt argue about was the guest spot by country legend Kenny Rogers, who came out to sing vocals on ‘The Gambler’. Rogers’ name has become somewhat of a punch line in recent years, so the natural inclination of seeing his name on a setlist is feelings of hate. Yet ‘The Gambler’ was perfectly placed, giving the crowd a huge sing a long, a once in a lifetime treat, and treated the mostly southern crowd to a song they all seemed to love. The following Possum contained ‘The Gambler’ teases to the delight of the crowd – a fun moment that clearly was meant to cater to the Bonnaroo crowd.

It’s hard for me to accurately assess this show, as you can really go both ways in it. If you hadn’t seen Phish since New Years, or if this was your first time, this is the perfect show to wet your feet. All the songs you love (or will love), a bust out, a special guest, and a great segment of 2nd set jams. If you compare it to the two Worcester shows that preceded it, well, you can’t really even begin to compare. But this is ‘Festival Phish’ – very similar to what the boys did last year at Outside Lands. Next weekend, the band will be back in their element, playing their own festival where they don’t need to play “Phish 101″. Expect some top notch Phish and, oh yeah, no repeats.

-Chez Rolez

Set 1: Down with Disease, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance, Sample in a Jar, Axilla, The Gambler[1], Possum[2] > Wilson > Tweezer[3] > Free > Backwards Down the Number Line > Cavern
Set 2: Golden Age > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Chalk Dust Torture, Carini -> Shafty > Rock and Roll, Alaska > Harry Hood[4] -> Light > Character Zero > Rocky Top
Encore: Show of Life > Julius > Tweezer Reprise

[1] Phish debut, with Kenny Rogers.
[2] The Gambler and Streets of Cairo teases.
[3] Walk This Way tease from Trey and I Am Hydrogen teases from Fishman.
[4] Unfinished.