There’s nothing better than being back with Phamily, and being back at the original Woodstock site in Bethel was quite the way to start things off. And the music didn’t disappoint, with Phish showing that they have been doing some serious practicing.
The weekend started off a bit ominous with the cancellation of Yasgur’s Pharm. The Pharm just couldn’t handle the pressure given to them by the town, as well as the ridiculous fines that they were facing. But this may have been a blessing in disguise, because our displaced crew ended up at the Topaz Road Llama Farm about 10 miles from Bethel Woods.
This was place was outstanding. From llamas, cows, rams and chickens walking around freely, to T.J. riding around in a beat up Toyota giving out jello shots and pizza slices until 6 a.m., this place was a blast and they welcomed our phamily of about 30 with open arms… and the music hadn’t even started yet.
We got to the venue at about 5 p.m. to sell some water and try to get our funds going for the rest of tour. Rumors were flowing throughout the scene about Phish doing a three hour sound check the night before and joking that people think they can’t jam anymore. What followed was complete musical bliss, especially considering that it was the first weekend of a huge summer tour.
Night one started with a banger of a Tweezer. It was just under 9 minutes, which is far from the norm when it comes to Tweezer, but this one had some serious energy that just grew and grew. At around the 8 minute mark my face splattered onto the lawn and I don’t think I’ve found it since. Tweezer segued perfectly into My Friend, My Friend and everyone lost their heads. I had been calling this one as an opener for weeks, but when it came out of Tweezer I looked around and there was one collective creepy smile. Things were already getting weird in Bethel.
We got our blue grass dancin’ shoes on next for Poor Heart, and a tight, quick Roses Are Free. Funky Bitch came on next and we all knew we were getting a fantastic opening set. The energy displayed by the band cannot be shown on paper, but instead through their music and their actions on stage. Leo rocked the crap out of this one, and it was very noticeable that Fishman was hitting the drums about as good as it gets.
Don’t let anyone tell you they let up at all during Bethel. Not every jam needs to be a 25 minute rager to be a good one.
Wolfman’s Brother was up next and nice one. The thing about Wolfman I love is that it can be played in a lot of different fashions and continues to impress me. Whether it is an 8:30 version like Friday’s, or a 20 minute funkenstein, this gets the crowd and the band in the right direction. This one, with a Streets of Cairo tease, jammed right into a nearly 10 minute Walk Away, which Trey shined in once again. While 1/1/11 Walk Away gets all the thunder, let’s give this one the lightning. It was an absolute ripper.
Stash continued what was already a great opening set. It brought things down and creepy a bit, after the intense Walk Away. It was needed because the place had become a giant sweat pile. But they didn’t let things cool down for too long, because this Stash was also fire.
Bouncing Around the Room is what it is, but then the highlight of the first set came with a fantastically jammed out version of Kill Devil Falls. I know. I know. KDF was a highlight? Give it a listen and you’ll see why. I think we found a new jam vehicle, folks.
This set ended with Bold As Love- a little bit of a salute to Woodstock. Trey gave his best Hendrix here, and gave it justice. After first set finished I looked around and I didn’t see a single disappointed face. Me? I was still trying to find mine on the lawn.
Second set started off with Carini, and in the relisten you can hear people yelling for Phish to play it. Trey says, “What the fuck” and starts it up. Thank you to whoever yelled it, because it started off the set dark and scary. You know Phish is doing well when they start to get scary.
A nice groovy Back on the Train followed, but the highlight of the set came up next with Boogie on Reggae Woman into Waves. This was 24 minutes of epic Phish, displaying sounds and jam sequences we haven’t heard in years, with some new ones thrown in.
While the Boogie On didn’t have the length of classics like ’99 Chula Vista, it had experimentation and nasty bass bombs mixed into some serious plinko phunk jamming that has carried over from last year. When Trey hits the staccato notes mixed in with those bombs, there’s not much better. It’s a great new sound that the crowd was really diggin’ hard, and it may have been the most experimental music Phish has played since they got back together.
At some points it sounded like they were even playing parts backwards, and of course Mike approved with the fight bell. Right around the 7 minute mark things get really trippy. This is a must hear.
This started up a quick little nautical theme with a serene Prince Caspian following.
Crosseyed and Painless got the crowd dancing and grooving hard. I looked over at my brother Paul and he just says “why not?” Exactly. Things were already going so well for them on Friday that Crosseyed was just some icing on the cake. They slowed things down with a sentimental Wading in the Velvet Sea, which had a beautiful guitar solo by Trey.
This was followed by a high energy Possum, bringing us right back up again. Phish was keeping us on our toes, and the smiles on their faces were indications that they were loving every second of their playing as well.
The set ended with Squirming Coil, with an extended outro piano jam by Page. “Why not? Right?” I said back to Paul. This was absolutely beautifully done and the end of a spectacular set.
The encore was Julius, which I raged to, but clearly the highlights preceding this were what was left lingering in my mind.
Superphan Kyle Dezi said it best, “Anticipation was high on Friday the 29th of May- the Bruins were playing in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals and Phish is continuing their reign as one of the most prestigious and criticized extended jam bands in history, and in my opinion, the most impressive and historic venue still catering to phans and artists alike. Emotions phlew, history was made and those “still waiting” long awaited the celebration that was had by the epitome of phamily.”
Words: Bobby Martin