Phish at Alpine Valley Music Theatre
The revitalized jam band returns to form Saturday
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The best word to describe Saturday’s Phish concert at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy? Regression. That’s a compliment, by the way. The reunited Phish has re-emerged from a five-year break by returning to its prime mid-’90s form, displaying the loose precision and improvisational flexibility that once made it the undisputed king of jam band nation. The show might not have been mind-blowing, but Phish still managed to keep old material fresh by infusing it with oddball keyboard texturing, tricky tempo alterations, and in-the-moment improvisational wizardry.
Phish clearly benefited from once again having a healthy and sober Trey Anastasio, whose drug problems derailed the band’s live shows before it went on hiatus in 2004. He cleaned up after a 2006 DWI arrest, and as a result, his guitar work and vocal parts shone with polish and sparkle, allowing the rest of the group to push jams farther into sonic nether regions.
During the first set, Phish played old classics in relatively straight-forward fashion, only occasionally going off on tangential excursions. (A dark, exploratory version of “Stash” was an exception.) An unexpected treat was “Train Song” sung by bassist Mike Gordon, who apparently has become fond of tight purple pants—perhaps a result of working in Brooklyn for the past few years. After the bluegrass rockers “Runaway Jim” and “Sparkle” whipped the sold-out crowd into a frenzy, Phish capped the 90-minute set with the crowd favorite “Run Like An Antelope.”
The energy started soaring in the second set after a scorching version of the rocker “Sample In A Jar,” which was followed up with a multiple climaxing “Maze.” Phish then played an incredibly tight version of “Ghost,” with sterling layers of down-tempo sonic textures reverberating beautifully in the wooden band shell. The unusually vibrant pace and bounce of “Ghost” turned Alpine Valley into a glowstick-hurling dance party.
The band kept the momentum with “Lizards,” a brisk calypso number with a soaring guitar outtro that signaled Anastasio’s rekindled attitude about playing with a clean accuracy that compliments his raw, visceral approach. Even better was the flawless version of the band’s oft-trainwrecked orchestral rock piece “You Enjoy Myself,” which was nothing short of epic.