Phish Review – U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati – 11.20.09
By Mr. Fabulous
When it comes to Phish, I'm an easy lay. I generally leave every Phish show thinking that it's the best show they've ever played-- a habit due somewhat to my hyperbolic nature but mostly to my status as a 10-show noob. So take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt: The two-night throwdown at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati this weekend was the best live Phish that I have personally witnessed.
Jaded veterans and career haters on PT will no doubt disagree with me. In my defense, I'll present two pieces of supporting evidence: First, the inestimable Mr. Miner at Phish Thoughts, who solemnly declared that Friday night's Set II marked the official beginning of Fall Tour; and the Phish themselves, who let Trey sum up the band's feelings about the weekend when he wrapped up Saturday night by declaring, "We wish we could play here for a week."
Friday night began at the surprisingly chill Shakedown beneath an overpass and across Pete Rose Way from the venue. Cincy's finest were horse-mounted and present in force, but they seemed content to let the wooks mill about in this makeshift internment camp as long as they minded themselves. Mrs. Fabulous, Iggy and I hung back while G-Money disappeared into the shit to scout the available mind-altering wares.
G soon returned bearing three hits of blotter, and dropped two of them. That's the thing about G-Money-- there isn't a plane built that he isn't afraid to jump out of.
After a short, happy detour to Gameday Cafe to throw back a few, we found our seats Pageside just as the house lights went down. What followed was a throwdown with a second set that ranks among the top sets of Phish 3.0.
Pic courtesy of Phish from the Road
After a de rigueur Chalkdust and a short but raging Moma, the first hint that we were in for a special night came during Divided Sky. At the pause, the waves of adulation from the capacity crowd rolled through the Crown and broke in massive whitecaps over the stage. The band milked and milked it, prompting Daddy to later remark that it was the longest Divided Sky pause he had ever witnessed.
By the end of the smoking finish to Alaska-- played, no doubt, in honor of Sarah Palin's visit to our fair city earlier that day-- two facets of Friday's show had come into focus. First, it was clear that 15,000 assorted wookies, tweakers, fairy-winged naifs, crusty vets, cubicle dwellers, career criminals, hippy chicks, clueless noobs and 6-foot tall penguins had come to party. The Crown thundered with palpable energy, and the band was feeding on it. As the audience, we were doing our job-- letting the boys know that as far as we were concerned, it was on.
Second, allow me to introduce a certain Mr. John Fishman. I saw three shows this summer-- Deer Creek and the two Alpine shows, and I have to say that, for the most part, Fish was a non-factor. He's still Fish-- we still love him and want to hold him and pet him and call him George-- but the rumor around the PT troll farm was that Henrietta was going through the motions, that he had lost his chops and couldn't hack it. And although he performed admirably in the shows I saw, I couldn't say that he stood out.
But in Cincy this weekend, Fish was on fucking point. He played with authority, propelling the jams and enabling the band to build towering soundscapes on this firm foundation. I rarely spend much time focusing on Fish, but on Friday I couldn't take my eyes off the guy (no homo).
This was never more apparent than in Friday's TTE, which we all knew we were going to get and which we mostly dreaded. Being a Phish fluffer, it befell to me to defend the song, which I did all night to anyone who would listen. "It's a journey," I said. "You have to get through the pain and suffering of the first ten minutes to enjoy the rebirth of the last five. It's obviously a sonic metaphor for Trey's experiences with rehab."
"Shut the fuck up, fluffer," I was invariably told.
But having said that, I will say this-- the song takes on an entirely different vibe indoors. This summer, it was easy to space out during the early minutes and watch the pretty girls go buy or contemplate the inside of your eyelids. But indoors, TTE confronts you, forces you to bow before it or be destroyed. And by the climax of the song on Friday-- which, aided by CK5's epic lighting, resembled nothing less than Abacab-era Genesis-- we were all believers. TTE pwned us.
We all assumed it the set-ender. But then came a rollicking Jibboo, and we peed our pants a little. By Fluffhead, we had been officially punked out and had our salads tossed.
And that was just set one. During set two, The Crown orgasmed violently, convulsively, and repeatedly-- during the Tweezer that surely stands as the best of 3.0; during Possum, when the writhing, twirling wooks shed their clothes, set their seats on fire and danced naked around the flames; and especially during the YEM, when the building actually achieved liftoff, circled the Carew Tower and dive-bombed Paul Brown Stadium before settling back in for the encore.
At one point I looked over at G-Money, in the midst of his two-hit rollercoaster ride, and saw that he bore the wild-eyed look of a prophet. "Wow!" I said. "Yeah!" He replied. Given his state, it was enough. Iggy had lost his mind. Mrs. Fabulous was quietly bemused. And me? I was just happy to be there.
By the time Reprise opened up a wormhole in the time-space continuum and sent us all plummeting through it, every soul in the venue knew we had seen something special. And judging by the happy grins plastered on the band's faces as they took their bows, they knew it too.
So pay no attention to the haters, the trolls or the sourpusses. Phish is back and playing better than they've played in ten years. Those of you with tickets to upcoming shows are in for a treat. Revel in it, roll around in it, get filthy with it. If you give the boys the level of adulation that we gave them in the 'Nati, then I assure you that they will respond in kind.
Mr. Fabulous is a writer from Cincinnati, OH.