Phish: Live in Utica October 20, 2010 At The Aud
Live in Utica October 20, 2010 At The Aud
It may demean the occasion to call it an instant classic, but Phish's October 2010 appearance at The Auditorium in Utica, New York has all the earmarks of a unique event. The main distinction of the evening was the music, some of the most self-challenging and rewarding the Vermont band has played since its reunion in 2009; but there's also the unusual confluence of factors that has already embedded the concert in Phish lore.
One of the few sold-out shows on the fall tour, this stop occurred in one of the most distinctive venues, a mini-Madison Square Garden of sorts, where the audience, even at capacity one of the smallest on the itinerary, almost but not quite wholly surrounded the band, to which it was in fairly close proximity. There's always energy in the air when a great band plays, but it's not always as highly charged as it was in The Aud this fall night.
The quartet seems to sense it from the start, even as it moves deliberately but authoritatively from the cover of Clifton Chenier's "My Soul" through the fairly new "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan," off that year's studio release Joy (Jemp, 2010). "Vultures" finds the group gaining even more traction on "Wolfman's Brother," by which time the rhythm of the video editing has been well established: it allows for front and back shots of drummer Jon Fishman's formidable technique, tight close-ups of keyboardist Page McConnell's fingers, wide angle shots of the whole band on stage and regular, but perhaps all too fleeting, insertions of shots capturing the wildly imaginative lighting of Chris Kuroda (a special single camera was set up for just this sole purpose, a first for Phish).
Just as the band begins to loosen up, it slips into the syncopated pattern at the heart of Talking Heads' "Cities," where localized references to the Genesee factory begin to bring the performance deeper into real time. "Guyute" finds Phish channeling its individual and collective technique into the complex changes that bespeak the band's roots in progressive rock: rarely has the distinction between improvisation and charted instrumental work become so blurred, a point reaffirmed not just by the clarity of the video shots (or the true-to-life audio), but the dizzying camera angles of the foursome in a variety of alignments. Meanwhile Kuroda's lights reflect the impact of the musicianship as it hits the audience.
Based, in part at least, on the presence of a sign in the audience reading "Guyutica," the tune would serve as thread in and out of the remainder of the set, something preserved on the first of the two otherwise truncated CDs that round out the Live in Utica package. More evident than on the previous release in this format, Alpine Valley (Jemp, 2010), the logic of the editing for the audio discs seems arbitrary to a fault, especially since the complete recording has been made available via the Live Phish series at the time of the tour. Some creativity commensurate with that of the band might be devoted to devising a means of efficiently holding all the physical goods (two DVDs and three CDs).
It's at this point in the show, perhaps, that watching what's happening on stage distracts from following, as closely as necessary, what Phish is playing. Certainly the back and forth teases of "Wilson" are red herrings as each only ratchets up the intensity as well as the intricacy of the interplay among the players. At these moments it matters less which of the four is the superior musician, but more how they've learned to complement each other with such fine precision.
It disparages the first set as well as the second to say the latter is more of the same. It's also inaccurate. Balanced on the edge of the proverbial knife through most of the first hour plus, it might be unreasonable to expect comparable ingenuity in the moment, but the fact of the matter is Phish takes the excerpt from The Who's Quadrophenia, "Drowned," and run with it. The clarity of McConnell's piano as it segues into Anastasio's guitar for "Sand" almost makes it feel like the quartet never stopped playing, except that, if you're a musiclover who likes to hear stories in a setlist, set two on 10/20/2010 might well be interpreted as an extended rumination on the passage of timespecifically Anastasio's in and out of Phishtriggered by past appearances in this particular city.