Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Phish at Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Doug Collette By

Sign in to view read count

Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Saratoga Springs, New York
July 3-5, 2014

If there is one overriding impression to glean from Phish's summer 2014 run at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, it's that the band is equally proud of and inspired by the material on Fuego (Jemp/ATO, 2014). Not only was every song on the record played over the course of the three-night run (with the exception of keyboardist Page McConnell's "Halfway to the Moon," which has already been in rotation for some time), but tunes such as the title track and "Song Monica" were prominently positioned in the sets.

The former led off the second half of the summer holiday night , while the latter was the initial encore tune on 7/3, simultaneously reaffirming Phish's confidence in the new material and the generally positive response it's been getting from their demanding fan base. "Fuego," rapidly turning into a tour-de-force, hit twenty minutes in duration July 4th, allowing the band yet another interval of patient exploration, the repeated likes of which were highlights all three nights.

Equally importantly, and just as obvious on the initial night's reading of "Winterqueen," the new material is of a piece with vintage pieces like "Possum" and "Run Like An Antelope." The latter imparted logic to the July 3rd performance in the band's hell-bent run through it to close the second set proper—thereby setting up the full-bore attack of the second concert, although it is now commonly used to close sets (and effectively so), in contrast to the languorous approach Phish took to improvisations here early in their summer tour.

Ripples and currents of melody and rhythm emerged from interplay in which guitarist Trey Anastasio often deferred to his comrades. And that's not just because of the steadfast insistence of bassist Mike Gordon's alternately rumbling and syncopated sounds. In New York, this more democratic approach most often resulted in featuring keyboardist Page McConnell throughout the weekend. Echoes of the "Island Tour" of 1998 emerged from the latter's bank of keyboards, but such points of reference were rare this year at SPAC. The band eschewed any covers of outside material, but also played with a purity that, in staples like "Carini" and the chunky likes of the new "Wombat," left readily apparent influences of the past far behind (except for the knowing homage to The Beatles in "Ocelot").

There was some continuity, however, as the quartet took its time on July 3rd to loosen up and get limber, but these shows were not the continuous ascent to transcendence over the course of six sets as occurred in 2012 or, to some extent, last year. Thus, the first set of the final night was perhaps too lighthearted for its own good, but given the relentless intensity throughout the previous evening, it's fair to say the band had earned the right to take it comparatively easy. And perhaps the succession of tunes such as "Scent of a Mule" and "I Didn't Know" were part of a purposeful setup of a subsequent set of segues, including "Flufhead" and "You Enjoy Myself," that skirted the perimeter of the epic, even if Phish sounded somewhat tentative at times.

The band's growing attachment to tunes such as "Waiting All Night" where four-part harmonies distinguish the arrangement, may in fact be leaving Phish somewhat disconnected from a repertoire that's become increasingly standardized since their reunion in 2009. Seeing the indefatigable Jon Fishman dismount his drum riser to play the vacuum cleaner might leave that impression as much as the absence of sprawling jams now replaced by a more economical approach to chestnuts like "David Bowie" (mirrored in somewhat simplified lighting displays from Chris Kuroda).

And while that may result in an inevitably bumpy transition in the short run and long, it's hard not to admire Phish's staunch refusal to stand still or worse, repeat themselves in front of audiences that, whatever the carnival-like atmosphere they conjure up (even in the face of torrential rains that hit upstate New York Thursday night), would accept no such stasis or petrification.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Jazztopad Festival 2017 Live Reviews Jazztopad Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Vivian Reed at Feinstein's/54 Below Live Reviews Vivian Reed at Feinstein's/54 Below
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 12, 2017
Read Henry Threadgill at Tilton Gallery Live Reviews Henry Threadgill at Tilton Gallery
by Kurt Gottschalk
Published: December 10, 2017
Read The Brian McCarthy Quartet At FlynnSpace Live Reviews The Brian McCarthy Quartet At FlynnSpace
by Doug Collette
Published: December 10, 2017
Read Mindi Abair at The Empress Theatre Live Reviews Mindi Abair at The Empress Theatre
by Walter Atkins
Published: December 8, 2017
Read BAN BAM: Music Talking Live Reviews BAN BAM: Music Talking
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 7, 2017
Read "Bray Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Bray Jazz Festival 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 9, 2017
Read "Chris Oatts Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Cafe" Live Reviews Chris Oatts Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Cafe
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: June 26, 2017
Read "King Crimson at Lisner Auditorium" Live Reviews King Crimson at Lisner Auditorium
by Eric Thiessen
Published: November 1, 2017
Read "Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House" Live Reviews Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 27, 2017
Read "Keystone Korner 45th Anniversary Celebration" Live Reviews Keystone Korner 45th Anniversary Celebration
by Walter Atkins
Published: August 6, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!