Fenway Park's PA announcer was in fine form on Sunday evening as a capacity crowd in Boston gathered around the rain-soaked stadium for the opening night of Phish's first summer tour since 2004. "Absolutely no smoking," he joked to the assembled free-spirited, dreadlocked masses. "And stay in your seats."
Assigned seating meant little as the jam kings emerged from the home team's dugout sporting Red Sox jerseys and carrying microphones while a color guard presented the nation's colors. The Vermont foursome assembled at the center of the infield to perform an a cappella arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner" as crowds in the outfield and throughout the stadium's seats surrounded the fenced-off infield. "Play ball!" the announcer yelled, and Phish summer tour had officially begun.
(Check out the Fenway Frenzy for yourself: Photos from Phish's Boston tour opener.)
Less than 10 minutes later, the band reappeared at the main stage, which was positioned in center field just right of the park's left field wall, the legendary Green Monster. The set opener, "Sample in a Jar," brought the sun with it — clouds obscuring the sky parted as guitarist Trey Anastasio let loose the evening's first guitar solo. By the first swing-funk notes of "The Moma Dance" a rainbow was cutting through the quickly departing clouds over the park. For the most part, the set featured shorter songs including fan-favorites "Bouncing Around the Room" and "Chalkdust Torture" before the bluesy jam "Character Zero" ended the set.
Making their first appearances since their successful reunion shows at the Hampton Coliseum in March on the custom stage occupied by the Dave Matthews Band the previous two evenings, Phish wasted no time jumping deeper into the improvisational morass with second set opener and exploratory jam vehicle "Tweezer," which dropped nicely into a new Anastasio composition, "Light." As the band stretched out musically, they dug deeper into their catalog for the jaunty "Bathtub Gin" and a rocking "David Bowie" driven by drummer Jon Fishman, who gets MVP honors for the evening for his combination of thick grooves and adventurous fills.
Last week, the band unveiled their version of "Time Turns Elastic," a lengthy suite written by Anastasio and composer Don Hart, on iTunes and MySpace. The band's first live rendition of the piece, which came near the end of set two, featured Phish-trademark tension-and-release jamming juxtaposed against intricate composed sections. "That was our single," Anastasio joked, as the band will be releasing a yet-untitled studio album on July 28th. The set ended with an impeccable performance of Anastasio's complex multi-part, compositional epic "You Enjoy Myself" that, with typical Phish humor, featured the synchronized trampoline-jumping and an intense vocal jam.
The evening had something for everyone — from incredibly rare "bust-outs" like "Destiny Unbound," a song that had only been played live once since 1991, to a scorching cover of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" during the encore. The biggest surprise, though, was the band's first performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "The Ballad of Curtis Loew [sic]" since 1993.
Phish return to the stage Tuesday evening for the first of three sold-out nights at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater. The tour includes two nights headlining Bonnaroo and a four-night run at Red Rocks Amphitheater and stretches through mid-August.
Fenway Park - Boston, Mass
May 31, 2009
"Star Spangled Banner" (from the Infield)
"Sample In A Jar"
"The Moma Dance"
"Bouncing Around the Room"
"Limb By Limb"
"Wading In The Velvet Sea"
"Down With Disease"
"Time Turns Elastic"*
"Ballad Of Curtis Loew"
"You Enjoy Myself"
"Good Times Bad Times"
> denotes segue
* denotes first time played
@ Lynyrd Skynyrd
# Led Zeppelin