It had been ten years since jam-band giant Phish last played Blossom Music Center — or anywhere in Cleveland for that matter — so you'd think the band would have brought its entire arsenal to its show Saturday night.
It's been a year since Phish reformed, so they should be capable of sustaining their energy for more than three hours every night, but Saturday’s show was largely an uneven one.
Playing to 15,000-plus phans, most of them in their late 20s and 30s, the second show of Phish's summer tour began with a timely cover of the Band’s “Look Out, Cleveland.” It was the first time Phish played the song, and it was received with a heroes welcome, as singer guitarist Trey Anastasio belted out the first verse.
But the remainder of the first set was a bit like a kiddie roller coaster, with a couple brief, exciting highlights and lots of flat, slow tracks. Crowd favorite “Stash” started with the right energy but lost its way after several minutes.
Newer songs “Ocelot” and “Time Turns Elastic,” from last year’s Joy, lacked life, and if it weren’t for “Sample in a Jar” and the set-ending medley of “Mike’s Song”, “I am Hydrogen,” and “Weekapaug Groove,” the first 80 minutes would have been better spent watching a 0-0 World Cup match.
After a brief intermission, the band must have realized it didn’t play up to its potential and returned with a much stronger set. The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” ignited the audience from the first note, and was followed by a cohesive “Harry Hood.”
With glow sticks flying around the pavilion and lawn, the band stretched the song to its limit without being over indulgent in its jamming.
The second set was not without lulls, though. The mid-set pair of “Backwards Down the Number Line” “and “Twenty Years Later” nearly threatened the show. It was saved by another first-time cover, John Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” which was sung earnestly by keyboardist Page McConnell.
The rest of the set kept the energy going, with “Suzy Greenberg” and “Character Zero” punctuating it. And the “Squirming Coil” encore was a fitting finale, one of the most well-composed Phish songs, down to the McConnell piano solo that ended the song.
Post-breakup Phish are now in their second year of touring, and although they haven't quite recaptured the magic they had during their mid-'90s heyday, they're sounding much better than they did right before the five-year hiatus.
Their Cleveland show just needed a little more fine-tuning to get to that elite status, but at least Phish are headed in the right direction. —Aaron Mendelsohn
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