TLDR: A rocking show with a party of a first set and great chops throughout. A perfect start with a 14 minute "A Wave of Hope." Fun but straightforward jams in "AC/DC Bag" and "Back on the Train". "Mull" gets very interesting, "Foam" is beautifully executed, and the "Ghost" really goes some spooky places and finally gives the first set the peak it's been asking for. Second set has all the meat in the third quarter's "Tweezer" > "Wingsuit" > "Tweezer" > "Birds of a Feather" segment which is well worth a good listen. "Joy" cools things down for a beautifully played "Taste" and a powerful "What's the Use?". "The Howling" > "Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S." are a nice combo to end the set. Fine but unremarkable 3-song encore.
Clouds fill the sky and turn down the heat in Columbia, MD as expectations for typical Sunday show greatness at Merriweather Post Pavillion fill the parking garages and the largest shakedown I've ever seen at this venue. No one is going to let a little rain dampen this day! It comes and goes lightly all afternoon and throughout the show (lawn girl here) but never gets too much to handle. A welcome change from the sweltering heat of weekend shows prior. I have brought my 16 month old on this weekend ride (don't judge me, she did great!), and this kept me bound to the top of the hill with all the other little ragers for the first set. Sight lines are a little better up there now with the newly raised roof, and the sound is definitely at a lower volume but still nice and clear. Little B enjoyed a few songs and then fell asleep somewhere in the middle of first set, leaving me a little more free for note taking and absorbing the music.
"A Wave of Hope" opens the show with a running start, clocking in at around 14 minutes. Trey takes the lead early on and keeps the jam uplifted while Fishman throws some creative beats throughout. It evolves quite pleasantly into some soaring arena rock before landing smoothly back into the song closure without a peak but with gusto. A lively "Dogs Stole Things" keeps everyone smiling while we gather our wits in preparation for the promising show ahead.
"AC/DC Bag" is up next and is always an early show crowd pleaser. "Let's get this show on the road!" Wooooo! The jam is well played with a nice solo from Trey but remains pretty straight forward and like "Hope" closes with a knoll rather than a peak. A sparkly "Sparkle" maintains the high energy, as it does. A perfectly placed mid-set "Back on the Train" keeps things rolling with more soaring guitar and crunchy grooves. Fun and easy on the ears but keeps within the developing theme of straight forward and summit-less type 1 jamming.
"Mull" finally takes things into a more exploratory space, and at 12 minutes is the longest version to date. The jam launches into a funky groove with some slappy sticky bass from Mike while Page and Fishman keep things flowing. Trey adds some flourish but mostly hangs back until gently taking the lead about 6 minutes in. Fishman joins Trey in a lovely dance that suddenly turns a corner into a dark and heavy sound space matching the ever-looming rain clouds that are getting darker by the second as the sun descends. A gloomy and dissonant dissolve ends "Mull" and beautifully begins "Foam".
To my ears, "Foam" was flawless and had some lovely touches from Page on the piano. Next up is "Ghost" and the crowd clearly appreciates this choice and braces for the goods. Clocking in at over 14 minutes, it does not disappoint. The jam starts out spacey and slow. Trey then leads the way into blissville while Fishman and Mike keep a patient pace. Trey's guitar becomes bolder and Page dances around his notes with fluttery piano keys. This dance encourages Fishman to quicken the beat and things start getting a little nasty before developing into the soaring build up we've all been waiting for. Long sustained notes intermixed with lighting fast fingerwork from Trey bring this sweet little "Ghost" home with a set-ending peak that awkwardly spills back into the song ending like a drunk bridesmaid finally taking a seat after a great big boogie on the dance floor.
At set break I tag out of baby duties and switch with my partner to enjoy second set from the lower lawn. Much better sights and sounds, although maybe not smells. And I don't have to constantly side-eye a sleeping baby so I can get more more down.
"Hailey's Comet" starts second set with excitement but jamlessly passes the responsibility over to a 19 minute "Tweezer". As expected, the venue explodes and the real party begins. Here we go! Time to throw off the poncho and get more down. The jam goes pretty quickly into a spunky funky dance party complete with mooing cow, before mellowing into pretty ballad territory accented by another dance of guitar and keys, and classic high beams from Kuroda which are a nice change from the geometric LED bars that are in heavy use this night. The jam takes another turn into a deep cave that quickly tears a hole in space and time, and we all rejoice.
"Wingsuit" pays a surprise visit and is as beautiful and powerful as it should be, even if you didn't want it to be "Tweezer's" end. Have no fear, a surprise drop back into a short but party-packed "Tweezer" jam provides appease. "Birds of a Feather" comes in hot and keeps the dance party going. Trey maintains an Allman's-like sunshine throughout while opening a couple of dark closets just to peak inside and quickly shut the door.
"Joy", while as lovely as ever, seems to put a cork in the exploration bottle for the evening. Next up is beautifully played "Taste", breaking its longest show gap ever (55 shows). A powerful "What's the Use" follows, though its power is somewhat subdued by the crowd's desire to cheer over the delicately quiet transitional section. Come on people, it's not over yet!
"The Howling's" sixth ever appearance is short, fun and funky, bringing back the dance party for the arena rock that is "Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.", closing the set with oomph. A 3-song encore brings us a nice but unremarkable "Show Of Life", a token "Loving Cup", and the obvious "Tweezer Reprise" to close things out with one final dance.
Maybe not the Sunday show we have come to expect from Phish at MPP, but if there's one thing I have learned from my years of Phishing, it's that once you start expecting things, they evolve. Still a good show with lots of highlights to listen back to. Thanks Phish for another memorable weekend!
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