Story compliments of JamBase.com
ASHEVILLE, NC – Asheville’s hype hinted at a destined special show from the get-go, and Phish seemed to share the sentiment throughout a raging summer evening in the mountains. Surprisingly, the band had never played North Carolina’s most forward-thinking, jam band-friendly town, perhaps for lack of a sizeable venue. The “mini Hampton” atmosphere of the Asheville Civic Center proved a tough ticket for the fans, but a rare treat for the 7,600 folks lucky enough to make it through the door.
Phish’s first set embraced the cozy confines with an "evening with" demeanor, emphasized by Trey’s acknowledgement of a "VH1 Storyteller" moment when he introduced "Dog Faced Boy," revealing its origins in a secret look he and Mike took at Fishman’s journal. The drummer left his kit and lied on the ground as his bandmates performed the rarity a capella. A highly danceable, albeit brief "Gumbo" followed before "Tube," closing out a three-pack Trey announced had all been birthed from that journal peak. Fishman then accommodated Trey’s prodding with a solo rendition of "Lengthwise" – "a true story," he said repeatedly.
The show started right at eight. Having heard good things but never heard the track, Phish’s decision to open the show with "Kill Devil Falls," a new track they’d played twice in Jones Beach, provided a fun introduction. The song rocks like "Chalkdust" in its build – Trey’s favorite song to play, he said in 2000.
"Kill Devil’s" rock & roll opened nicely for a super funky "Moma Dance," followed by a "Sample" accentuated by a raunchy solo from Trey. "Stash" was met with huge crowd approval, as Chris Kuroda took the rainbow lights for a walk through the crowd, a color scheme he returned to frequently throughout the night.
After Fishman wrapped up his journal segment with "Lengthwise," the opening strains of "The Divided Sky" rang through the intimate venue. I don’t notice flubs like some critical listeners, but the band seemed to execute the opus without flaw. Page dropped in hard and smooth on his segment before the flying and soaring segment of the song, leading into an absolutely over-the-top energy to "Sky’s" finale.
Mike brought things back to earth with a honky-tonk cover of Bill Monroe’s "When the Cactus is in Bloom," before Page took over vocals for "Bold As Love." The last strains of daylight faded through the windows visible from the floor, and the band left stage after 75 minutes with a party atmosphere thoroughly stirred up.
Phish returned with "Backwards Down the Number Line," a song that has proven a solid addition to the repertoire. "Ghost" showed us the tight funk, with a spacey, almost didgeridoo-like section added to the jammed out performance. Trey peaked the song once before it got even hotter about ten minutes in with a climax that left jaws agape. "Fast Enough For You" continued the blazing guitar licks before a very fun, loose "Halley’s Comet."
"Maze" countered well, coming in low and scary. Page took the chance to show off, before the song went totally haywire. "Nuts," said the dude to my left, and, "So sick," came from my right. Arguably the night’s highlight, "Maze" was ridiculous in its intensity.
And back to sing-songiness. "Alaska" continued the trend of new songs that start off lyric heavy then follow a simple build to allow for epic guitar solos at the end – not surprising since the song came from Trey’s solo repertoire. Rhyming "Alaska" with "I’ll aska" in a 2009 Phish song? The jury’s still out, but a nice fat mama guitar riff followed the line, "Just when I thought I’d end up alone, big ‘ol Alaskan mama come walkin’ down the road," providing some redemption for the track.
"Theme from the Bottom" was performed straight, before dropping right into a rollicking "Golgi Apparatus." Any show with two songs from Junta is a treat, and considering the difficulty fans had finding tickets for Asheville, the "ticket stub in your hand" line had everyone inside smiling big. "Possum" came out like a train, and by the peak it was obvious this was the set closer. Set break had brought two warnings from the fire marshal not to hang over the railings in the seats, a request that may have worked for a bit but was completely disregarded by the raging "Possum."
"Loving Cup" proved a fitting encore, and again it was evident in its intensity that this was likely a one-song finale. Phish has made the Stones’ tune their own, and unleashed an energy for this performance even beyond that at the Hampton shows in March.
In set one, Phish approached the small Asheville Civic Center like an intimate theater show, highlighted by Trey’s story of secretly lifting lyrics from Fishman’s journal. Set two brought the funky power. The band’s closest brush with an extended exploration came during "Ghost," but overall they seem content to focus on executing songs perfectly and letting jams work their way in – a welcome approach after the sloppiness of 2004. The Asheville setlist wasn’t necessarily tailored to touring ("Tube" two nights in a row, three "Kill Devil Falls" in a week), but it stands alone well. Phish is clearly having fun, and both the fans inside and the ticketless crowd outside certainly hope they’ll keep Asheville on the radar for tours to come.