I first came to Alpine Valley in 1996 for Phish’s first time at the historic venue. I hated it. The lawn was way too steep, the sound was pretty awful, and they triple parked us in the lot. It’s funny what 16 years can do.
I’ve got it pretty good now. I have a place to crash about 30 minutes away, a secret route to the venue, and almost always pavilion seats. On the rare occassion I don’t have pavilion seats the sound on the lawn has vastly improved over the last decade and a half. Not only that but I’ve been to almost every show Phish has played at Alpine so a certain nostalgia tinged with fondness (isn’t that all nostalgia?). I’ve come around on the place. It’s pretty much my Phishy home.
The first set was more of a rocker than anything else, starting with the bluesy My Soul, kind of a mellow start. The show kicked off proper with AC/DC Bag, but it didn’t deviate at all from the standard path. That is about the best way to describe the whole show really. At no point was I surprised, shocked or blown away by a totally new direction. It’s not to say it wasn’t good or that I didn’t like it; I did, really! I guess you could say I’m spoiled or that some of the shows I’ve seen have just been jaw dropping.* There was a lot of really tight playing which I’ve come to expect in 3.0 but that great exploration, the magic of the four or five song set has not really been around of late.
* Jaw-dropping Phish that I’ve attended? 11/16/94, 8/10/97, 8/11/97, 12/6/97, 8/14/2010 to name a few.
It was a pretty bluesy set all things considered. The aforementioned My Soul, Bag has a bit of the blues and the Stones’ cover, Let it Loose for certain. A Kill Devil Falls, Sloth and Ocelot really kept the theme with what has become the standard for Alpine a very solid Reba. Yes, BTW, I did catch Page’s flub at the very end of Reba but I can’t say that it ruined the song. To the anal retentive types out there, get over it. A few personal favorites also peppered the set, Runaway Jim and Timber. Timber especially is a favorite ever since an fantastic version I saw in Deer Creek, again kind of rekindling hopes of that great launch into an exploratory jam. At a 6:53 running time, not so much. The set wound up with a fun Oh Kee Pa ->Suzy and I was happy, if not satisfied.
Kind of a fun fact, I started writing this blog at the set break. Other than the small keyboard, it wasn’t so bad and kind of fun. I wasn’t in the most social of spots so I was pretty much left to my own devices to think and type, type and think. The lights went down and I was pleased to hear Backwards Down the Number Line, kind of feeding into my already nostalgic mind set. It is after all a song about old friends and birthdays and remembering when. I thought for a moment Carini was going to take off but then it went to the arena rock anthem, Wilson. If there was a true crescendo to the set, it was Golden Age->2001->Rock and Roll, 25 minutes of just pure beauty.
The rest of the set was solid, but not many personal favorites, or better said there were songs that I really like, but much better versions out there. I’m thinking specifically of Piper and Harry Hood. When I first encountered Piper it was a slow building song to a simple joyous release. Now they seem to rush the beginning and it’s become a weird Poor Heartish version of Hood. Speaking of Hood this version is…ok. I mean I love this song, it is one of my favorites, on the dream set list for sure, but this one doesn’t enter the pantheon of great Hoods. The set ended with Character Zero, which is an encore song really, so my feeling when they wrap the set up with some like this the band is pretty much saying, “we’re done.” I made for the car and I could hear Good Times Bad Times coming out. As with almost every show I’ve been to since 1998, missing the encore means I’m not missing much.