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A triumphant return

Alpine Valley Music Theatre
East Troy, WI
June 20 & 21, 2009
Phish Phish Phish

Review and photos by Matt Schwenke

Marking the end of the first leg of their summer reunion tour, Phish took over the familiar grounds of Alpine Valley for two sold-out shows on their first tour since officially breaking up in 2004 and included a handful of tunes from their forthcoming new album Joy, also their first since 2004, their 12th studio album and their second with Steve Lillywhite, who produced Billy Breathes (1996). Their unique set lists over the two nights spanned the gamut of their more than 20 years together, including some well-worn tour staples and a few surprises.

The first night began with the classic "Punch You in the Eye," with guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon performing their traditional, syncopated dance mid-song, and soon after included the flamenco inspired "Stash" from 1992's A Picture of Nectar. The first of the new tunes played would follow with "Kill Devil Falls" gaining a good response from the crowd and fitting into their catalogue without much notice from a casual fan. The frenetically climaxing "Run Like An Antelope" left the crowd energized at the end of the first set.

In the second set, the band delivered "Maze" at an absolutely blistering pace and keyboardist Page McConnell. commanding the breakdown and drummer John Fishman controlling the tempo with apparent ease. In the next song, Trey jokingly referenced his run-ins with the law for drug charges in "Makisupa Policeman" by inserting a reference to having to take piss tests and to call his probation officer, to which the crowd roared in response. The tour classic "You Enjoy Myself," in which Anastasio and Gordon perform a syncopated number on mini trampoline, began a marathon-like run through five songs that ended in a blazing cover of Hendrix's "Fire" to the end the set. A hard-driving encore performance of "Character Zero" capped off the night.

The second night at Alpine, which was Father's Day, began with the rare "Brother," in which all of the band members' kids, the littlest ones escorted by their mothers, made their way into a tub at the front of the stage to the lyric lines of "somebody's jumping in the tub with your brother." Representing a much different scene backstage from Phish shows of old, many in the crowd smiled along with the band and roared to the special opening of the last show on the leg of the tour. Shortly after, Anastasio obliged a fan's request for Son Seal's "Funky Bitch," telling the fan he saw him holding a sign for the song for two days now and could finally rest his arms and put it down. The long, soft and sinewy new track "Joy" was received with mixed emotions as a rock ballad of sorts, but the rockin "Back On The Train" and the baby grand piano work of McConnell in "Taste" got the crowd amped up again and an incredible solo by Anastasio in "Silent In The Morning" had the crowd roaring again. Dipping deep into their catalog, the band pulled out the instrumental "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday," which Anastasio penned in the late eighties and always sandwiches the traditional Jewish prayer, "Avenu Malkenu," before ending with a 15-minute plus version of the new tune "Time Turns Elastic" to end the set on an intense note.

The second set started with a roar as a cover of the Talking Heads' "Crosseyed and Painless" started another long string of songs, including the powerful low end from Gordon on "Down With Disease." The crowd was more accepting of the soft and slow "Wading In The Velvet Sea" and let loose to the funk of Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman." Plodding through the intricate tune "Slave to the Traffic Light," the band weaved gracefully and were firing on all cylinders to put an emphatic stamp to the end of the set. Phish then silenced the 40,000 strong crowd with encore performance of "Grind" a cappella, before eliciting a strong set of roars for a night-ending cover of The Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein," complete with Gordon on a flame-shaped bass, McConnell on a large Keytar (which reportedly had previously been owned by James Brown) and Anastasio on a five-necked guitar. By the smiles on both the band and audience members' faces throughout the two nights, the first half of the reunion tour's end with the Alpine Valley shows, just a week after headlining the Bonnaroo music festival and preluding the second leg of the summer tour that starts with four sold-out nights at Red Rocks Ampitheatre, seemed to mark the triumphant return of one of the biggest bands of the last 20 years and their faithful following of phans that continue to follow them around.
06/20/09 setlist:

Set One
Punch You in the Eye
Runaway Jim
Ya Mar
Bathtub Gin
Kill Devil Falls
Train Song
Run Like An Antelope
Set Two
Sample In A Jar
Makisupa Policeman
The Lizards
You Enjoy Mysel
Prince Caspian
Fire (Hendrix)

Character Zero
06/21/09 setlist:

Set One
Wolfman's Brother
Funky Bitch
The Divided Sky
Back On The Train
Poor Heart
The Horse
Silent in the Morning
The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday
Avenu Malkanu
The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday
Time Turns Elastic
Set Two
Crosseyed and Painless
Down With Disease
Wading In The Velvet Sea
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Slave To The Traffic Light

Grind Frankenstein

Related articles:

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (Phish) - Manchester, TN - June 2009
The Rhythm Devils - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - Oct. 2006
10,000 Lakes Festival 2005 - Detroit Lakes, MN - July 2005
10,000 Lakes Festival 2006 - Detroit Lakes, MN - July 2006
Trey Anastasio - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - May 2005
10,000 Lakes Festival 2004 - Detroit Lakes, MN - July 2004
Phish - Concert review - East Troy, WI - July 2003

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