To put it simply, Merriweather was a subpar Phish show that, as contradictory as it may seem, had a few bright spots. The sound, for much of the first set was awful and the song choices confusing, however when things did click, they actually worked quite well and it must be mentioned these days that the playing was just fine. Having occurred one day after a terrific Hartford show and towards the end of a relatively great tour, Merriweather doesn’t stand a chance. Unfortunately, the band didn’t appear to give it much effort.
Truth be told, we should have known; when the band opens with “Crowd Control,” all bets are off. However, a valiant effort was made in the form of “Kill Devil Falls” and “The Sloth,” however the venue’s poor sound kept the band’s energy restrained. To attend a concert and have it sound like one was listening to a mid 1990s audience recording is a truly unique experience that all should not experience. It wasn’t until the tail end of “Esther” before the sound issues were worked out, a fortuitous and timely turn of events that played a role in helping the debut of “Party Time,” a Fishman penned original that consists of some of the band’s most introspective lyrics, rank among the shows highlights. If the band has any sense, “Party Time” is going to become a staple of the live show and will be given room to breathe and grow. The rest of the set was mixed at best, ending with the painful “Time Turns Elastic” which sent scores of fans heading for the exit to beat the mid set bathroom rush.
While it would have been hard to top the uneven nature of the first set, the band gave it their best effort in the second, opening up with a too short version of “Tweezer” which bled into a well played “Taste.” However, the combination of “Alaska” and “Let me Lie” sucked the remaining energy out of the set. In the case of the latter, one cannot but help wonder how the band plays this song with a straight face. Not every song a band writes should find its way into the set and if there was ever a song to be kept private, “Let Me Lie” is it.
On a positive note, the band saved this show from arguably “worst show ever” contention with an excellent version of “46 Days.” No longer the warhorse many believed it would become, “46 Days” still managed to excite the crowd with the only “real” jamming of the nice. Interesting and layered, the jam is a must hear even if the rest of the show should be relegated to the dustbin of history.
As the band worked through the encore combination of “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Tweezer Reprise,” the energy in the venue reached its highest point of the night. As the crowd cheered in appreciation (is there any other response to a “Tweprise” encore), I wondered what might have been but I have no intention of listening to the show to find out.