By Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Phish hit the stage on their second night at nTelos approximately 50 minutes after the sun’s direct light caressed the Tropic of Cancer, thereby ushering in the true northern hemisphere Summer of 2012 and triggering the final 6-month countdown to the conclusion of the 13th Baktun of the Mayan calendar. The summer solstice would therefore serve as the ampersand uniting the first and second nights of the Portsmouth run in a grand cosmic joke that paid presumably unintentionally homage to George Lucas. The “Tijuana Tuck & Roll” in the long run may prove to be a pair of shows that at first glance (on paper) look great but after continued sittings may be found to be stuffed with nothing more than hay and cow shit. Put another way, much like the protagonist in the ZZ Top song “Zipper Job,” you should not judge a tranny by its cover... unless you are into that kind of thing. Before you get irate... I assure you that I AM into transformation...of any kind. Phish, much like the rest of humanity, is trying to make the change. Although transformation allows growth, it is sometimes painful.
Night two begins with the first show-opening “Sparkle” since 3/22/92, but really ever in a full Phish show (because that performance was as part of a four song opening set for Buckwheat Zydeco on the Mountain Stage radio show, subsequently rebroadcast on NPR). “Sparkle” was a great choice and represented an energetic continuation of the Rift-era tone of the previous night. When coupled with the vaguely malevolent “Ha Ha Ha” it also suggested the “Tuck-rule” hilarity of the previous night would continue. The perfunctory “AC/DC Bag” that followed and no-nonsense black muscle T-shirt Mike was rocking suggested otherwise... it was time to roll up our sleeves and get down to business.
“Divided Sky” doffed its hat reverentially to the longest day of the year. It was well played, had an atypically brief pause and the elegiac jam which followed was timed to conclude precisely with the moment the sun sank below the horizon in Portsmouth. Despite what the first day of summer evokes in us all, for the next six months, the days will be growing shorter. If the Mayans are right, perhaps forever. So why spend time dwelling on such things? “Rage hard against the dying of the keg!” But watch your step. As there is no telling where that doggone dog done gone. YES! The first “Dog Log” since IT followed, no doubt in response to at least three signs requesting the soundcheck classic spotted in the first few rows. This version was nailed (especially the uptempo jazzy bridge) and featured a brief tease of “Light.” “Undermind” crushed the old school Phish groove but still satisfied with a funky but brief Page and Mike interlude that resolved into a downtempo fade.
“Mike’s Song” never went anywhere, was marred by a sloppy conclusion to a truncated and largely uninspiring jam segment but then resolved into a palpably immaculate “Hydrogen.” The “Weekapaug” that concluded the trilogy was tight, incandescent, and veered towards “China”-”Rider” territory before skidding to a halt. “Cities” found a mellow groove that was not given the chance to wear out its welcome before it blead almost seamlessly into “Ya Mar.” Trey, perhaps sensing a flattening of the vibe as compared to the previous night, beseeched Leo to “play it!”...and play it he did. The first set concluded with another Jimi Hendrix tune, “Bold as Love,” perhaps an homage to the 43rd anniversary of Jimi’s LEGENDARY 1969 Newport Pop Festival show, and (as always) the best “Julius” EVER!
Set break for those of us catching the action at home featured the announcement of the Chicago 94 box set, available for preorder starting 6/21/12, and the tasty “Mind Left Body Jam” > “David Bowie” from the 6/18/94 UIC show that it will contain. Without question this snippet of the impending archival release surpassed anything played in the first set.
The second set opened with the expected punchline to the “Tijuana (“Mexican Cousin” was the key) Tuck and (Rock n) Roll theme of the nTelos stand. Although painfully brief, the “Rock and Roll” jam was luxurious, comfortable, and begged for an extendable cushion we could prop feet on and relax. Instead it gave way to an equally promising “Tweezer” that also unfortunately faded too soon. The “Free” that followed afforded another peek over the free-form jam precipice, but the band just refused to jump.
Lacking all the precision of Trey’s orchestral tour, “Guyute” ended up being slightly more menacing than is typical, with pregnant pauses between the concluding lyrics and demonic lighting to induce a heightened state of tension. “Birds of a Feather” was a scorcher and quickly gave way to “Harry Hood.” When the lights went out “Harry” devolved into a thick effects laden ambient groove singularity that segued very well but in the final moments somewhat jarringly into “What’s the Use?” Despite many wishes to the contrary, the “Hood” remains unfinished as “What’s the Use?” cascaded into “Wading in the Velvet Sea.” Set two concluded with “Possum.” Yes, it is overplayed, in this case misplaced, but ALWAYS welcome as far as I am concerned.
Lost throughout the entirety of this show (“Dog Log” notwithstanding) was the lighthearted comedy of the previous night. That is until the encore. Trey brought us back to that distant galaxy with a tease of the Star Wars theme before “Sleeping Monkey.” Shortly thereafter he lays down his Jedi axe, grabs Mike’s mic, and croons his way over to Fishman, before requesting a “final tuck.” Fish steps out front to send the monkey home on the train as Trey sits in on the kit. “Tweeprise” rages as it always does, features home on the train quotes from Fish, and concludes with Trey waving the OceDoc like a light saber. Jon Fishman, Jon Fishman “Moby Dick.”