Happy 4th of July, Phish fans! Let’s cut right to the action from Jones Beach.
A “Dave’s Energy Guide” tease from Trey and Mike hints at the first set fireworks to come, before the band launches into a spirited “Alumni Blues” > “Letter to Jimmy Page” > Alumni Blues.” Then the first of what would be a bustout-filled set, “Head Held High!” Played for the first time since the 10/31/98 debut (356 shows), this was the fifth song from The Velvet Underground’s Loaded performed by Phish this summer, alongside “Rock and Roll,” “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” “Sweet Jane” and “Cool It Down.”
The soaring energy from the opening stanza was then brought down, but in the most delightful and surprising manner: the first “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” > “Avenu Malkenu” > “TMWSIY” since 6/21/09 (136 shows). This lovely, ethereal composition – and its upbeat Jewish prayer pairing – was performed more or less flawlessly, a most welcome return to the repertoire! After a detour to “Kill Devil Falls” the bustout train came back into the station with “Bittersweet Motel,” performed for the first time since 8/2/09 at Red Rocks (132 shows). The band then settled into a more predictable segment that included “The Moma Dance, “Gumbo,” a welcome, fairly unusual mid-set “David Bowie,” and “Alaska.”
The home-stretch of the first stanza found Mike back at the helm with his composition “Susskind Hotel,” featuring a short-but-awesome jam that is vaguely reminiscent of “Birds of a Feather.” Then we are greeted by the familiar refrain of “Hold Your Head Up” to welcome Fishman to the center stage... but this would be no ordinary trip to the vacuum cleaner. “Purple Rain!” The first since 7/25/99 (314 shows) when he famously forgot the words, this time he redeemed himself quite well. Fishman set up the song by noting “In honor of tucking, we’re going to do one of the great tuck anthems of all time. I’ll forget half the words, but it won’t matter. Or I might not!” Fish added his own summer ‘12 theme into the lyrics, noting that “he only wants to see you tucking in the Purple Rain!” A quick run through “HYHU” and then a 4th of July celebration with “The Star Spangled Banner.” What a set! Phish once again demonstrates that with their insanely deep repertoire that they can craft an immensely entertaining and diverse frame and set off sparks, sans extensive jamming. Great stuff.
The Stevie Wonder classic “Boogie On Reggae Woman” kicks off the third quarter. While not as adventurous as some recent offerings (see especially 6/7/12 Worcester), still a splendid start. Then “Tweezer” starts the meat of the improv frame. This upbeat version doesn’t stray far from the main theme until the very end, but nevertheless provides 10+ minutes of righteous adult entertainment. “Twist” then takes the jam hand-off, finds a hole, and hits it straight up the middle! The clear improvisational highlight of the show, “Twist” jumps off the cliff and goes deep, a quintessential example of Phish’s modern, compact jamming style.
From here on out, the set takes on an uneven quality, to be generous. “Taste” wasn’t quite a train-wreck, but pretty close. The “Quinn the Eskimo” > “Julius” > “Rock and Roll” combo was entertaining to be sure, if essentially interchangeable with other recent versions and devoid of improv. “The Horse” > “Silent in the Morning” offers the first breather of the set, setting up “Harry Hood.” Then the breaks are pumped in earnest, with a perplexing combo of adult contemporary ballads in “Shine a Light” > “Show of Life.” “Slave to the Traffic Light” helps to redeem the fourth quarter, but the promise and energy delivered by the excellent first set and beginning of set two had long since floated upon the waves. The “Sleeping Monkey” > “Tweezer Reprise” encore closes the book on 7/4/12.
Hard to call this one a “great” Phish show given the roller coaster ride that contained deep valleys in the second set, but with such a winner first set and the modest peaks in set two, the gig was worth every penny, whether for those in attendance or couch touring.
Off to SPAC to close leg one of the tour. Drive safe, kids!