Welcome, PTers! Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Phloating In SPAC!
Here we are at the final stop on leg one of the 2012 summer tour. It’s been a pretty terrific summer thus far, with a clear and steady and upward trajectory, and with very few clunker sets to speak of since the band pressed the master reset button after Bonnaroo. Yes, the herky-jerky second set from the 4th of July at Jones Beach could be cited as an exception – but the band swept a lot of material into their wake that night until at least leg two, and the keg is now spilling over with dry canon powder. Will tonight bring a “YEM”, “Stash”, or “Split Open and Melt” worthy of water cooler chatter? Will Phish continue to revisit covers from Loaded, or validate rumors that deeper cuts from Remain in Light are in play for the first time in over a decade?
The pump is primed, so let’s pour ourselves a cocktail, sit back, and take the ride!
The band claims the stage just after 8:15 and wastes no time before galloping straight into a spirited but short “Runaway Jim.” Here’s an idea: how about a mid-second set “Jim” now and then, so the old pooch can run free a bit? “Ocelot” emerges from the on-deck circle to make a statement of sorts: we’re easing in here. Page signals “Heavy Things” with a few staccato plinks on his B-3, and the rest of the band follows, reinforcing a decidedly AOR theme for the proceedings thus far.
“Back on the Train” is always promising, and a few minutes into this jam, Trey kicks on his Whammy harmony effect, signalling a desire to push things a bit further out. But Fishman stays tethered to his shuffle beat, and they quickly tie a bow on the song and settle on “Funky Bitch.” A somewhat obvious choice, but it bears mentioning that Page’s organ playing has been unusually incendiary and creative this tour, and his solo here is the first thing that audibly thrills the crowd all night.
The second thrilling thing follows immediately thereafter.
“Tube” spills smoothly into the fourth-ever “Psycho Killer” – the first since Hartford ‘09 – affirming the Talking Heads rumors (though not the Remain in Light rumors). Then it’s back into “Tube” for the finish... but they’re not done with the shenanigans yet. Page leans into the “Hold Your Head Up” organ line, and Trey throws an unmistakable bone to fans who mistakenly thought they heard “Psycho Killer” bubbling out of “Back on the Train” a few nights earlier in Deer Creek by quoting its verses over “HYHU.” Fishman then delivers the goods with his first take on “Cracklin’ Rosie” since Philly ‘99, which (like its “HYHU” bookend) is laced liberally with yet more “tucking” references.
This whole sequence lasts probably 10-12 minutes, but it goes a very long way toward redeeming a first quarter that had offered little or nothing in the way of mentionables. A genuinely invigorating dose of trademark Phish.
Then there’s that anticipated twilight “Stash,” which is sharply played through the composed section and features some beautiful baby grand flourishes from Page, as the harmonic tension builds toward the peak. Resolution comes all too soon for those seeking a tantric mind-fucking, though, so we’ll have to talk about something else at the water cooler. Even less worth rehashing is the awkward, flubby “Bouncing Around the Room” that follows.
“Paul and Silas” offers another welcome rarity, but it’s over before it starts and we take a quick turn into an unusually sloppy reading of “Horn.” Though I love “Corinna” – and you should too – it feels poorly placed here, and seems to cede back whatever momentum remains from the mid-set sequence, with the crowd engaged in lots of audible chatter by the end.
Once again it’s Page to the rescue – both instrumentally and vocally – with the tour’s second “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone.” We’re nearly 90 minutes into this set by now, mind you, but the Chairman is firing on all cylinders, and doing everything in his goddamn power to elevate matters. Mike picks up the gauntlet early in this jam, and lo and behold a genuine all-hands asskicking ensues for the next five-six minutes. Alas, it falls apart in spectacular fashion at the end as Trey tries to end the song in the middle of the final verse. This “Light Up” serves as an apt metaphor for the set itself – tentative at the outset, blazing in the middle, and ultimately plagued by the devil lurking in the details.
“Chalk Dust Torture” christens the third quarter. A comfortable call, especially after seeing action at Jones Beach, but also perhaps a setup for a “Chalk Dust Torture Reprise” encore. All right, that’s optimistic...
Then “Carini” springboards from a bed of noise meant to conceal a clunky finish to “Chalk Dust.” “Carini” has been making a run at “Light,” “Waves,” and “Rock and Roll” as the most consistent improvisational platform of 3.0. Tonight’s version, however, never seems to coalesce or breathe, and gives way quickly to “Sand” – yet another song played just two nights ago in Wantagh. Yet again, Page assumes the conn, wringing distilled filth from his clav and coercing Mike and then Fish into the fray for a bit of truly satisfying breakbeat play. And yet again, with all four hands on the ripcord, what might have turned glorious is instead brought to a close, this time in favor of “Roses Are Free.”
“Roses” plays out cleanly and concisely – as some would argue it’s meant to – and anybody who suggests they expected the ensuing “Punch You in the Eye” can get bent. Wonderful placement for this song, and Trey negotiates “The Landlady” section with only a few minor bobbles. As on the heels of “Chalk Dust” we enter a spontaneous field of noise, from which emerges “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley.”
Minutes after the “Sally” vocal jam, Trey rides a Hendrix lick to a peak, and then just as it sounds like the jam is set to abort, Fishman doubles the beat and leads his conspirators into an infectious, up-tempo groove reminiscent of some 2.0 “Pipers.” Eventually, this largely satisfying “Sally” wanders organically into “Ghost.” Once again, Fishman revives a petering jam, insisting on a deeper take on things, and the rest of the band flirts with the idea of going big for the next several minutes before settling once again into a meditative space. The ambience plays out nicely over the next several minutes, culminating in some lovely piano flourishes from Page.
Trey counts off a generic and compact “Suzy Greenberg” next, which stands aside for “Run Like an Antelope,” yet another repeat from Jones Beach. Puzzling but ballsy choice given how dynamic and wall-to-wall fucking awesome the Jones Beach version was, but they’re obviously feeling this tune, and they manage to wring out another quite respectable version that includes a “Crosseyed & Painless” tease midway through the jam. Taboot, Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life show up to inquire, “Been you to have any spliff, mon?”
In my opinion, “Loving Cup” remains Phish’s only Rolling Stones cover that knows its proper place, and that place is in the encore slot of a down-the-middle, rock-centric Phish show. Fair to hope for something more ambitious, but hard to argue with the fit.
Without benefit of a night’s sleep or second listen, this show seems to embody the entire tour in several respects. First, it delivers stretches of inspired creativity (see: “Tube” through “Rosie,” “Sally > Ghost”) that easily merit the price of admission. Second, it often lacks narrative flow and attention to setlist construction (see: most of the second quarter). Finally, the band plainly shows up ready to let it hang out and send their fans home happy.