Welcome back to the second leg of summer tour, Phish fans! This will be a necessarily abbreviated recap so that the recapper may make tracks up the coast of California (“must be somewhere over here”). Let’s get right to it.
Long Beach Arena was far less than full last night as the band took the stage just after 8:15. A rare opening “Suzy Greenberg” starts us off, the first time it had opened a shows since the famous 12/14/95 show immortalized on Live Phish 1. The set then settles into a pleasant if uneventful segment featuring “Cities” > “Kill Devil Falls” and a well-executed “Guelah Papyrus.” “Cool it Down” seems to be easing its way into the rotation and featured an extended ending – not quite “type II” but definitely a little added spice; the band clearly loves this groove.
A mostly tight “Rift” is followed by a typically awesome if more-or-less standard “Stash.” “Bouncing” provides some breathing space before the first set highlight, “Bathtub Gin.” Patient and soaring in the climax, this version doesn’t stand out from others of recent vintage – as so many have been awesome – but nevertheless delivers the goods. “Quinn the Eskimo” sends this set home in fine fashion. A first set to write home about? Not so much, but the set improved as it progressed and was a great second-leg warm-up.
The second frame would be a rather different affair. Starting out innocently enough with “Rock and Roll,” little did we know we were about to jump off the cliff into the unknown. Dispensing with the main theme fairly quickly this jam – or, rather, the multitude of jams contained in this single segment – was patient, thoughtful, psychedelic, exploratory and just simply awesome. Every time a musical thought was completed and (as has so often been the case in 3.0) the next of a dozen songs was up on deck, instead another corner would be turned revealing a new layer. After one of the longest jams of 3.0 (sorry, our crack research team and/or our readers will help me on this in the comments, I’m sure), the fun doesn’t stop, with “Ghost.” Always pregnant with possibilities, this one does not disappoint. Like all good “Ghosts” this one ceased being “Ghost” and inherited the collective wisdom of the band and the room and the moment... it blew this listener’s mind, not an easily accomplished task. When the dust settled on this opening ~40-minute combo, what is left is one of the most impressive extended improvisational segments offered by Phish since their 2009 return to the stage. Hear it now. Don’t walk... run. Seriously.
“Limb By Limb” grounds us back to “reality” but not in a jarring or disappointing manner at all. Paired with “Guyute” mid-set wouldn’t have been my call, but that shows what I know, as it actually turned out to offer an excellent flow in the set. While not for everyone, “Dirt” also seemed to be placed not just well, but brilliantly. The energy arc was set for one final climax, first through an exploratory (~14 min) “Harry Hood” that was a thrilling counter-point to so many 3.0 late second sets (or “fourth quarters”) that seem to go through the motions. Despite the improvisational behemoth of the “R&R” > “Ghost” there was still something left in the tank for “Harry.” “Good Times Bad Times” throws the hammer down on this spectacular set, and a “Julius” encore sends the fans home happy.
For those only here for the music, thanks for reading and be on with your day. While we at phish.net try to keep the focus on the stage, we’d be remiss not to mention a guest in the building, Justin Bieber. Curiously, he and his crew happened to land precisely where this reviewer and his crew were set up, directly to the right of Chris Kuroda’s light rig, where they remained for the majority of the show. During “Suzy” some security guys come barreling in and we're thinking and giving indications of “dude WTF this is our space" but the situation settled quickly. It was a kid out having fun with his girlfriend and some of his buddies, no big deal. They were totally chill and perfectly fine. They hung out and danced and tossed glow sticks and flirted like teenagers. My attention was fixed on the stage, but to the degree I noticed he seemed genuinely into the music. I give the kid props – just some dude at a Phish show having fun.
In sum – good times, Long Beach. Let’s mobilize this party on up the coast. We’ll see y’all in San Francisco tomorrow night!