[We would like to thank Brandy Davis, @smilercontrol, for writing this recap.]
All of the hype of the jam-filled donut show, which brought more fingers to the brisk summer air in front of MSG than I have seen since any ol' sold out Dick's Saturday night, was not in vain, as we all by now know of what occurred inside New York's grand arena on Tuesday night. But what of the sister show to follow? Destined to be in the shadows (or so I thought), the chatter leading up to Wednesday night was a bit deflated; or perhaps there just wasn't enough infinity in the universe to bask in the radioactive glow of one night, while simultaneously over-speculating about the next. Not to say there was no speculation... a white-powdered donut theme was sure to drag the word "cocaine" across the lips of even the most straight-edge fans. As for myself, I was hanging on the clue of "traditional," hoping we'd get an old-school set of songs from the 80's. Junta, anyone?
However, as show time approached, you could feel the energy build in the space around the Garden. "It's a great time to be a Phish fan." The old adage is as appropriate as ever, and everyone outside of MSG last night was feeling it. There was an unusual, yet perfect, combination of excitement from the night before, and reasonable expectations for the night ahead. That is a great headspace to take Phishing. The absolutely perfect weather and plentitude of tickets for everyone who wanted (to pay for) them didn't hurt, either. The crowds were thick, colorful, and all smiles at the Garden stoop pre-game last night. Lets go inside, shall we?
The boys (sorry, not sorry) walk on stage, cheer cheer! A little a cappella to kick off the evening? Sure, why not? A very pretty debut cover of Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal" set the stage nicely, and checked the theme reference box right away. Now, back to the instruments. It was great to hear the opening notes "Cars Trucks Buses," and even better to hear it so tightly played. There was a little extra soul in the "My Soul" that followed, and the band sounded warm and loose, with a pleasing guitar solo from Trey. No time was wasted before jumping into a delightful version of "Roses Are Free." A few sour notes, but when you can hear Trey smiling while singing this, you can be quick to forgive. "Roses" was where CK5 decided to pull out his guns for the evening, with a full arena white strobe washout that wowed. "The Very Long Fuse" felt very short, but seeing that it was 7 1/2 minutes of a song that is basically all jam, I guess my feelings were mistaken.
A serious "Gumbo" eased us right into the 2nd quarter, followed by a standard fine "Yarmouth Road." We got our first bust out of the evening with "Pebbles and Marbles," which hadn't been heard from since August 3, 2014 (106 shows). This 10 minute version was a well-played easy rider that escalated quickly into grand territory, and frankly, rocked. A little blissy breather in a slow "Farmhouse" led to the closer and highlight of the set, "Tube." What can I say about this "Tube"? I danced my ass off, that's what. I was thankful at that moment for an isle seat next to a platform that was not being cleared by security. I needed it, and so did many in my section it appeared. The jam started funky, as it should, and then went to happy land with pretty notes fluttering from both Trey and Page, while Fishman held down the beat as usual and Mike kept us from straying too far from the funk. The jam took a dark turn in the middle without sacrificing the dance party, and worked it's way into glee without batting an eye. Such flawless flow between musical changes is what some of us keep coming back for, and this "Tube" delivered. A must hear.
Still, it was overall a mellow first set. The "Carini" second set opener got me psyched to reach some real heights in the second half. Fists were pumping, heads were banging, and "Carini" brought the power. I always hope for a dark and twisted mind melt out of this one, and it started off in that mood, but soon morphed into a big sweeping jam that delicately slid into a spacey cool down, you know the type that makes this sometimes jaded vet cross her fingers and shoot telepathic messages to the band, "you can do it, keep it going, pull through!" And pull through they did, hurray! Just when it was getting a little disjointed and you might expect the dreaded R-word, some pretty notes from Trey redirect the jam into a new space that made room for some Fishman showcasing, as well as some "Mr. Completely" foreshadowing. Having witnessed my first "Mr. Completely" just five shows prior, I whole-heartedly welcome this long-time bust out into regular rotation. Is it here to stay? With Phish, you just never know. This 13 1/2 minute version is one for the books, which isn't saying much, since there have only been four. But seriously, it's smiley, head boppy, and a little out there. When Trey starts climbing, you know what's coming. I stopped taking notes for the rest of the night after this joyful roll of a climax grabbed my full attention.
"1999," unplayed since 12/31/98? Let's do this! The energy in the room skyrocketed within the first few notes of recognition and realization swept the crowd. "If you didn't come to party, don't bother knocking on my door," indeed. The rotating band member vocals were a nice touch. I was grateful once again for the undisturbed dance platform, which by now had collected quite a few members. They could have kept this in simple dance groove territory, but it was soon clear that they had other plans. The 10 minutes of awesomeness which in short order hit Type II greatness deserves the title of "Jam" it has received from Phish, Inc., no matter their reasons. Fun. A sneaky slip into a 13 minute "Steam" followed. The jam starts out patiently and means business. This is eyes-closed, head-down grooving right here, with a chilling transition into the dark depths from which all steam must come. Around 10 minutes in, the rules of time and space disintegrate before relief comes from the familiar notes of "Steam" proper once again. A very smooth move into "No Quarter" works the crowd into a frenzy. Is it just me, or does Phish's version of this Zeppelin classic get better with age? Page nailed the vocals as usual, and we all indulged in more fist pumping and head banging. Not a bad solo from Trey either.
Now you know Phish is pleased with themselves when they close a show with "Character Zero," and at 10 minutes, what a fine "Zero" it was. I'll take more of that fist-pumping and soaring peaks, thanks! Add a little sprinkle of "Martian Monster" while you are at it. Groovy. The guitar-bass battle between Trey and Mike at around 5:30 was fun to watch, if not totally easy on the ears (and probably only my ears, because I have to criticize something). Typical "Zero" peaks achieved, let's take a breath. I was hoping for a fiery "First Tube" or something of that ilk in the short encore time slot, but they decided to cool it down and bring it back around to the powdered donut theme with a heartfelt rendition of Neil Young's "Powderfinger." Speculators satisfied.
What a fabulous run of shows you guys. And we are not even half way there yet. As they say, it's a great time to be a phan!
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Mike Gordon: February 23, 2018
42 minutes from now
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