Ah yes, Long Island. The New Jersey that nobody talks about. The land of sports cars smashed into trees with smoke slowly rising from them and no driver or passengers to be found. The only island you can visit where you'll see a housewife driving a fat Benz with a vanity plate that reads XANAX. Long Island, where you can advertise that you're driving on Xanax with no recourse.
Which naturally leads us to Long Island's prodigal son: Billy Joel. Many of us in the Phish community know of Mr. Joel's real and/or exaggerated and/or entirely fictional rivalry with Phish (for hogging MSG every New Year's Eve despite being a "second rate cover band"); but what y'all might've missed is that Mr. Joel already had a longstanding rivalry with Long Island for requiring that he drive his sports cars "safely" and "on the road." For when I was in high school Mr. Joel wrecked his third hot rod in two years when he swerved off the road, over the curb, across the lawn, and into a sleeping old man's living room. And while this sleeping old man was probably the only Long Islander who didn't double as a Billy Joel fan (a Piano Fan?), when the police arrived on the scene, the officers were quite starstruck. Harkening back to moments ago when we were discussing a brazen use of Xanax while operating heavy machinery: despite driving directly into someone's house, Mr. Joel was not given a breathalyzer test.
So what was going to happen to us tonight? Would a fuming Billy Joel drive through the center of Shakedown? And more importantly, was Phish going to mow down our psyches and egos with some searing, soaring, and face melting hetty jams?
Nassau was the start of the OG Island Tour 21 years ago, a run that was announced somewhat last minute in order to debut and enliven the new songs they were recording for Story of the Ghost, which received its "20 years later" vinyl reissue this week. Over the past two nights in Providence, echoes of the '98 shows were everywhere, mainly in song selection, but also in funkiness (pronounced "fawn-kee-ness") and the old school holiday cheer we witnessed both onstage and off (nod to the dudes playing hackeysack in the back of the floor.)
Phish came out at Nassau with a rare "Ghost" opener, the first since 1997, which set the tone for the night: reverance for the original Island Tour and dynamic, tasty jamming. (Also worth mentioning that the aforelinked video includes footage of the band taking the stage, and you watch as Mike ignores the cheers of the crowd with his signature nose buried in his phone until the last possible moment. No phones at the table, young man!)
A well played "Rift," with our first "TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu>TMWSIY" since Alpine N3, and bookended with more "blue grass" in "The Wedge," all good signs. "Martian Monster" into "Timber," which, to hear Trey sing about "Jerry" is worth the price of admission.
When the audience realized Phish was playing "Cool It Down," it exploded. The tune was of course written by Long Island's greatest contribution to society: Lou Reed. Only Long Island, a place far enough away from "the city" to feel comfortable stifling creativity, could have produced an artist so talented yet so committed to not taking himself seriously, yet also so committed to not taking anybody's shit anymore because he got enough of it back on Long Island.
"Roggae" felt appropriate for Nassau Coliseum because it hosts the circus normally (and was hosting one now!). Our last blue grass for the night in "Poor Heart," then "Tube" that had some serious '98 flavors; it got everyone fully raging, testing all the out-of-shape Phish fan's poor hearts. A set closing "Character Zero" had the usher for our row (his first show!) ready to hop on tour.
When "Everything's Right," opened the second set the crowd seemed a tad disappointed, like "Why wasn't this the first set closer if you wanted to play it so bad?" But then of course "Everything's Right" is a sick jam vehicle and it definitely tucked its wheels in and took flight to some cool places, with Page pressing every button on his rig that is labeled, "outer space." The spookiness left the door open for "Down with Disease" to creep in, which brought the energy up and triggered, "Cities," written and originally performed by David Byrne who is of course from, you guessed it, Scotland! During "Cities," Fishman was playing a drum beat different from the normal "Cities" beat, which he persisted on through the first chorus, and when Trey realized he was going to continue with this different beat into the second chorus he shot Fishman a Jerry look, the Bad Lieutenant look, and Fishman returned to the straight "Cities" drumbeat.
The "Carini" call must have been partially in reference to the second night of OG Island Tour when a phan purportedly wearing a Tigger backpack ran on stage and was apprehended, after which Trey kept singing, "Don't let Carni get you… yeah and don't, don't attack the drummer… but most importantly, don't let Carini get you!"
I had been a little disappointed with Nassau's railriders. There's always folks who don't realize that they aren't up for the job until it's too late, who didn't understand that they'd be putting their bodies through a lot of stress (getting up early, wasting their whole day sitting around outside in inclimate weather with minimal access to food and water) that by showtime they're just slumped on the rail for support. And then there's the folks who prepare for this all year, who wile out because they believe they're on a mission from Jerry to inspire a good show with their bad dance moves. But Nassau had an additional breed of fitted cap railrider bros who just held up cameras in Trey's face and had very little to offer in the way of seeming like they were enjoying themselves. Long Island, the Silent New Jersey. But when the first "Ruby Waves" since Alpine hit the apathetic dudes were replaced with jubilant nerds, whose arms were in the air because they wanted to touch the stars with their fingertips.
There's an interview where Trey talks about a time when he instructed Fishman to play "The Line" like it was a Velvet Underground song; I theorized that before "Ruby Waves" he told the band, "Let's play Ruby Waves like its Krautrock, guys!" Page was splattering synths all over the song and Mike and Fish seemed to be driving toward something progressive. When "Ruby Waves" hit the curb and drove into living room of our minds, it reminded me of that Jerry quote about DMT: "I like DMT ‘cause it takes you a long way and it’s short… but in the meantime it sort of blows out the tubes." "Ruby Waves" was like a volcanic eruption, it's peak seemed to come up from the center of the Earth. I kept thinking, "damn they're doin' 'Ruby Waves' dirty!" By which I meant covered in volcanic ash, suffocating innocent souls with this red hot demon music.
"20 Years Later" of course was in reverence of the OG Island Tour. SECOND TIME AROUND. It had really a beautiful, oceanic jam, but not oceanic as in calming; oceanic as in chaotic, full of life, with gulls soaring over it, and if you're not careful, you could drown. "Backwards Down the Number Line" because we were looking back! And who's still here with us. All our friends. And while "Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S." is not an overt reference, it deals with the scent of Space, which is always partnered with Time. You will always remember where you were: Long Island. Because this author can't stop bringing it up. Nassau Coliseum, an innocuous egg that usually hosts sports and various franchises "On Ice" becoming a vessel for such special music over the years, beginning with the Grateful Dead and upheld by Phish.
Right before the encore was performed, a little laugh came over Trey, and he leaned over to Page and called, "Roses," in remembrance of the sick "Roses Are Free" from the four-song-set of N2 of Nassau during the Island Tour, originally written and performed by WEEN, who are all from, you guessed it, Pennsylvania. "Slave to the Traffic Light," nodded to both the poor driving conditions between Providence and Nassau that fans endured, and the future traffic they'll see heading to the next show. See you outside of the Met!
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