Phish, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY- 2/28
It is the reason we go to multiple Phish shows. It is the reason we drive
or fly hundreds of miles, just to watch a rock concert. We empty our bank
accounts and max out our credit cards. We say goodbye to loved ones for a
week or more. And for what? A rock concert? Not just any rock concert.
This is Phish, and on any given night, in any given city, there is a chance
to see something more than special. To begin with, every Phish show is
special. But every so often, the stars and the moon align in some sort of
cosmic….I don't even know what. But when it happens, Epic shows happen.
This is 2/28/03, and it was "epic".
Nassau Coliseum has always been home to great Phish shows and great jams.
The 4/2/98 Twist is still the best one ever, and the second set of 4/3/98 is
possibly the best single set Phish has ever performed. And its also worth
noting that 10/8/99 was the second best overall show from that tour, after
the fantastic Boise show. With these past stellar shows in mind, and the
steadily increasing quality of shows all week, from the least quality show
in Jersey, to the huge show in Worcester, my friends and I sat in the
near-freezing parking lot discussing the potential of the show ahead of us.
Of course, even with our alcohol induced delusions of grandeur, we had no
idea what lay in store for us on this magical night.
As we settled into our seats on the floor by the soundboard, the lights went
down, the band came out, and "Birds of a Feather" began what was to be one
of the best, if not the best, Phish show I've ever seen. A solid opener on
most nights, "Birds" had some really tight, and impressive jamming to begin
the show, enticing the already loud crowd to get even louder. But once the
band began "Destiny Unbound", all hell broke loose. It is important to note
that most of the crowd didn't recognize the song at first, myself included,
but since the song hasn't been played since November 1991, I can excuse my
own ignorance. The song led into a very upbeat jam, and when all was said
and done, this "Destiny" was twice as long as any other version in the
band's history, and more than three times as good. The band and crowd both
took a break by way of a perfectly placed "Horn", which was followed by an
extremely experimental "Bathtub Gin". Now, I've seen a couple of quality
"Gins" in my day, most recently the PNC 2000 version, however every one I've
seen pales in comparison to Nassau's version. Clocking in at just over 21
minutes, this "Gin" is a pretty standard version for the first seven minutes
and thirty-five seconds, but at seven minutes and thirty-six seconds, the
song takes a sharp left turn by way of Page's keys. The rest of the band
picked up on the change, and off they went, spending the remainder of the
song doing nothing but exploring the outer reaches of the song's capability.
In fact, at eleven minutes and forty seconds, when Trey takes the lead, the
song takes yet another turn into distinct Trey Anastasio Band territory, as
Trey's rhythm playing danced along the fretboard, as Gordon and Fishman
settled into a driving rhythm. By the time the song was done, the band has
exhausted every possibility and every nuance of the jam, creating one of the
most successful jams in recent memory. Of course, nobody had any idea that
two songs later, a twelve minute "Back on the Train" would nearly equal the
"Bathtub Gin" jam, coming close with its raging climaxes and guitar heroics.
Not to be outdone by themselves, the band closed the set with "Walls of the
Cave", and while not being as strong as "Destiny", "Gin" or "Train", was a
stellar jam in its own right, ending the set on an extremely high note.
As I was contemplating the enormity of the first set, I found myself walking
around the venue and the next thing I knew, I was alone and in the fifth
row, just in front of Page, where I stayed until the lights went off.
Having come out of an incredible first set, I had my fingers crossed that
the band wouldn't let us down with a sub par second set. I had no idea.
"Tweezer" opened the set, and while not my favorite second set opener, it
managed to exceed all my preconceived notions about the song. Moving from
section to section, there are no less than three separate "jams" in the
song, and no less than two separate teases; "Possum" and "2001". In fact,
there was a brief period of time where the band, notably Gordon, was fully
in "Possum" before it was tossed aside in favor of more jamming. The band
just kept pushing and pushing each other, never letting the jam come to an
end prematurely, the way some recent jams had. Eventually, the song came
down to near nothingness, before Trey began strumming the reggae intro to
"Soul Shakedown Party", thrilling the crowd. An often requesting song that
almost never gets played, "Soul Shakedown" is one of the best covers the
band never plays, and the crowd let the band know they were pleased. "David
Bowie" followed, and was peppered with rock riffs throughout as both Trey
and Fishman played as if this was a Led Zeppelin song. The "Round Room"
that followed was also strong, easily surpassing the Hampton version, and
was followed by yet another "Harry Hood". Played several times this tour,
"Hood" has been infused with an energy and exuberance the song hasn't felt
since '95. Each and every version this tour was great, and this one was no
different, completing an incredible show from start to finish, top to
bottom, nuts to bolts.
Playing an encore after a show like this is without question a difficult
task. Pleasing everyone after that show would be a near-impossible task,
however, tonight the band found a way. "Contact", "Mexican Cousin" and
"Tweprise" closed the door on a legendary show. Easily the best show of the
tour, Nassau was yet another example of the power of Phish when everything
clicks on all cylinders. Even at this advanced stage of their career, the
band is capable of playing a show, and multiple shows, on the level of their
younger years. It would be easy for someone who wasnt there to try to
dismiss this show by saying, "Destiny Unbound doesn't make a show epic."
And indeed it does not. This show was about so much more than "Destiny" and
"Soul Shakedown". It was huge. It was a monster. It was everything you
could possibly realistically ask for. In the big scheme of things, I'm
pretty sure this show will go down in the upper echelon of Phish shows,
however its exact placement among greats such as 2/20/93, 12/31/95 and
4/3/98 is up for debate. But, oh boy, what a debate it's going to be.