Phish, Nassau, Uniondale, NY- 11/28
A wet, wet day became an even wetter night, making for an ugly lot scene on Long Island, with broken glass, shiny puddles and soggy burritos. Inside, however, Phish began the 20th Anniversary Tour with the eminently appropriate pairing of Bouncing and Runaway Jim- warm thoughts of early shows. Both version were short and tight, Jim never leaving the composed jam, but the crowd ate it up as Trey wailed along with Page's banging complements.
The first half of the first of three couplets in the first set, an upbeat Ghost catapulted the band and the gathered masses into the thick of the night. Trey slipped super bad fills into the composition and carried his little shuffle dance into a kinetic jam. A nice theme quickly developed, creating tall walls down a winding corridor. Power chords and lashing guitar brought the movement to an end, as the music opened into a vast hall. Trey established a new theme, a simple rhythm structure that fit the mood just right. The energy slowly seeped out from the edges, leaving a buzzy spot from which grew What's the Use. Increasingly intimidating in its dramatic weight and pathos, the instrumental peaked with a glorious yellow note- a crushing climax made for fans of 98's space grooves.
The energy surged again with ACDC Bag. As the verses ended, the instrumentation chunked down and it was obvious that the music would take off. An extended set of ridge runs made the meat of the jam and gave way to audience-thrilling chaos. As the madness began to hum and fade, the band began First Tube. As with Ghost > What's the Use, the instrumental seemed to manifest from the vibe of the preceding jam- the mood suddenly composed and refined. Late in the song, rowdy, layered guitar was trumped by really nice piano making its way up a long climb. Much of the night's jamming was dominated by interactions between Page and Trey.
A pleasant, melancholy Frankie Says offered a brief bit of breath before the set's final pair, Bathtub Gin > Free. The former started with a serious eighty-eight mash, bobbed and swayed through the composition, and soared early. Eventually Page rose up with layered organ and piano, only to be overwhelmed by more heavy guitar from Trey that eased and slipped into a truly liberating Free. Mid-song, Trey grabbed onto Mike's liquid fills, dragging them low into an incendiary thematic groove that finally blistered and lurched back to the song- a fine closing to a nicely textured set.
Waves, which opened set two, began with a long, groping intro. This song, which seems to have excellence infused into its very structure, continues to grow in all directions. Wonderful piano cascades decorated the mid-flow surge, followed by imaginative, lively drums and a long wail from Trey. The song wound down and burst into Sample, which in turn melted and bubbled into Down with Disease. The band entered the jam at a gallop and spurred the charger on through greenpurplered washed with a big organ flare. The movement peaked and grooved out with the addition of Clav and rolling big drums. The ensuing breakdown was long and distinctly reminiscent of Manteca, bottoming out with booty quaking Mike and another jamlet that eventually hit a slick drop stop. Again, 1998?
Walls of the Cave had some quietish guitar work early on, not quite snapping, but took off at the end with waves of guitar and a mix of organ and piano. A long conference preceded the surprise highlight of the night, Two Versions of Me. The improv here came together like clockwork, a perfect Phish moment with everything hitting just right as the music glowed beyond its identity, a misty blue-purple to end. Another long conference preceded the debut of Crowd Control, a ditty with a touch of Heavy Things, a touch of Spread It Round, and a touch of the mod-rock section of Walls. It was marked by the chorus, "The time has come for changes / Do something, or I will."
Trey said they would play an old song next, by the bass player. "It's called His Song," and in seconds red, yellow and orange cast across the undulating floor of the arena, coloring the swollen organ riffs and heavy vibe. Phish stormed the mountain, swarming around it, and charging straight at its heart- a short, powerful Mike's Song. In contrast, the Weekapaug Groove went chunky fast, and developed into a nice movement- not crazy, as many of the night's offerings were, but pretty; or almost pretty anyway. The sounds dropped, red and nasty for a moment, and resurfaced in slap bass, rhythm guitar and piano- a nice finish to a second strong set.
The final surprise of the night was the addition of the long estranged Dude of Life for what was actually a very cool Crimes of the Mind. A real treat for the younger fans and a flashback for those who've been lingering around the scene for some time, the Dude strutted the stage and congratulated Phish on its twenty years. The quartet responded by rocking out on his tune- a nice moment with Trey running up scales and Page running down. If this is the way they celebrate two decades, it just may be that the best is yet to come.