Phish, KeySpan Park, Brooklyn, NY- 6/17
FROM THE TOURING DESK: Setting Sail
315 Seigel Street
There are many metaphors for Phish at the onset of this weird, final stage of the game. Trey Anastasio, for one, returned to the image of a boat – a big boat, much too hard for them to sail – in his talk with Charlie Rose. So, a boat it is, and Phish is off to sea once more. But what kind of voyage will this be? A glorious Viking funeral filled with flames? The Ernest Shackleton expedition to the South Pole, trapped and crushed in ice? A ghost ship setting itself to the horizon? A plastic tugboat in a draining tub? An invocation, then:
I hit a whale
and my ship sank
I left this place
because I hated sailing
- Tom Marshall
In Coney Island's KeySpan Park, Phish might have found (too late) a perfect venue: easy to get to by public transportation, a creepily beautiful and fun backdrop to explore before and after the shows, and a local infrastructure perfectly well prepared to deal with a massive influx of hippies. The stadium itself, belonging to a minor league club in the Mets' organization, is intimate by latter-day Phish standards, around 12,000 capacity. Though the show was ostensibly sold out, there was more than enough room on the floor, and fairly easy to get to a good spot, if one put his mind to it. (I'm not sure what it was like in the stands, but I suppose I'll find out tomorrow.)
The stage was set up just above second base, the band's backs to the ocean, Coney Island's iconic parachute drop perching over the right field wall. Fans clanged on the protective fiberglass covering over the infield. The band's entrance was no more dramatic than one might expect — which is to say, it sounded an awful lot like a rock concert and lots of people cheered. Trey Anastasio casually led the band into "A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing," a primo psychedelic tune from the band's just-released Undermind. The missing link between "Free" and "Theme From The Bottom," it is sad to think that this number may never get its full due. The jam was brief but inquisitive. Hopefully, the band will use it as a second set springboard before too long, maybe even in Saratoga this weekend. No point in putting it off, really.
The first post-Hiatus "Dinner and a Movie" – a nod to those viewing what surely must have been a bitchin' simulcast in theaters across the country – set the tone for the band's execution of their older material: it was wonderfully reasonable. The performances of the trickier sections of "The Curtain With," "Maze," "Oh Kee Pah Ceremony," and others weren't completely crisp, but they were very close. There were a few stumbles here and there – such as a minor rhythmic collision just before the second verse of "Dinner and a Movie" – but they didn't derail the band in the slightest, and they recovered gracefully.
"The Curtain With" jam – a swaying watery improvisation – built on "A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing" in developing a mood for the night. Somewhere during "The Moma Dance," the mood was solidified as the band moved from the song's basic funk into a much darker groove. Somewhere, the rains came. Page McConnell's clavinet wove in and out of Anastasio's stuttering Leslie noise, and the funk was gone altogether. Gradually, the band fell into a sharp, unified pulse. They lingered on it for a long moment, trying to decide if they should push it, before it disintegrated into the introduction to "Free." During "Maze," bandmembers engaged in small bursts of syncopation – McConnell and Gordon hooking up for two bars, Anastasio darting around them, Jon Fishman accelerating the tempo slightly – as the rain raged.
Phish not only found ways to engage in each song but performed with some unifying sensibility. It was deeply satisfying, and just plain nice to see Phish tonight. Even when things didn't exactly flower, there was still an excitement to the playing. The second set-opening "46 Days," for example, stayed fairly predictably up-tempo, though still had the band exploring several distinct melodic scenes before settling easily into a politely executed "Possum." "Oh Kee Pah Ceremony" next-beated into "Suzy Greenburg" (like it was born to do) and "Suzy" featured a false-ending that turned into the most breathtaking jam of the evening: a high-speed improvised burn going too fast for second thoughts. Good shit.
The treats continued as the band's performances remained of a consistently high caliber: "Also Sprach Zarathustra," "Birds of a Feather," and everything else were performed with just the right amount of jamming: no deep tangents, but no skimpin', either. One could not hope for a better start to the tour than this show. It was as if Phish fired the band that had performed in Las Vegas in April (which, in a sense, they did) and hired some hot-shit replacements for the final burst. A fantastic starting point. Phish is in control of the vessel.