Phish, KeySpan Park, Brooklyn, NY- 6/18
NYC ROLL-TOP: A Pitchers’ Game
Coney Island's KeySpan Park may be the best venue Phish has played in recent years. It is cooled by the sea breeze, is intimate without being exclusive, has genuine character to it despite being built within the past decade (cool ads on the outfield walls), has views of the parachute drop, the Wonderwheel, and other attractions, and is ringed with giant neon circles affixed to the light towers that, as a friend said, looked like they could become airborne if the band were to get far enough inside of "Harry Hood." Even to New Yorkers, there is a rarified air to Coney Island, and it certainly carried through the experience of Phish's second show at KeySpan Park. Heads rode the above-ground subway like a monorail on safari through deepest Brooklyn. We wondered which of the major turn-of-the-century amusement parks was buried beneath the stadium and listened for the quiet rush of the ocean in the distance.
The band emerged from the leftfield bullpen, crossing the perfect green turf surrounded by a film crew, as fans ran towards the barricades like Beatlemaniacs at Shea Stadium. With first night pressures out of the way, for both band and fans (not to mention the sheer logistical nightmare of having a movie crew around) and clear skies, there was a laid back vibe to the evening. The former sat in the bleachers, real and metaphoric, feet up, and watched the show build slowly. The latter stood on the stage around second base and played languidly. It was a classic pitchers' game, the ball staying out of play for much of the night, despite a few uncapitalized lobs.
There weren't many notable gaffes during the hour-long first set, though few of the songs – even the "Stash" – ever really got going either. But, the band was together, and that was enough. "Cars, Trucks, Buses" was crisp, with Trey Anastasio offering his always keen complementary guitar chording behind Page McConnell's piano solo. But most readings were perfunctory. During "Tweezer," McConnell and Anastasio syncopated around each other atop a sparse groove from drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon. The band built to an almost-breakneck speed as the jam got going, moving through an uptempo blues-metal groove before Anastasio abruptly signaled the number to a close.
After a quick "Wilson" opener, the band jumped into a "Down With Disease" that never entirely broke loose from its moorings, though kept the energy high throughout. Anastasio pushed at his solo, mutating his phrasing, and waiting for it to somehow take hold with the rest of the band. It did, briefly, as Fishman tried to change the tempo with an overriding crash pattern, though the song tied to a close before they could do much with it. The set's centerpieces – first the talking point of the show (so to speak), and finally the evening's best improvisations – came next.
Jay-Z's appearance with Phish was too much fun to be boggling. Though there are no obvious connections between the hippie quartet and the hip-hop megastar, fans could puzzle over the fact that Jay-Z was breaking his own recent self-avowed retirement to play with Phish. Though abated by percussionist Cyro Baptista, the band had trouble finding a distinct groove on "99 Problems" (and it woulda been a lot classier if they'd played Danger Mouse's Grey Album arrangement). Miraculously, the band found a natural groove during "Big Pimpin’" and managed to invest the song with a distinctly demented Phish-like feel that could have twisted, with a little wrenching, into "Scent of a Mule."
"Chalkdust Torture" was easily the show's centerpiece, and certainly some Phish music worth studying again. It took a long cycle of "Chalkdust" soloing before the band broke free of the rhythm, sailing it easily into a long ambient jam. Leading the band back into an amorphously slinking groove, Fishman implied more than he played with his tight cymbal patterns. The band plateaued, and Anastasio went into solo mode, before the song uneasily wound back into a high-speed chorus. During "Harry Hood," Anastasio pushed against the song's rhythms, holding sustained peels and swells. And, before the jam disappointingly derailed abruptly and stopped before the final vocals, "Hood" proved deeply exploratory (though the giant neon glowrings remained stationary). "Taste," too, found itself outside its normal rhythmic zone.
The Phishheads filed out to the midway, crowding around Nathan's for post-show hot dogs and fried seafood. Five blocks away, as barkers barked at people to Shoot the Freak and ride the bumper cars, one wouldn't have known that Phish had played at all. From the top of the Wonderwheel, rising above carneys' RVs and cotton candy stands, the distended profile of The Cyclone looming behind, the empty black of the Atlantic Ocean off to the left, and looking at an emptying KeySpan Park a half-mile off, one wouldn't even know.