Phish, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, NY – 7/3-4
A more traditional first set took shape with a hopping, straight forward “Kill Devil Falls” followed by “Bittersweet Motel” and “Moma Dance.” The latter tune was particularly good, with a great moment early on when Mike stretched out a line, popping notes and setting the band up to sizzle into the subaquatic funk. Also appealing was the fact that “Moma” was paired with “Gumbo,” a unit that worked well together. Next “David Bowie” made a welcome first set showing, Mike and Trey working out a distinct idea at the start of the jam so that the interaction continued as the music wandered and grew. Not a long version, once the song hit its stride, it was all about power.
A heavy, hazy, red moon rose above the horizon clouds to the east during “Alaska,” a tune often and accurately compared to “Tennessee Jed”: goofy, not a favorite, but often played well, rocked out nonetheless. This one was pretty hot and followed by Mike’s “Suskind Hotel,” another quirky number, but a popular one in MGB and GRAB, where the song was debuted. After a few minutes cutting through lyrics and segments, it slipped into a very “Bowie” sounding jam colored by yellows and whites, yellows and pinks. An excellent choice for the mid-set stretch. The set closed with Fish taking center stage for a wacky, tuck filled “Purple Rain”—he was wearing official Fishman underwear so that his tucking matched perfectly this time around, or his flashing really, which is what happened repeatedly as he raced around the stage after singing the Prince cover. “Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, Trey Anastasio, and I am Friar Tuck!” In an odd but expected juxtaposition (the song had to be included somewhere), the quartet sang “Star Spangled Banner” before leaving the stage.
When they returned about a half hour later, they launched into “Boogie On”, all Clav and crushing bass until Trey started to thread in a lead. It hinted at going someplace new but closed instead, making way for “Tweezer.” Earlier in the day I overheard someone in the lot talking about two “Tweezers” in four show shows earlier in the tour, saying, “Enough with the ‘Tweezer’.” Some people’s perspectives are so deeply flawed and off base… This version of the jam vehicle started off with huge pounding drums and a looming, spacey quality. As the band exited the song proper, Trey unleashed a wash of notes that eventually gave way to bass faze shifting wildness that looked toward the majestic heights. The excellent passage was brief, however, dropping to drums and moving slickly into “Twist”. Yet another perfect pairing, the song maintained the vibe established in “Tweezer” with a cool drifting down deconstruction that quickly turned beautiful over dark bass—a wonderful exploration wandering about in low places and rising up to a clearing to unveil “Taste.” The tune was nearly anthemic with Trey’s super-bright playing, although it was a little off kilter at the end. A rocking “Quinn” with Page racing over low-thumping Mike, and “Julius” filled the center of the set before the group jumped into a burning rendition of “Rock and Roll”. Rather than just shredding, like at Holmdel last summer, Trey led the way to a two beat figure, trying to go funky. The heat was just too much though and swallowed up the maneuver. Later when the song branched out into Clav space, Fish was still playing with speed, and the music took its time melting into more “No Quarter” sounds and rounding into “Horse” > “Silent in the Morning.”
A gorgeous “Harry Hood” trailed through empty small town streets until Trey held out one long note and focused the music on the horizon. It could have been the end of the set, but slid into a welcome and wonderful “Shine a Light” instead. Again the show seemed at its close, but the band set into “Show of Life”, putting back to back a pair of common encores. And then refusing to stop, Phish began “Slave,” the last in a string of excellent versions this summer. During the opening passages the full moon was high above the stage, tucked in behind a thick cloudbank, so only a strange patch of deep yellow was showing, but as the song moved toward its climax, the clouds fell away and the orb glowed along with the music. Pointing fingers and loud cheers followed. Sometimes even Kuroda can use a hand. With a tuck-laden “Sleeping Monkey” and frenetic “Tweezer Reprise” for an encore, a pair of fantastic shows came to an end, shows with interesting first sets full of rarities and second sets full of oozing spaciness and soaring peaks.