As the Cincinnati weekend came to a close, fans dispersed back across the country with plenty of tales to tell. With only three shows before Nassau, the date that everyone had circled on their calendars when this tour was announced, Phish’s winter momentum was snowballing. Two nights after a hot show in Worcester, Phish returned to the scared stomping grounds of Nassau Coliseum- the site of half of The Island Run and, more significantly, the divine events of 4.3.98. Having stopped there only two other times in 1999, for a pair of wholly underrated shows, the communal anticipation of something huge in Nassau was building. And huge would turn out to be an understatement.
The first set shone with the band’s second consecutive top-shelf “Gin”- the first since Cincy’s standout escapade- and the eternally sought after oldie, “Destiny Unbound,” played for the first time in 791 shows (11.15.91). The overwhelming excitement following this set filled the arena, and had it buzzing like a hornet’s nest during the break. Yet when people eventually left the Coliseum on this last night of February, their memories would hardly be focused on the first set.
Having only dropped one “Tweezer” thus far on tour- a monster version in Chicago- Phish was due to break out one of their most popular jam vehicles. As fans assumed their places for what was obviously going to be massive set, the opening lick of the song bled from Trey’s Languedoc. Boom! Just like that, we were amidst a set-opening “Tweezer” that was most certainly heading to great places. Where- we didn’t know- but there was an overwhelming aura of greatness that surrounded the composed section of the song.
As we prepared ourselves to enter the Freezer, Phish built up the maniacal, noisy peak before we collectively took the plunge. As the final phrasing of the melody oozed into the jam, the feeling of potential was limitless. Jumping right into some lead melodies, Trey joined the band’s directional groove right off the bat. Moving briskly, Phish pumped through some quintessential “Tweezer” textures before beginning to build the improv outwards.
In a break that left the drums and bass both prominent and reverberating, the music took a distinct turn into the second part of the jam. Feeling the way he wanted the music to move, Trey hopped into the fray with some authoritative leads. The totality of the jam possessed a laid back vibe as Page tickled the Rhodes in the background and Mike bounced some relaxed patterns. Trey took front and center, guiding this section of the improv with some quality licks that charted the band’s course.
Soon the music became far quieter, with each member taking their sound down a notch, as Mike and Fish’s mellow, yet popping, groove kept things on track. It was this moment that set the course for the most triumphant musical passage of the entire winter tour. With one chord, atop this minimal groove, Trey revved his psychedelic lawnmower, creating a distorted sound that seemed to vibrate and echo like a bizarre elastic band. The band responded to each guitar chord by slightly shifting their ideas, filling in the space by complementing Trey’s sound. It was at this point that Trey used an incredibly unique effect and played a series of chords that belonged in a post-modern collage, entering the band into yet a third section of this “Tweezer.”
From this point, the band’s musical ideas fused together as they began to move as one entity. Mike and Page were straight killing it here, as Trey conceived his next move. What came next out of his guitar would be a spring of gorgeous, spontaneous melodies that give me the shivers to this day. This was one of those spectacularly surreal moments that only occur at Phish shows. The entire band understood what needed to happen and wrapped their groove around Trey’s confessional, creating some of the most sublime music of the year.
As Trey moved right from these awing melodies into a pattern of distorted chords in which he would echo himself, the band truly hit their stride. This was the bliss we chased across the country. This was IT; this was what we believed in. This was the reason for it all. The crowd was engulfed by the cosmos, as the universe’s energy, channeled through our four superheroes, rained down upon us. Trey moved on to some spectacular and divergent playing in which he threw a beautifully dissonant musical boomerang around the venue; each time he caught it, throwing it higher into the rafters. This section developed into one of the classic passages of music in the band’s history, as its unique playing and spiritual feeling was a revelation to the entire Phish world.
As this section of other-worldly music wound down, one had to presume that the band would wrap up the “Tweezer.” But it took them less than a minute to transition into a completely different jam all together! In some far more grounded improv, Phish entered faster, more straight ahead playing that seemed like it had come from a totally different song altogether, perhaps a “Piper.” The band would gradually meander their way to some bluesy rock and roll, eventually morphing into a scorching jam around Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?” Bringing the song to a second, and completely different type of peak, the band chugged forward, knowing what they were in the midst of creating.
Rarely do Phish songs get two distinct jams, but this Nassau “Tweezer” was an anomaly, boasting three completely different pieces of connected improv. The central jam was so psychedelic and stratospheric that the band decided to slide people back to earth with another ten minutes of improv. Eventually- a half-hour after it started- this “Tweezer” turned into heavily muddied sound effects without a beat, signaling not only the end of the jam, but the oncoming drop of another song, as they sustained these effects for well over two minutes.
Out of the depths came some delicate reggae chords from Trey. What was at first disorienting turned celebratory as the band glided aboard for the second-ever “Soul Shakedown Party” (2.17.97). Phish clearly recognized how special the evening had become, and gave the nod by dropping the Marley cover out of the deepest part of the show. As we all know, the band moved right into a hugely sinister “Bowie” out of this reggae interlude, but that is a separate article for a separate day.
The Nassau “Tweezer,” in my humble opinion, stands as the greatest relic from Winter 2003; and can hold its weight in any “all-time” conversation. A definitive piece of music of the post-hiatus era, this jam sits right at the top of any 2003 compilation. Signifying their emerging musical direction that would be furthered come summer tour, this “Tweezer” was a masterpiece. Phish had made quite the return to the hallowed grounds of Nassau, and with one show left in their comeback run, things looked as promising as ever.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Here is a highlight from the much-maligned tour of Fall 2000. While Phish may have been losing steam, they still had what it took to pop out legitimate shows- this being one of them. The second set opened with a fabulous funk turned ambient excursion of “Cities” which wound its dark path into “Free.” This show also saw the welcomed return of Velvet Underground’s “Cool It Down” for the first time since Halloween ’98, as one of seven covers played this night.
I: Mellow Mood, Chalk Dust Torture, Back at the Chicken Shack, Sparkle, The Sloth, The Divided Sky, Roggae, First Tube, Punch You in the Eye, Sample in a Jar
II: Cities* > Free, Ya Mar, Carini, Lawn Boy, HYHU > Love You > HYHU, Cool It Down, David Bowie
*w/ ambient jam with Trey on keyboards.
Source : Schoeps m222/mk41 > nt222 > AD-1000 (Ken Rossiter)