As Phish took the stage amidst a rainstorm for their last set at Jones Beach, one could sense something big was coming- and it came. Leave it to the nasty weather to bring out the best set of this tour, as the band finished their three-show run on Friday night amidst a steady downpour. Stringing together a series of truly improvisational pieces for the first time this tour, Phish crushed their last set on Long Island.
As the band started with “Disease,” one of their favorite jam vehicles, that sense of some impending improv was confirmed as they tore apart the composed jam and briefly moved beyond it into a murky and patient segue into “Twist.” It was great to see the band take their time and execute a successful transition after the last few shows that featured some less-than-graceful segues. The “Twist” featured a smoking and ironic, full-fledged “Oye Como Va” jam. After years of teasing Santana’s licks in a jam that whose beginning suggests “Oye Como Va” to begin with, it was a treat to see the band undertake the jam within “Twist.” (“Oye Como Va” jams appeared in various songs in the early ’90s.)
Using the often paired “Twist” and “Piper,” Phish continued the highlight-strewn set with a jam that evoked memories of the song’s post-hiatus adventures in 2003. Like years past, “Piper” was the springboard for some break-neck improv that saw Trey chopping up rhythm licks amidst a furious groove. Featuring the most “type-II” improv the night, “Piper” took a path outwards, but was cut at a point where it seemed to be reaching its deepest. Nonetheless, as “Piper” ended, the band broke into the tour’s first version of “Backwards Down the Number Line.” Extending past Hampton’s debut, and reworked with a new verse, the feel-good song was good to hear again after its symbolic entrance into the Phish world back in march. A short, but raging “Free” followed, fitting in well with the inclement weather and bombastic set.
The band debuted another likely track from their forthcoming album late in the second set- “Twenty Years Later.” A song whose chorus sounds like a sort of Phish-indie rock, also featured a dark groove that evoked a definite feel of “I Saw It Again.” With another promising addition to the Phish catalog, this album is shaping up to be quite a disc.
The most-vibrant highlight of night came last when the band capped the night with the sublime combination of “2001 > Slave.” Busting into a all-out dance party in the rainstorm, Phish and nature once again came to a beautiful confluence as the thick space-funk merged with the elements perfectly. As the band peaked the tour’s first “2001,” it was anyone’s guess what was coming next, but in the several possibilities that flew threw my mind in the few seconds, never did I consider “Slave”- the greatest possible choice. As the rain beat down, Phish built a massively triumphant jam that seemed to peak continuously as the ideal end to an amazing night. This was a truly beautiful rendition coupled with a one-of-a-kind experience, and the one-two combination will certainly make the end of tour highlight mix.
This set came across so well, and with virtually no pauses between, one wonders whether they wrote the setlist beforehand. Divergent from the long pauses of recent sets, the band seemed armed and ready to go with each subsequent jam. There is definitely no problem with writing setlists- that is how Phish made their name- it had just seemed like they had thrown the idea out the window. But in the end- who knows? The bottom line is that this set was the most exciting of tour and should be a springboard into New England on Saturday night.
1st set note: After a well-played, but jam-less, first set, Phish closed the frame with a raunchy “Split” that was both abstract and terrorizing. A jam that was so out-there that is was almost hard to digest live, Phish created a monster to cap the first half. Check this one out, as it will be filed alongside the other early-Summer ’09 highlights. Travel safely up to Mansfield today and get ready for a show that looks to build off of the first four- and possibly bring another big “Tweezer.”
I: Wilson, Buried Alive, Kill Devil Falls, AC/DC Bag, I Didn’t Know, My Friend My Friend, Ya Mar, Theme From The Bottom, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Split Open and Melt
II: Down With Disease > Twist, Piper > Backwards Down the Number Line, Free, Twenty Years Later, 2001 > Slave To The Traffic Light
E: A Day in the LifeTags: 2009, Summer '09