Phish stepped into the second half of fall tour with a strong two-set outing at The Knick that was highlighted by a sparkling new cover and an classic jam. Bouncing back from a slight dip of Philly’s second night, the band brought their polished playing and a bit of exploration in what came together as a great show with a particularly exciting second set.
As this era of Phish evolves, it seems that first sets will be reserved exclusively for songs, and the second half is where any real improvisation will happen. And as the band’s playing is sharp right now, setlists and song choice become far more essential to the first half dynamic. Usually kicking down one or two structured jams within the first half, last night they played four. Featuring an early “Maze” and the late run of “Timber,” “Limb, and “Light,” all of these tightly wound pieces of contained jamming were highlighted by ripping guitar work by Trey. The most engaging piece sprouted once the set seemed over as the band launched from “Cavern” into the first-ever stand-alone “Light.” Building an ambient soundscape out of the guitar-led section, Fishman began to hit a beat behind the psychedelic madness that suggested something far deeper. But before we knew it, the band took their instruments off in bizarre ending to the set.
Sprinkling the initial frame with the first appearances of multiple songs this tour, including “Driver,” “Gumbo,” and “Two Versions of Me,” this added up to more than the average first set, but when the band opened second set with the foreboding suite of “My Friend. My Friend” they announced their presence of authority in a more serious fashion. Almost always precluding a large jam vehicle when opening a set, this time no one could have predicted what lied around the corner. Breaking out a new triumphant epic fusing uplifting playing and a driving groove in hybrid Phish jam that nobody had ever heard of before, the song and jam remained a mystery for the entire set. Only later was I informed that it wasn’t a Phish original, but a cover of the indie-electro act, TV On the Radio – noone I had ever heard of before. When I downloaded the original “Golden Age,” I discovered that Phish had created a huge new jam from the least likely of places, an pop-tronica track. Completely Phishifying the original, the band absolutely annihilated a brand new shining piece of improv that immediately stood out as one of the best jams of tour. I’ve got to imagine Trey picked this one out of the crowd and brought it to the band to practice and practice and practice, because when they unveiled the piece, it translated brilliantly. Both lyrically appropriate and acrobatic, the band chose a winner to add to their repertoire, and its debut absolutely blew up.
Following the explosive dance-cover, the band dropped into their the old-school rare and rare cover, “On Your Way Down.” The psychedelic blues-rock exercise provided an ideal interlude before launching into a centerpiece “Fluffhead” that carried plenty of steam and didn’t slow the set down at all. A bombastic guitar peak set the table for the second central jam from the set – “Piper.” Taking the piece to both inspiring and experimental places, the band crushed the jam in its most exciting version of tour. Bending notes around each other in a high-speed musical chase, Gordon used his envelope filter to drop a pattern of bass bombs that masterfully integrated with the band’s sonic fabric. Slowing into a spacier segment, the band morphed into a soft groove that slowly developed into the debut of Fishman’s Undermind’s composition “Tomorrow’s Song.” One of those pieces that I figured the band had already forgotten about emerged from the depths of the most exploratory jam of the evening. A pillowcase for the ears, the piece provided a creative and groovy musical landing point, as well as a breath of fresh air into the set.
The non-stop second half continued with “Prince Caspian” and peaked with a gorgeous rendition of “Harry Hood.” A classic take one of band’s oldest pieces, the impeccable jam soared with a certain regal quality that has characterized almost all “Hoods” from this year. Trey and Page painted the top, while Fish and Mike held down the bottom, symbiotically. This smashing incarnation climaxed the set, led forward by Trey’s sublime leads, before the band slid into the evening’s denouement of “Suzy,” “Coil.” Stringing together some classic songs to end an exciting frame of Phish, capped by the silly “Ive Been Around.” An all-around engaging show – and particularly hot second set – set the table for a large Saturday night at Albany’s Phishy downtown arena. See you there!
I: AC/DC Bag, Maze, Driver, My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own, Gumbo, Bouncing Around the Room, It’s Ice, Two Versions of Me, Timber, Limb By Limb, Cavern, Light
II: My Friend, My Friend > Golden Age*, On Your Way Down, Fluffhead, Piper > Tomorrow’s Song*, Prince Caspian, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg, The Squirming Coil, I’ve Been Around