With a second set fueled by adrenalized playing, a non-stop setlist, and an exploratory epic, Phish pieced together an explosive first night of their highly-anticipated Madison Square Garden run. Arriving in the Big Apple for the peak of their fall run, the band capitalized on their current momentum, kicking off their three-night run with a song-driven escapade. But in the highlight of the evening, the band let themselves go in a far-reaching exploration of “Light,” crafting one of the best – and most original sounding – pieces of improv of fall tour. Building on this run’s many standout versions of their newest jam vehicle, the band placed the song in the spotlight of the second set, taking the song on its most interstellar journey of its young life.
Centering “Light” for the second straight show, the band launched into the show’s unquestionable highlight, riding the exploratory piece into the stratosphere. The band soared through a multi-dimensional segment of improv, further realizing the song’s potential in a type-II odyssey took vast step beyond Cumberland County’s second-set excursion. Transforming the song’s ever-climbing ladder of soul candy into a more hard-edged experimentation of unique Phishy planes, the band crafted the type of open-ended exploration that keeps me wanting more.
Diving into a collective, free-form journey with some of the most engaging whole-band interplay of the fall, the band moved from abstract textures into a palette of original groove; and the spirit of exploration tasted in Albany resurfaced in droves throughout this gorgeous piece. Gordon slid into a section where he continued his tasteful, yet prominent, use of his envelope filter. Continually adding a new, directional feel to the band’s jamming, Gordon continues to push the envelope from the bottom end. As Page joined in with a heavily synthesized effect, the jam came to a final peak before dripping into “Slave,” forming the standout combo of the show. Molding a unique take of the majestic build, Phish used “Slave” as more than a landing point, but as a creative vehicle as well. Again placed as a centerpiece of a second set, the band showcased another strong version of the song in a year that has included many.
Just as “Slave” triumphantly crashed to an end, “Tweezer” growled open to christen Phish’s return to their New York home. At this point, I thought I’d be gathering my brains off the arena walls before leaving for the night, but the colossal MSG “Tweezer” that many of us anticipated didn’t exactly precipitate. Instead of a thick molasses groove-fest, Phish played a compact, dirty rager that sounded akin to a full-on mid-nineties version. Locked and connected, the band ripped through a particularly fast version of the song that featured some standout communication between all the members. Firing through an aggressive rendition of their classic springboard, the band has used “Tweezer” as a more contained jam since fall started, and this one followed suit before blending into “Joy.”
Playing it straight forward from here on out, the band featured a gorgeous rendition of “Harry Hood,” evoking memories of the many standout versions played in the building throughout Phish’s history. Adding a hefty dose of arena bombast with their popular ’09 combo, “Suzy,” “Antelope,” the band punctuated the first night of their New York stand with a series of fun, composed grooves. Setting up two nights of Madison Square Madness with a blistering second set on Wednesday night, Phish confidently stepped back to the bright lights of Broadway.
Set 1 Notes: Strong versions of “Chalkdust,” and “Wolfman’s” led the band out of the gates with a juxtaposition of styles before they stretched out a mid-set “Ocelot” in a far-more than average blues jam in the middle of the first set. The bust-out highlight of the night – and perhaps the tour – came with the dropping of Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia,” which the band played impeccably before dropping into a meticulous “Divided Sky.”
I: AC/DC Bag, Chalk Dust Torture, Wolfman’s Brother, NICU, Ocelot, Brian and Robert, Poor Heart, Sample in a Jar, Peaches en Regalia, The Divided Sky, Cavern
II: Golgi Apparatus, Light > Slave to the Traffic Light, Tweezer > Joy, Sparkle, Harry Hood, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Suzy Greenberg, Run Like an Antelope
E: A Day in the Life, Tweezer RepriseTags: 2009, Fall '09