Phish continued their assault on New York City Thursday night with a second set onslaught that combined experimental improv and arena-sized dance grooves, leaving the audience in a blithering state of joy. With an organically evolving setlist that simply never stopped for air, the band blasted through an incredibly cohesive set of full-on music. Clearly comfortable at The Garden, Phish again showcased their recently-emerging confidence with another signature set of action packed adventure.
Exploring an extensive segment of full-throttle jamming in “Disease > Piper,” the band kicked off the second by combining two of their consistently strongest jams of the year. Soaring into a defining version of their ’09 anthem, “Disease,” Trey shone as the Phish initiated the cosmic rite with creative type-I playing. Merging into twisted rhythmic Phish grooves, soon Trey was slicing, dicing, and enticing in Walt Frazier’s house with powerful leads and acrobatic interplay with the rest of the band. Turning the excursion into a nasty realm of sensory-overload, the band, at once, dropped into half-time, organically leading them into an ambient journey that dwarfed any of the standard digressions tacked onto so many songs this year. Instead of a plethora of overlaid effects, this piece featured real-deal melodic interplay between Trey and Mike, weaving a delicate canvas of beauty. After collectively navigating the most enchanting passage of the evening, the band blended into a spacescape that elegantly transported “Disease” into “Piper.”
Taking their second straight jam into orbit, “Piper” reached some of its most out-there territory of the year – and 2009 has been quite a year for the song. Transforming their aggressive tempo into percussive playing, and then into crushing, collaborative mayhem; this represents some of the most on-point and full-on jamming we’ve heard thus far. Gordon – once again – killed this improvisational venture with completely original playing, again slipping into his tasty envelope-filtered notes that have guided so many recent jams. Collectively raging throughout the entire piece, the band took a one musical breath and drifted directly into “Fluffhead.”
Despite a couple speed bumps in the composition, Phish absolutely imploded the world-famous arena with a scintillating peak to this centerpiece “Fluffhead.” Continuing their set-opening segment of ’09 hits, Phish dropped a mid-set “Fluff” because right now, that’s what they do; and it worked perfectly. With a guitar solo that will go down in the annals of Madison Square Garden history, Trey brought the arena to the highest peak of the two nights thus far, punctuating the set-opening sequence with a indelible moment of new-school Phish lore.
Without the thought of a lull, the exploratory frame turned into a straight-up dance party for most all of the duration. Combining succinct, slamming versions of “Cities,” “Free,” “Halley’s” and “2001,” The Garden morphed into a multi-tiered dance club as Phish let the grooves flow for nearly half an hour straight. Highlighted by “Cities” liquid textures, this run of songs kept the energy sky-high, though it might have been nice to see one of the pieces extended. Blending from the peak of “2001” into the intro to “Bowie,” Phish had artistically crafted a relentless set of music. Taking the audience on a final roller-coaster ride, the band narrated a tight tale, channeling the mid-set energy into a intricate exclamation point on a set nobody will soon forget.
With another fire-laced frame of music, containing some truly engaging improv, Phish built the second block of their big city showcase. Concluding a night that carried an intense arena vibe with a fitting “Character Zero” encore, the band left the audience wanting more, and that’s what they do best. But Friday night – the culmination of both Phish’s east coast blowout – is nearly upon us, and further adventure is, thankfully, mere hours away. Feeling comfortable to drop twenty minute jams again, Phish’s indoor bravado has returned over the past week, and the last two nights of tour are sure to hold some gems. Stay tuned.
Set 1 Notes: This first set immediately evoked memories of 12.31.95 with its “Punch” opener, and hinted at the show’s epic first once again with “Axilla.” Highlighted by a brilliantly menacing “Stash,” the well-executed first set again focused on songs rather than improv. Even the “Time Turns Elastic” didn’t seem to drag, and that says quite a bit. A ripping “Julius” brought the frame to a close with an MSG-sized dose of blues rock and roll.
I: Punch You In the Eye, Backwards Down the Number Line, Axilla, Taste, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stash, Lawn Boy, Time Turns Elastic, Back on the Train, Julius
II: Down with Disease > Piper > Fluffhead, Cities > Free, Halley’s Comet, 2001 > David Bowie
E: Character ZeroTags: 2009, Fall '09