After setting the table for a huge Sunday night closer at SPAC, Phish went the other way, playing a song-based show that contained barely any creativity. After an exciting opening frame with several summer bust-outs, one wasn’t wrong to think the band might come back with one of their most engaging frames of tour. But Phish pulled out of upstate New York after a choppy second set that contained their least engaging playing of tour. While maintaining their energy and tightness, Phish took no risks in a energetic show that was heavy on the setlist, but, at times in the second set, straight up boring.
Opening the weekend’s final stanza with “Carini,” the band seemed to be on the brink of launching into an evil exploration, only to pull up well short, wrapping up the jam at its deepest point for “Mango Song.” A pairing that worked like oil and water, the band aborted a psychedelic mission for some light summer music, and the pairing carried no cohesion whatsoever. And after “Mango Song,” the band sent a signal loud and clear with “Wilson,” that this set would be about fun songs and not about interesting improvisation.
The only significant jam in the entire show came in “Drowned,” a song that Phish has beaten to death since their comeback. Here we are in Summer 2010, and the big jams of the last two nights have been “Rock and Roll” and “Drowned.” Wasn’t that last year? Containing jams so similar in contour, why would Phish choose to feature “Drowned” to the exact same audience who watched them shred apart a much more impressive “Rock and Roll” the night before? As the band launched into “Saratoga Jam #2″ they entered hackneyed musical territory, revving up a set of generic percussive grooves that paled in comparison to several segments just like it over the past three nights. When Phish actually tried pushing themselves outside their comfort zone, the last few minutes of “Drowned” became magical; but magic would hardly be the theme of the night.
The band did moved gracefully from “Drowned” into “Swept > Steep,” playing the same composed jam that was debuted in Miami, before paying homage to the veritable police-state that overtook SPAC this weekend with “Makisupa.” Making lyrical references to the venue within the song, the band magnified the silly spirit of the set. Unfortunately, while the band was busy making jokes amidst uneventful reggae, precious time clicked off their show. When “Makisupa” ended, it was clear that set’s next segment would be its last, and I, for one, expected at least one interesting jam. But instead, Phish spun their greatest-hit singles of “Piper > 2001 > YEM,” all of which were extremely pedestrian versions. While “2001″ held up to its current, five-minute standard, and the versions of “Piper” and “YEM” were generic as they come. Maybe this glossy, jam-less set worked for the masses, but not for me. At times I found myself completely bored, wondering when they were gonna’ play “Ghost” again. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all, and with the family atmosphere for Father’s Day, the vibe was one of enjoyment, not of musical seriousness. Take it for what it is, I suppose.
The first set provided more earnest excitement than the second, as its outstanding playing seemed to foreshadow something huge. Bust outs of “Brother,” “Back on the Train,” “Undermind,” “Cities,” “Roggae,” and “Sleep Again” speckled the opening stanza with excitement. The highlights of these summer debuts came in the searing “Undermind” jam and the stunning rendition of “Roggae.” A standard “Antelope” capped the set, setting the plate for the big second half that never happened. In one other first set note, Trey invited long-time friend, TAB bassist, and local, Tony Markelis, to the stage to sit-in for “Jibboo,” a song he co-wrote. With Mike on rhythm guitar, this guest spot resulted as most do – decent. Unable to replicate their normal dynamic, the usually high peak of the song fell a bit flat.
All in all, SPAC’s conclusion didn’t hold up to the other shows of tour. Trumped by the jamming in the weekend’s three previous second sets, last night’s final frame served as the Northeast denouement rather than its peak. Sure the band played some big songs, but they did little to nothing with any of them. Let’s stash this one away and move on to Great Woods.
I: Brother*, AC/DC Bag, Back on the Train, Undermind, Cities, Gotta Jibboo**, Roggae, Sleep Again, Lawn Boy, Run Like an Antelope
II: Carini > The Mango Song, Wilson, Drowned > Swept Away > Steep > Makisupa Policeman, Piper > 2001 > You Enjoy Myself
*Band members’ children in a tub on stage. Happy Father’s Day!
**Tony Markellis on bass and Mike on a second guitar