In a quintessential opening night of a two night stand, Phish anchored Tuesday’s show at PNC with a dark and exploratory second set. Jumping right back into audacious risk-taking after a conservative final night of Bethel, the band thrilled the New Jersey crowd with a top-to-bottom effort that continued the rampage of Phish 2011. A six-song second set was held down by two monstrous psychedelic jaunts in “After Midnight” and “Drowned,” while the band left a trail of fire throughout the opening half as well. Nary a fan went hope unhappy after the first night of PNC, a show that confirmed Phish’s intent to push new musical boundaries all summer long.
The first set felt like a non-stop string of high-powered Phish grooves, but for a gorgeous rendition of “Roggae” that slid into the second slot. The opening half caught fire in earnest with “Punch You In the Eye” which started a five-song string of relentless dance music that came to a head with the potent one-two punch of “Sand” and “Tube.” The band burst into “Sand” with a jazz sensibility as Trey offered refined leads over a swanky and wide-open pocket. Gaining steam as a unit as the jam progressed, Trey switched gears into a more screaming lines and the band followed suit, engaging in progressively more aggressive interplay. Building into far more psychedelic conversation, the entire band converged in a massive first-set peak. And as soon as “Sand” ended, we got hit with the left hook—”Tube.” Tearing off a standout, Page-centric version, Phish packed quite the punch into the song’s dense funkscapes as Trey alternated between staccato licks and infectious rhythm comps.
Before ending the set with a crunchy “Character Zero,” Trey, however, completely lost himself amidst “Divided Sky,” causing one of the more musically awkward onstage moments in memory. Fumbling and bumbling through a part of the composition, he finally gave up while his band mates chugged along and joking turned the mic to the crowd, inviting his fans to sing his guitar melody. Finally catching up with everyone at a significant change in the song, “Divided Sky” had been wholly butchered, but with a tad of self-effacing humor, a human onstage moment emerged. A mere blip in an overall phenomenal night of music, the stumble had long been forgotten when the lights dropped for the second set. And when they did, the band’s exploratory spirit took over.
Before last night, Phish had never used “After Midnight” as a jam vehicle (less its sublime reprise in Big Cypress’ “Drowned”), but when they opened the second set with the J.J. Cale cover, one got the sense that was all going to change very quickly. The band built upon the song’s groove-based foundation as they embarked on a multi-faceted trip of transcendent and original Phish music. Flowing impeccably, the band navigated a snarling series of grooves that saw Trey play with a heap of bravado. It seems repetitive to continue highlighting Trey’s contributions to each and every jam, but his refined and passionate leadership seems to be the magic ingredient pushing Phish into outlandish places thus far this summer. Pulling his band into an intricate conversation that had a far more spiritual feel, he began to spout heart-tugging melodies amidst a tightly-connected and blissful excursion. Another gem that can be tacked onto the quickly-growing stack of completely surreal Summer 2011 Phish jams, “After Midnight” kicked down the door of the second set with a powerful exploration. And following a magnified, second-set “Possum,” we were greeted with another in the form of “Drowned.”
The band transformed their second cover of the set into overtly psychedelic jaunt, and one of the beauties of this jam was howfar the music branched from its set-opening predecessor. Transcending “Drowned’s” rock textures, the band dripped into a twisted and ambient sound sculpture—one growing trend of summer tour. Flirting briefly with subtle grooves, the band took a collective cliff dive into the cosmos with a spacey, yet coherent, experiment. Morphing from darker realms into soul-scraping soundscapes, this jam is a sinister and psychedelic portrait of a band moving into the future; pushing the envelope in ways they haven’t in ages. All four members gave themselves unto to a stunning quilt of abstract sound, forging further into one of their newest—and deepest—styles of summer. And then very smoothly, the band seamlessly segued into “Maze” in a complete juxtaposition of styles. Cranking up the heat out of the its amorphous predecessor, “Maze” featured scorching interplay between Trey and Page during each of their solos, and some heavy-handed bass work by Mike—one piece of the band’s playing that stood out all night long. This blistering second-set version provided the manic grounding for “Drowned’s” deep-space exploration while providing a scintillating centerpiece of its own.
Following a totally appropriate “Dirt” and never-appropriate “Alaska,” the band slammed the door on the set with a bumping whole-band “YEM.” Not settling for guitar heroics, Trey took his refined leads into the gooey textures of “YEM,” providing one piece of a stellar, four-part puzzle. Finalizing the frame with a laid-back and funkified journey through the first version of summer, the return of “YEM” took center stage not only as a perfect set-closer, but also some groove-based resolution to a thoroughly exploratory stanza of music.
Whenever Phish gets to New Jersey, they mean business. And last night’s visit to PNC was no exception. Gracing us with more of the boundary-pushing playing that we all crave and has sprang to life since Bethel began, Phish crushed night one in Holmdel which can only mean great things for night two. With only one show before they jump to the Midwest, tonight at PNC should bring another adventure for the fire-fueled monster that is Phish right now. As one of Trey’s musical heroes, Bruce Springsteen, once sang in “Jersey Girl,” “Down the shore everything’s alright.”
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Roggae, Punch You In the Eye, The Moma Dance, Rock and Roll, Sand, Tube, The Divided Sky, Character Zero
II: After Midnight > Possum, Drowned > Maze, Dirt, Alaska, You Enjoy Myself
E: FireTags: Summer 2011