Losing no momentum as they hit the East Coast, Phish rumbled into New York last night with a highlight-strewn two-setter centered around “Sand -> Golden Age,” another standout jam sequence we’ll be listening to for quite some time. And though the second set didn’t flow as well as some we’ve seen this tour, instead of trotting to the finish line, the guys punctuated the night with the best “Antelope” we’ve heard since Utica. With a couple serious bust-outs in the first set, and clean playing throughout, Tuesday night at Jones Beach provided a quality kick off to Phish’s two-day Long Island stand.
The excitement started right away as Phish opened the show with a groove that sounded to many like the return of Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon.” But given a moment to develop, it was evident that we were witnessing the first performance of “Skin It Back” since 1988! Instead of simply playing the song like so many of their rarities this season, they chose to give the old school Little Feat cover the treatment. Jamming the piece that Mike once hand picked to give the band some grit, the guys took off into a show-opening dance excursion that set the night afire. For most fans, this seventies groove took us right back to Boardwalk Hall’s memorable Halloween performance of Waiting For Columbus, an album to which “Skin in Back” was added in subsequent releases. Digging into the blues-laced funk texture with a laid back solo, Trey led the band out of the gates with a left hook that nobody saw coming! Peaking the surprise jam—one the night’s standout segments—Phish had thrown down the most spectacular opener of summer tour.
Three songs later, Phish made another nod to Hallowen’s past with the first performance of The White Album’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun” since Glen Falls ’94. A personal favorite off the classic double record, this bust out was a special treat for me, as I’m sure it was for countless others. The way the Phab Four so accurately covered the Fab Four, right down to the vocal harmonies, was eerie. This spectacular bust out, coupled with “Skin It Back,” provided a setbreak buzz all by themselves. “Mike’s Groove”—a musical suite that has dominated a couple second sets this tour—came out in its concise, first set format, tough “Weekapaug” still managed to pack a punch.
After the early fireworks, the band settled into a string of standards to finish the set, less another bust out cover in “ZZ Top’s” Jesus Just Left Chicago” and a season-appropriate “Ya Mar” in which Trey graced us with his usual guitar solo unlike the truncated Portsmouth version. The nicest weather of tour came in off the water as a cool setbreak underlined the seismic weather shift from the sweltering heat of the Midwest. And as the lights dropped for set two, we were off into the comfortable summer night.
A rousing “Chalk Dust” sparked the second half before Phish dropped into the central jam sequence of the night, beginning with “Sand.” Serving a multi-course meal of groove and beyond, the band morphed between several distinct sections of connected jamming ranging from the jazzy to the abstract. Beginning with snaking solo that withered in and around his band mates snapping groove, Trey led the troops through the regular jam, but when it came to wrap it up, the band just kept right on going. At this juncture, Trey stepped into the background, allowing Page to step up on Rhodes. Trey alternated rhythm comps with palm-muted notes before he stepped even further out of the spotlight with space-aged loops, leaving Mike and Page to drive the machine. Coming to a quieter section, Trey revved up what has become a 2012 staple jam, “Golden Age.” Each time out the band seems to go further and further with the song’s improv, and last night they went all the way. Taking the groove-based cover deep into lands of transcendence, there would be no transition out of this version, instead, the guys played until the last natural note fell into silence, drawing a massive ovation from the metro area crowd.
Moving away from the funk that has defined the jam almost immediately, Trey favored a type of rhythmic playing that pushed the whole band away their comfort zone. Soon immersed in percussive quicksand, the band sunk through these collaborative layers of music and into the abstract, and this is where the greatest of moments of the show were spawned. Transforming piece into ambient psych-rock, Phish showcased their current affection for sound sculpting. With nobody leading, the band delved into some of the coolest music we’ve heard this summer. Likening a hybrid of Phish and Floyd, this final segment made this jam absolute gold. Stretching out the spacey ending the band allowed the music to fall like a feather to the ground, coming to a perfect rest.
And then—finally—a second set “Wolfman’s!” Instead of vamping over funk chords at the onset of the jam, Trey came right of the gate with his uncompressed growl, taking the band in a divergent and dirty direction. As the jam built, the guys seemed good to go deep as they passed in and out of a scat session. Coming out of a change, however, Trey picked a spot an initiated a move into “Walk Away,” a maneuver that, if responded to by Fishman, could have spelled another turn-on-a-dime, seamless segue. Despite the less-than-smooth transition, however, the band switched gears and annihilated the ending sequence of “Walk Away.” Following a mid-set “Bug,” the slot seemed ripe for a heavy-hitter, but instead, the band went for the ubiquitous second-set “Fluffhead.” Never good for set flow or second-set minutes, the guys, however, played their early-era piece quite well and used “The Wedge” to bridge to a set-closing “Antelope.”
Continuously placing “Antelope” in the second set this summer has certainly caused Phish to shine a brighter spotlight on its jam, forming several quality versions. But this one would break the mold altogether. Navigating a ferocious jam with several tangential diversions, Phish closed the show like they are capable of, one aspect of last night that was incredibly encouraging. With “Skin It Back” and “Sand -> Golden Age,” “Antelope” provided the third no-brainer highlight of the show, and a version that every fan should hear.
Although last night was, unquestionably, a quality Phish show, something tells me that we’ll be leaving Jones Beach with a different, more complete feel after tonight’s holiday performance. Though Tuesday night’s performance shone in many instances, it also possessed a discernible lull in each set and was missing that flow that makes an outstanding show greater than the sum of its parts. But last night did, indeed, have amazing parts!
I: Skin It Back, Possum, Tube, Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Halley’s Comet > Axilla, Ya Mar, Joy, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Backwards Down the Number Line > Golgi Apparatus
II: Chalk Dust Torture, Sand -> Golden Age, Wolfman’s Brother -> Walk Away, Bug, Fluffhead, The Wedge, Run Like an Antelope
E: Character Zero
Tags: 2012, Summer 2012