In a power-packed performance with nary a lull in either set, Phish greeted SPAC with a show that immediately leaped into contention for the best of summer. Shedding the added pressures of the holiday and a web-casted audience, the band burst out of the gates with a jam laced first set, and a second that just blew the roof off the place. Both central jam sequences of the second set—“Carini > Sand” and “Sneaking Sally -> Ghost—stand out as immediate gems of tour, with the latter totaling 25 minutes of free-form glory. Bookended with scalding versions of “Chalk Dust” and “Antelope,” the second set flowed quite well, while showcasing dynamic interplay throughout. Starting from note one of “Runaway Jim,” Phish was ready for business last night, opening their tour-ending run in sensational fashion.
Playing everything with extra zest and crafting several highlights along the way, the band tore through an opening frame that flowed far better than most this summer, and one that packed more of a punch than any, with the first night of Deer Creek and Cincy being the only competition. Without getting out of the box, “Ocelot” contained an extra juicy jam, as did “Back on the Train”—a song that has been re-birthed this tour. But after a rousing “Funky Bitch,” one of the choice nuggets of the opening frame unfolded. Possibly responding to a sign in the front row, Trey led the band in a transition from “Tube” into the first performance of “Psycho Killer” since Hartford ’09! Seamlessly blending the funk jam into the Talking Head’s classic, and also back into “Tube,” Phish had the pavilion freaking hard early on in the evening.
In the past few shows, the band has integrated Fishman appearances into the first set, a slot that works particularly well for the humor based episodes. Last night, Fish brought his cymbals with him to the center of the stage which could only mean one thing—“Cracklin’ Rosie.” But the comedy didn’t last too long, as after Friar Tuck did his shtick, the guys dropped into a serious version of “Stash.” With such spicy setlists in this summer’s opening sets, we have only seen the regulars, like “Stash,” a couple times, thus increasing their impact. And last night “Stash” hit hard. Delicate full-band interplay was backed with a similarly meticulous beat, and together the guys climbed a musical vine of tension. Trey only played as necessary, not dominating the conversation in anyway, and allowing plenty of room for Page and Mike to increase the drama. The poorly ventilated pavilion had many dripping in sweat after this smoking excursion, as Phish exhaled with a perfectly-placed “Bouncin.”
The final couplet of the set—“Corrina” and “Light Up and Leave Me Alone”—had plenty more than bust out value to them. Trey poured himself into his “Corrina” solo—a tranquil moment amidst so much action—and the guys absolutely lit up an extended rendition of “Light Up,” transforming the cover into the unquestionable jewel of a first set with passion and fury. But all that said, the second half would be where dreams unfolded.
Sparking set two with a stretched out “Chalk Dust” that, for a few moments, sounded as though it might blossom into a far larger jam, the band followed Trey’s cue as he reigned them in and dropped into one of this summer’s show-stopper’s, “Carini.” Starting in Worcester, each time the band has taken this song into unknown waters, they have come up with very different—and always golden—results. And last night continued this trend and then some. Instead of turning for a guitar solo, Trey stepped back and joined the band in a seething soundtrack to a dirty Phish fantasy. Immediately turning to his murky, uncompressed growls, Trey influenced the band into a slowed tempo as Mike stepped to the forefront of the jam and let things loose. Crystallizing the post-hiatus sound in a very modern musical context, “Carini” morphed into a menacing piece of psych-rock of the sorts of which I dream. With the airtight communication of 2012, this prowling groove remained patient throughout as the band seeped into its guitar-led, second movement. As the band maintained a palpable patience, Trey turned for blissful realms and the band followed right along into a stunning denouement, and a subsequent move into “Sand.”
The band combined several of their central 2012 launch pads in this drool-worthy second set, the second of which came with the summer’s rhythmic juggernaut, “Sand.” Filling in a role “Tweezer” once held, “Sand” is now—unquestionably—the band’s preeminent vehicle of groove. Punctuating an opening leg of consistently jaw-dropping versions with another monstrous dance excursion, the band tossed ideas around like a hot potato, responding to each with inhuman immediacy. Trey progressed from rhythm comps into a swaggering solo that grew quickly in scope and sound, while the band moved right beyond the jam’s traditional ending point. The guys wanted no part in stopping as they continued to demolish the groove with increasing effects and abstractions. Trey finally brought the band back to earth with the song’s ending after a white-hot opening sequence of “Chalk Dust,” Carini > Sand.”
When the band revved up “Roses Are Free” in the middle of the second set, it certainly felt primed to explode, especially as the energy of the entire audience was behind every single note. Thus when Trey bailed for “Punch,” even Mike looked miffed. And as an adrenalized “Punch” came to a head, the band drew out the ending into a distorted mystery. This juncture was going to be a huge turning point in the show—might Red go into “Trey Songz” mode or would he keep things moving strong? As the pause became dramatically long, it was like rooting against Whammies on an extended spin of “Press Your Luck.” And when Trey finally hit the plunger, he came up with “$5000 plus a spin” in the form of “Sneakin’ Sally!”
As the band moved in and out of “Sally’s” vocal improv, the jam was, clearly, only beginning. But few—if any—could have possibly predicted where it would go. Laying into the funk only briefly, the guys quickly injected the music with a more harrowing quality. Then, at the point where Trey might have ripped the cord on another night, he stopped on a dime and, with Fishman, led the guys into battle. Changing directions 180 degrees, though doing it without disrupting the jam, the band shot itself into an up-tempo chase through a hard-edged, psychedelic playground. Fishman and Trey worked particularly well through this maddening sequence, collectively setting the pace of the music, as the guys converged like pack of wild hyenas devouring anything in their maniacal paths. Developing into a mind-numbing sequence to which I’ve only had the pleasure of re-listening once, just put on some headphones on and listen to this jam—and might as well keep ‘em on for the “Ghost!”
Segueing into the new-school jump off, the band once again used “Ghost” to forge totally atypical paths of rhythm and wonder. Never for a moment falling back on musical clichés, the band stepped to the plate and knocked another version out of the park. Like so many modern-era success stories, Mike stepped forth to lead this jam as Trey laid back and played tastefully around his bandmates offerings. When in the depths of “Ghost,” Fishman—easily the summer MVP—persistently added and took away the down beat, creating a peculiar and engaging ebb and flow to the music before landing in a driving groove. Growing more collaborative and abstract with each passing moment, this jam gained notable momentum. And seizing that momentum, Trey unveiled a gorgeous melodic lead that brought the piece into a completely different realm. Live without a net, Phish was letting things progress where they may, clearly not over-thinking things, while weaving a striking sonic tapestry. The band allowed the music to the trickle down the mountain into a single drone tone before Trey kept the energy sky high with “Suzie Greenberg.” Every song can hit home if placed well in a show, and after 25 minutes of wide open jamming, this slot seemed to work just fine. Juicing the crowd considerably with their quirky single, the band set up another summer 2012 staple, the set-two ending “Antelope.” Though not as creative as Jones Beach’s standout version, “Antelope,” nonetheless, finalized the frame with an improvisational bang, featuring Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life on vocals, taboot.
This one will take a few more spins before it really sinks in, but it’s easily up there with any show of 2012. Taking Saratoga Springs by storm with a start-to-finish scorcher, the band set quite the high bar for the last two nights of tour. But with the limitless possibilities of Phish at this moment, who knows what tonight will bring? And that is why we go.
I: Runaway Jim, Ocelot, Heavy Things, Back on the Train, Funky Bitch, Tube -> Psycho Killer -> Tube, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin’ Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, Paul and Silas, Horn, Corinna, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone
II: Chalk Dust Torture > Carini > Sand, Roses Are Free > Punch You In the Eye > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Ghost > Suzy Greenberg, Run Like an Antelope*
E: Loving Cup
*w/ Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life on lyricsTags: 2012, Summer 2012