Phish closed the book on the first leg of Summer 2012 at SPAC Sunday night with a patchwork show centered on a pair of profound journeys in “Light” and “Piper.” Though not exactly the most cohesive frame of music, the second set packed an improvisational wallop with these two jams, totaling almost 30 minutes of unbridled adventure. Capped with a classic trifecta of “Hood > Cavern,” and “Bowie,” and signed on the dotted line with a “You Enjoy Myself” encore, the band gave a little something to all sectors of their audience in the tour’s final frame.
“Axilla” burst open the doors of the second set with 1000 cc’s of adrenaline before Trey cranked into the highly anticipated final “Light” of leg one. No jam has been as consistently groundbreaking and original this summer has the modern-era vehicle, with the only competition coming from “Ghost.” Each time out—in AC, Star Lake and Alpine—the band crafted divergent, innovative and brilliant jams from “Light,” and we were in for one more ride. Launching from the song into an unconventional guitar lead, Trey soon segued into short rhythm chops, signifying the band’s entry into open waters. And immediately the guys locked ideas and began to plunge the deep. A four-piece sonic puzzle merged as one, while Fishman’s beats really dictated the feel of the jam. Building in intensity though slowing down, the band morphed into an ethereal section that evoked the deep melodic interplay of the Greek’s historic version. Fish’s ever-changing rhythms steered the music, and as he moved into a more percussive texture, the band moved with him into blissful territory. As they hit a noticeable chord progression, many fans will think this jam sounds quite familiar. That is because it almost a note-for-note take of the now-famous Gorge “Sneakin’ Sally” jam from 2009! This throwback sequence provided the peak of the jam, and upon its finale of this sequence, the guys slipped through an ambient portal into “Twist.”
This time serving as a landing pad instead of a centerpiece, “Twist” still got some special treatment. Page stepped up at the onset of this jam while Trey adjusted his tone and came in with a distorted, uncompressed offerings. These unconventional brushstrokes from Red urged the band into a more eccentric conversation, and soon they were stretching the boundaries of the song. Getting dirtier than usual with Page all over his clav, the band seemed like they were on the brink of breaking through to the other side before Trey tastefully wrapped things up. And here’s where things got a bit strange.
Making a series of odd selections amidst tour’s final set, Trey called for “Kill Devil Falls,” “My Friend,” and “Swept Away -> Steep”—a sequence that threw a left-handed monkey wrench into the set, despite a brief bliss jam that emerged out of the end of “KDF.” Killing the musical continuity of the main event, the band, however, recovered with a sprawling, multi-tiered odyssey in “Piper.” Moving at a frenetic pace for the onset of the jam, the band settled into a melodic movement that slowed things into a transcendent place. Snapping into stunning interplay, the guys broke into free-form improvisation. Exploring several feels within this momentum-building sequence, when the guys landed on the next musical plateau, they found themselves reprising the “Light” / Gorge “Sally” jam within the rhythmic context of “Piper!” Uniting the two main jams of the night, the band tore through music that sounded as if it had built directly from the end of “Light”—very cool indeed! And upon finishing this part of “Piper,” the guys moved right into another. With the leadership of Fishman, the band built a driving groove and pushed the piece into sonic tangent. Moving into a drone soundscape to end the piece Phish forged, at least, the fifth different chunk of this epic. Layered with a chant—and plenty of loops—from Trey, the guitarist ended the piece by easing the opening chords of “Free” into the mix.
After having fun with his delay pedal during “Free,” Trey led band into the randomly placed, spoken-word piece “Kung.” It felt like they might be building to something unexpected, but instead, they band rolled into “Harry Hood.” A pristine and creative version shone as a late set arrival, though not as brightly as it might have, were in not in the shadows of Jones Beach’s standout. Closing the set with “David Bowie,” and using the now elusive “You Enjoy Myself” as a tour encore, everyone went home in smiles at the current state of Phish.
This tour has certainly been a musical revelation for the band and will take some time and thought to sift through and process. Without question the most creative and consistent tour since the return, Leg One of Summer 2012 has paved the way for a historic year of Phish. With plenty of down time to get into the nitty-gritty, the next five weeks will be filled with all sorts of fun from the aural buffet the band has left us over the past month. Filled with an abundance of riches, our iPods will now be our best buddies as we can go back and relive what happened in a flash from Worcester to SPAC. Much like life, Phish Tour moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Set One Notes: A wholly generic and haphazard first set came together—for me at least—with a spine-tingling version of “If I Could” followed by a gnarly “Split.” “Split” was one of those abstract mind-fucks that is difficult to fully digest in the live setting, and it took me a re-listen to confirm its sickness. This lockstep psychedelia was, again, anchored by Fishman’s rhythmic ebb and flow. The only other piece of note in the first half was the set closing performance of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” the first live rendition since 9.22.99 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
I: AC/DC Bag, My Soul, Camel Walk, Sample in a Jar, Wilson, Party Time, Gumbo, Nellie Kane, Driver, Foam, If I Could, Split Open and Melt, La Grange
II: Axilla, Light > Twist, Kill Devil Falls > My Friend, My Friend, Swept Away > Steep > Piper > Free, Kung > Harry Hood > Cavern, David Bowie
E: You Enjoy MyselfTags: 2012, Summer 2012