Playing their first non-festival show in San Francisco proper since 1998, Phish continued their musical assault on The Golden State at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Friday night with a second set of non-stop action. Centering a relentless setlist on two experimental peaks in “Down With Disease” and “Tweezer,” the band tore the tiny Bay Area venue to smithereens. Supporting the notion that Long Beach was the start of something big, the band came back the very next night and opened up the vault again, illustrating an enthusiasm for unconventional jamming.
Steering clear of any second set filler, the guys came out with a intense desire from the first note to last, and when paired with the level of creativity that is currently oozing from the stage, this made for quite the explosive combo. Bursting out the gates with a monstrous exploration of “Disease,” the band navigated the piece with a loose, psychedelic San Francisco vibe, allowing the music to play the muse, organically morphing through several distinct portions of jamming. Connected in a way not dissimilar to the opening night’s “Rock and Roll,” this “Disease” showed a proclivity for free form improvisation. Once breaking form, Trey laid notably back, allowing Mike and Fish to set the groove. Collaborative to the core, a band member presented a thematic idea to which the rest of the guys would gravitate, and moving in this organic fashion from one section to another, the jam slowly progressed towards abstract territory. And once Fish dropped his driving beat, the band entered a psychedelic playground would have made their tie-dyed mentors proud. Some of the strongest portions of playing of tour’s opening two nights have come in this amorphous style, and it was within this milieu that the band pushed and pulled “Disease” through a soul-affirming final segment—instantly becoming another golden moment of 2012.
Thus far this run, the band has shown no need to cool down after their set-opening jam, on this night, falling right into a fierce, though compact, “Birds.” But when the final hits of “Birds” gave way to “Tweezer,” shit was clearly about to get bonkers. Where so many “Tweezers” of this summer and this era have fallen short, Bill Graham’s “Tweezer” went where “Tweezers” are meant to go—into other realms. Fusing three distinct segments of jamming together, the guys dropped the most significant “Tweezer” since Dick’s, and one of the elite of this era. Within the opening, bass-heavy groove, Gordeaux dropped enough crack to satiate all the junkies in the Tenderloin, and his generosity didn’t cease from there, as he anchored much of this jam with narcotic bass lines. Moving away from his rhythm licks, Trey began to weave intricate leads into the dance patterns, lending a more nuanced dynamic to the jam. Naturally building into a small guitar-led section, the band momentarily peaked the jam before dropping into the jam’s third movement—a glitchy, looped-out, bass-anchored segment of experimentalia. And while the other parts of the jam certainly spoke to the dancer in all, this section blossomed into something far more atmospheric and cerebral. Dripping into “Twist” out of this gargantuan centerpiece, the band showed effects of a newly discovered musical Viagra, keeping things going strong for 45 minutes before showing any semblance of slowing down.
Standout takes of “Velvet Sea,” “Chalk Dust” and “Joy” set up a set-closing “Antelope,” a subtle nod from the guys to someone’s 666th night spent with them. And just when the show was over, Trey stepped to the mic and commenced a perfectly placed “Shine A Light.” A glorious afterthought to a thorough set of Phish, this is exactly where the piece of gospel-rock belongs. Capping the night with a ferocious take on “First Tube,” Phish slammed the door on their first night in the Bay. But where one door closes, another opens—at the same bat time, same bat channel.
First Set Notes: The first set felt like a pep rally for the rest of the Bill Graham run, featuring a high-energy, crowd-pleasing vibe throughout. Though “Sand” had some teeth and “Corrina” provided a welcome respite amongst a set of straight rotation songs, this set was more about setting the vibe in the intimate room, and did so quite well. A surprising “Slave” came at the end of the opening set for the first time since The Fox in ’09, and appearing in the first set for the first time since Portsmouth ’10. Trey doled out a prankster-like tease at the end of “Roses” as the band hinted at a gorgeous music before Trey pulled the plug for “My Friend,” clearly knowing how much everyone craves for “Roses” jams. Funny, but not really, this move was the only jolt of the first two nights—not bad, I say…not bad at all.
I: AC/DC Bag, The Moma Dance, Possum, Corinna, Sand, Halley’s Comet > Funky Bitch, Sample in a Jar, Roses Are Free > My Friend, My Friend, Slave to the Traffic Light
II: Down with Disease > Birds of a Feather, Tweezer > Twist > Wading in the Velvet Sea, Chalk Dust Torture, Joy, Run Like an Antelope, Shine a Light
E: First TubeTags: 2012, Summer 2012, The Moment