In a complete role reversal, on Saturday night at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the first set provided the meatier musical dish, while the second set never found a groove. Refusing to allow any second set jam to develop, less a universe aligning “Simple,” Trey kept the setlist moving forward in favor of the style of jamming we have quickly become accustomed over two nights of Leg Two. The irony of this show was that the first set was—unquestionably—the best of tour, seemingly setting up a significant second half that was, in the end, left begging for musical drama. But, let’s focus on the first set for a change.
The band carried Friday’s momentum right into Saturday night’s opening frame, showing a willingness to get right into things with a spunky opening pairing of “Runaway Jim” and “Wolfman’s Brother.” Though “Runaway Jim” remained with in the confines that you’d expect from its opening slot, that wouldn’t be the same with “Wolfmans.” A dynamic version took a left turn at the juncture where the guys conventionally steer it back to shore. Veering into a smooth-then-hard-edged groove tangent, the band built its initial first set highlight out of its second song.
Phish’s energetic playing continued in Page’s “Beauty of a Broken Heart” before “Ocelot” brought the an intense, blues-based, mid-set peak. “Maze” has turned into a reliable scorcher over the past year, and last night’s certainly fit right line with this trend. The band rolled into “46 Days” with a head full of steam, tearing apart a rendition that popped with a far groovier feel than usual thanks to Mike, Fish, and Page. Perhaps this rhythmic vibe led to the next song selection of “Tube,” because when the band hit the break for the jam, dense dance textures dominated the dance floor, as Page made sweet love to his clavinet over an infectious groove.
The band took their first real breath of air with “Circus” before getting right back into things with a notably clean version of “Sugar Shack.” But the true highlight of the set emerged next in “Split Open and Melt.” On the drop of a hat, the guys switched modes into abstract artisans, sculpting some of the more mind-fucking music we’ve heard from “Split” in a quick minute. In fact, the band got so deep into the fray, they couldn’t find their way back from the other side and into the song’s ending, but in this case, the imperfection hardly diminished the places traveled. One of those jams that leave you slack-jawed in the live setting, the band set its path for the outer realms and stayed the course for the duration. Quite different than the standout we just heard at SPAC, this version continued to get crazier and crazier until the band had all sorts of issues getting back on the same page in order to pop into the theme. The third entirely different “Split” of the summer stole the cerebral jamming trophy for the first half. “Cavern” provided an exclamation point to a frame of music that seemed destined to set up big things. But those big things never came.
The second set became a patchwork creation of greatest hits, none of which the band took into an interesting jam but for “Simple.” The initial couplet of of “Golden Age > Piper” each had developing jams that were cut short before they were realized in any sort of way. When “Mike’s” started, it seemed like it would be one of those rocking, though improvisationally thin second sets, with our only hope of exploration coming in the off chance that the band kicked down a “Simple” within the “Groove.” And boy did they ever.
After “Mike” anchored a particularly rousing version of his song, the band evoked the feel of the Dead once again with a stunningly patient, ambient sound sculpture out of “Simple.” At times, it seemed that barely anyone was playing anything at all, though a gorgeous tapestry of sound continued to emanate from the stage. Sounding very much like “The Wheel,” this vibration-uniting excursion silenced a chatty-Saturday night audience with its mystical aura. An instant favorite, and a certain must-hear-now chunk of music, this “Simple” stole the second set all by itself, because after that Phish hopped the express train to Fizzletown, USA.
An innocuous and rushed sequence of “Number Line,” Carini > Wilson,” “Weekapaug,” “Horse > Silent,” “2001 > Fluffhead,” “Loving Cup,” Show of Life,” and “Character Zero” provided no music to sink one’s teeth into, whatsoever, while taking up the final hour of the set plus encore. After displaying an eagerness for extended jamming over the first two shows of leg two, Phish reeled things in quite a bit on Saturday night with an energy-centric second set. But we’ll always have “Simple.”
I: Runaway Jim, Wolfman’s Brother, Nellie Kane, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Ocelot, Maze, I Didn’t Know, 46 Days, Tube, When the Circus Comes, Sugar Shack, Split Open and Melt, Cavern
II: Golden Age > Piper > Mike’s Song > Simple > Backwards Down the Number Line, Carini > Wilson >Weekapaug Groove, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Fluffhead, Loving Cup
E: Show of Life, Character ZeroTags: 2012, Summer 2012