It is rare that Phish unveils a complete performance that flows flawlessly from the very first note through the last; two full sets constructed in such fashion that the band never, for even a moment, loses the full attention of their audience. On Sunday night, however, Phish had the Charlotte’s crowd enraptured and in the palm of their hand for the entirety of the show in which there was—literally—not a dull moment.
First sets are so contingent upon song selection these days, and last night the band sculpted an opening stanza that worked as well as any this tour. The conventional opening pairing of “Bag” and “Moma” gave way to a series of songs that all possessed a little something extra. For the second straight version, Trey allowed Page to take the lead on piano during “Heavy Things” before taking his own solo, providing the song an added punch. “Ocelot” featured incredibly smooth playing from Trey, who had his chops flowing all night long. Even “Funky Bitch” brought the house down with more fiery interplay that usual. But when the guys kicked into “Bathtub Gin,” the set moved onto another level for the duration.
Trey’s showcased staggering runs of notes and quick-fire licks during a scalding tub of “Gin.” This high-speed jam brought a rush of energy to the set, a cathartic cascade that continued with a precise and passionate mid-set “Fluffhead.” Pulling “Alumni Blues” off the shelf for the first time this leg, Trey followed the quasi-bustout with hilarious banter about their college days. Trey shared the well-known story of how Page received $50 a head for “recruiting” he and Fish to Goddard College—a tiny and excessively liberal institution in Plainfield,Vermont. A short “Tube,” also dating back to their college days, was followed by more comical banter that led into“My Sweet One.” A delicate and driving “Bowie” capped the set with a palpable intensity, and upon the song’s final hits, the guys received an ovation as if it was the end of the show. But with the band locked in, things were only heating up.
Though centered around a melody-driven and blissful “Tweezer,” this set was as much about craftsmanship, flow and shredtastic playing as anything. With no lulls or run of late-set singles, Charlotte’s main event was comprised of Phish anthems back to back to back. When “Crosseyed” started, memories immediately turned to last Sunday’s night of instant fame at Bill Graham, but the band wouldn’t take this version for nearly the ride it took out west. Jamming around the theme of “Crosseyed,” Trey ventured into infectious soloing that seemed to be bringing the band into something deeper. But instead of pushing the boundaries of the piece, the guys, turned to another rarity, the Gamehendge tale of “McGrupp.” Page and Trey locked into each other during the “jam,” giving the piece added gusto.
When “Mike’s Song” was followed by “Bouncin” and “Axilla,” the energy of the show remained high, but the improv factor felt quite lite. And then “Tweezer” dropped. Just as the classic jam was growing stale over Leg One, the band came out this tour and fully reinvigorated the crowd favorite. Last night they dropped their third, consecutive version drenched in creative playing. And for the second time in a row, the band took the jam on a silken journey through skies of gold. Placing a magnifying glass on mellifluous interplay, Phish sculpted a piece that spoke to the soul. Trey and Mike’s minimalist and Siamese-minded conversation gave room for Page to bring the Rhodes into the mix, enhancing the buttery feel of the feel-good groove. But when Page moved back to piano, Trey’s playing took off into the register of the divine. As he emoted waterfall-like melodies of majesty, the band maintained a bulbous groove around him, allowing him to slowly back into a space-laced, effect-laden paradise. Taking the arena by the heartstrings, Red swooped in for a final peak before the jam subsided and Fishman started “Harry Hood.”
There are not two songs more sacred to the band’s catalog than “Tweezer” and “Harry Hood.” On opposite sides of the musical spectrum, together, they form the yin and yang of Phish. Combined in this fashion—”Tweezer > Hood”—only once before, on May 15, 1990 in Hamilton, New York, the merger of these two epics was nothing short of revelatory. Swimming from the jam of the night into a meticulous rendition of their early opus, the journey of “Tweezer > Hood” provided the most dramatic sequence of the night. Like many 2012 “Hoods,” Trey’s solo picked up right from the drop of the jam and twisted and turned with meaning for the duration. Though ending somewhat quickly without a monstrous peak, the entire”Hood” jam was used as an arrival for “Tweezer,” and it worked magically.
The upbeat combo of “Weekapaug” and “Suzy” concluded a set that never relented. Trey showcased his razor sharp thematic playing in the former, while providing extra juice to the latter with “Crosseyed” teases, as it sounded like the band might break back into the cover. And the action kept right on moving through the encore with the bustout of “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars”—complete with antics—and “Tweezer Reprise.” Not often does Phish play a show without daring risk taking yet succeed so resoundingly as they did last night. Although Alabama possessed the gem of the weekend in “Rock and Roll,” and, arguably, even the set of the south, Charlotte provided the strongest start to finish experience of the three-pack. If you have time today, don’t worry about that “skip” button on your iPod, just hit play at the top of set one and let this one roll. You won’t be disappointed.
I: AC/DC Bag > The Moma Dance > Heavy Things, Ocelot, Funky Bitch, Bathtub Gin, Fluffhead, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Tube, My Sweet One, David Bowie
II: Crosseyed and Painless > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Mike’s Song> Bouncing Around the Room, Axilla > Tweezer > Harry Hood, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Weekapaug Groove, Suzy Greenberg
E: Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Tweezer RepriseTags: 2012, Summer 2012