Centered on a holy excursion in “Rock and Roll,” Saturday night’s show in San Francisco was otherwise comprised of feel-good songs with a straight forward flow. But when the band annihilates an all-timer to kick off the second set, the rest of the night truly becomes gravy. After the opening sequence of set two, however, the band dropped “Number Line” and never looked back, riding through the desert on a horse with no jams. The guys did, though, close the night with a bang, unleashing a monster “Slave to the Traffic Light” to cap a summer of spectacular versions. All in all, however, Phish made me eat words of yesterday, as Saturday night’s two-setter paled in comparison to Friday night’s lights.
But holy crow that “Rock and Roll!” Taking a back seat to only Tahoe’s “Tweezer,” Bill Graham’s “Rock and Roll” now stands as my second best jam of summer, and—easily—the best jam played in five BGCA shows. Scaling ludicrous spiritual heights via sublime whole-band voyaging, Phish scripted a cosmic rite that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. This was one of those jams that is hard to believe in real-time and sounds even better on listen back; “an instant classic of magnificent proportions. Purposeful, transcendent, and completely realized, fire up this second set opener as soon as possible and bask in the glory of Phish 2013.
When the band segued into “Steam,” it felt like the beginnings of a prime-time set of Phish, and when they tacked on a gooey funk jam on the back end of the song, things seemed primed to get wild. But then came the dreaded second-set “Number Line,” killing the flow of the set as if the band were clubbing baby seals on stage. This brutal vibe crusher took the psychedelia right out of the night and set show on course for a Saturday Night Special. Having bucked their trend of straight forward Saturday nighters with their best set of tour at the Gorge last week, Phish came back to earth last night, delivering a back two thirds of the set that really went nowhere. As much fun as I had all night long, once the band switched into jukebox mode, the music lacked any grit or direction.
Placing a classic “Mike’s > Hydrogren > Weekapaug” square in the middle of the set was a sign of how things would unfold last night, despite a standout “Mike’s Song.” Trey took a back seat to Mike’s lead as the jam dropped—a move he would mimic in “Slave”—creating a sinister groove that built a head of steam before Red swooped in to sculpt a scorching solo. “Weekapaug” didn’t pop as usual and the there was a lot of fluff before “Slave.” Honestly, though, this “Slave” was drenched in creativity from the get go and is a must-hear version.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to report on the improvisational front. Despite bustouts of “Alumni Blues” and “Lengthwise,” the first set dragged—especially through the impossibly slow segment of “Sample,” “NICU,” “Mound,” “Jesus Left Chicago” and “Driver.” Only to follow up songs later with “Bug” and “Possum.” Oy.
It now looks like Sunday night will be the keeper of this run much like last year’s Bill Graham extravaganza. Toning things down a notch from the monster sets of The Gorge and Tahoe, Phish has put on some tasteful shows in the Bay, but far from the seamless, exploratory beasts that some were expecting. With all sorts of launch pads still on the table for tonight, however, the second set could look like—“Crosseyed -> Light -> Piper -> Velvet Sea, David Bowie.” We shall see. Two more nights of this wild ride until a few weeks off. Enjoy every moment. And god damn, play that “Rock and Roll” loud and proud!
I: Grind, Weigh, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Lengthwise -> Maze, Sample in a Jar, NICU, Mound, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Driver, Timber (Jerry), Axilla, Bug, Possum, First Tube
II: Rock and Roll > Steam > Backwards Down the Number Line, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Joy, Fluffhead, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Waste, Suzy GreenbergTags: 2013, Summer '13