Another day, another monster performance—this is getting just plain silly. Phish has hit a stride unseen since the late ‘90s, crushing shows night after night after night. Reading, Pennsylvania’s tour stop blew up with a second set that was nothing short of masterful. Totaling only six songs (plus “Grind), the main event was—again—served with no nonsense and almost all time spent in deep improvisational space. Jaw dropping jams out of “Down With Disease” and “Twenty Years Later” anchored a stacked up set of music that contained incredible flow from start to finish—another vintage frame of Phish.
The band opened Reading’s second set with “Down with Disease,” continuing their fall tour-long streak of new selections every night. And boy, did they make it count. Out of the jam’s wide open beginning, the guys drifted in an atmospheric direction, carving out a beautiful space in the piece’s first stage. But the story of this one would be how it ended. The final segment of this “Disease” was simply astounding, as Phish converged in an earth-shattering, bluesy peak in which Trey tore off championship melodies that sounded all but composed. If the Allman Brother’s Eat a Peach Halloween rumor has any weight, this jam could be an early indication of what is to come. Phish has been capping their jams with blues-based endings over the past year, and this “Disease” is perhaps their best. Pure hose and pure glory.
Tour’s first “Taste” served as a landing pad for “Disease’s” stratospheric excursion, and upon its ending, it seemed that Phish would take a breather with “Twenty Years Later.” What would transpire over the next fifteen minutes, however, was anything but mellow. For the first time in its five year lifespan, the band decided to jam on “Twenty Years Later,” and they went absolutely fucking ballistic. Trey began hitting rhythm licks over the song’s creeping, ominous texture, and before anyone knew it, we were neck deep in menacing dance floor fantasy. This jam provided a portal to the year 1997, as Trey got straight pornographic in this groove-centric revelation. And if this wasn’t enough to quench our thirst, the band moved out of the thick musical jungle into an uplifting final sequence that was also along the bluesy spectrum. And just like that—in less than a set—we had two more jams we’ll be listening to for the rest of our lives.
At this juncture, one might have figured that a ballad was inevitable, but instead, Phish kept plugging away and segued into “Piper.” The band exploded into the jam, as Trey let out cries of victory, unleashing furious guitar leads. And then he stepped back into a rhythmic role, slicing the music as the band chugged behind him, locked in relentless attack mode. Without even a tad of complacency, the guys tore this “Piper” to shreds as the third central jam of the set.
The band used an upbeat interlude of “Number Line,” a song whose performances have carried a fresh energy this tour, before closing the night with an old-school, groove-based take on “You Enjoy Myself.” Trey has been playing rhythm more during this tour more than at any time since the band’s ’09 return, and last night he applied these brushstrokes to the band’s classic funk vehicle. The building popped off with this dynamic “YEM,” as the night closed—or so we thought—with notable intensity.
When Phish came out with a “Bouncin” encore, one felt that they might finish up with “Antelope.” But no matter what was going through any fan’s mind, I am pretty sure that not single person in the arena predicted “Reba.” And that is exactly what came next. Unveiling the first—and, likely, only—“Reba” of tour in the encore slot, the band swept the crowd off their feet one last time for the night with a passionate, though succinct, rendition. And the band played on, choosing to stay for one more with Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.” Take that for an encore!
They say time flies when you’re having fun, and these past couple weeks have been the most fun that human beings can have on planet earth. Needless to say, it’s hard to believe we will be heading to Atlantic City tomorrow for our long-awaited Halloween extravaganza. Will it be the Allman’s Eat a Peach? Will it be The Band’s Rock of Ages? Those are the going theories. Regardless of what album is chosen, however, the more exciting part is that we still have six more sets of Phish before the fat lady sings for this season. Soak it in folks, because who knows when when we’ll be on fall tour again. These are special times.
Set One Notes: Phish reeled in their first set considerably from their past four, playing a short set of standard rotation songs, less “Walk Away.” “Wolfman’s” delivered early, remaining one of the band’s most consistent first set songs, though “Split Open and Melt” provided the improvisational highlight of the opening half. The guys seemed to have another “Split” jam on lockdown, but before trying to remerge with the songs theme—the part of the song that traditionally gives them trouble—Trey bailed on the idea entirely, abruptly starting up “Julius” in the first head scratching move of tour.
I: Cars Trucks Buses, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Ginseng Sullivan, Wolfman’s Brother, Sparkle, Walk Away, Divided Sky, Split Open and Melt > Julius
II: Down with Disease > Taste, Twenty Years Later > Piper > Backwards Down the Number Line, You Enjoy Myself, Grind
E: Bouncing Around the Room, Reba, Good Times Bad Times