Phish capped off two nights at Hartford, Connecticut on Friday with a completely fluid two-set show that, boasted, arguably, the standout set of the summer thus far. Putting an fierce exclamation point on the first half of the weekend, the band played with extreme cohesion and vigor, as Trey led Phish through a non-stop, guitar-led tale of wonder after setbreak. Featuring stretched out, creative annihilation’s of old favorites, without getting too experimental, the band came, they saw, and they conquered. Though Phish left off a big set-closer, they more than compensated with an unprecedented double-”Tweezer Reprise” encore that just about blew the roof off the Comcast Theatre.
The masterful set launched off “Halley’s Comet” into a dense version of “Light,” showcasing the piece for the first time since tour’s opening night. Remaining more contained than than the past few versions we’ve heard, the band built off the peak into a textured realm, engaging in a unique interchange that morphed into a series of tightly-wound percussive grooves. Settling into a short ambient passage, Trey dotted a sparse melody amidst the jam’s final stages. When Page sustained his final effect, Trey tastefully played the intro to “Billy Breathes,” in a stark juxtaposition to the previous night’s entry into “Horse > Silent.” The gentle composition, provided a musical pillow for “Light,” before the house nearly shook to the ground with the second “Tweezer” of summer.
From note one Trey took control of this monstrosity, directing grooves like a cosmic traffic cop. While Fishman kept a driving beat going throughout this rhythmic safari, Trey and Mike stepped up, indulging in an extended session of liquid crack. Trey immediately took a rhythmic approach to things, locking into a signature pattern. Gordon backed him with brontosaurus bass lines that sprung off the stage like the smoke monster, devouring all in its path. The unstoppable river of crunchy grooves felt being hooked to an IV of soulful refreshment. Setting sail into the subsequent section, Trey pulled up with a supremely, pimped-out lick, settling the scene to sew together more subtle bending leads in his new, “impressionistic” tone. Building into an addictive, rolling pattern, Trey continued pushing forward in an unrelenting version that became a galleria for his and Mike’s collective genius. If you like to dance, this one is for you. Check it – now!
Coming out of the highly-illegal musical territory, it took Phish a couple minutes to properly cool off after such a blazing affair. When a final ambient bulge slid quietly into ‘Theme From the Bottom,” the palpable energy from “Tweezer” overflowed directly into the summer anthem, forming another blistering version of a song with quality full-band cooperation. Phish then book-ended the gargantuan portion of the set with a sprawling and ethereal “Harry Hood.” Featuring incredibly patient interplay between Mike and Trey, again showcasing his new tone and playing style, the two players took co-lead in this sacred dance. Using a more gradual build than Blossom’s intense burst of glory, this version’s beauty came in its slower, haunting quality.
After a classically placed, penultimate “Velvet Sea,” Phish surprised everyone by coming out with “Stealing Time” as the second-set closer. It seems like the band is grooming this song to be a modern-age “Character Zero,” as the blues-rocker has now punctuated a first and second set this tour. Settling into a section of distorted grooves, not all that dissimilar from its older relative, Phish ended with a bang, again giving a fresh feel to their setlist. But the evening’s most bombastic moments were still to come.
Amidst the peak of a raucous “Tweezer Reprise” encore, Trey – juiced with enthusiasm – called out that the band played “Tweezer” in Hershey without a “Reprise,” so they would now play it again! Taking it from the top, Phish cannonballed into, possibly, the most face-melting “Tweezer Reprise” ever played. While Trey got on his knees, jumped off of amps, and stomped in circles, the band brought the song to into virtual lunacy. Regardless of what this sounds like on tape, the experience can simply not be replicated. You Tube this clip ASAP, you won’t believe your eyes; a magnificent end to a stellar second half of Phish.
The opening set got going in earnest when an impressive, technically sound version of “Rift” gave way to the rubber grooves of “Wolfman’s Brother.” A song that has nestled into its ten-minute, first-set role this era, this version got the venue bumping for the first time of the night. An otherwise old-school set was broken up by Trey’s new pop-love song written for his wife, called “Summer of ’89.” Trust me, I love Big Red’s ballads more than the next guy, but on this one I’ve got to say, “Really, Trey?” Making “Jennifer Dances” look like an alien encounter in a dark alley, this debut should bring message board flaming to new heights. Ironically, the final section moves into some interesting improvisation, but I’ll see how this one develops before saying any more. A throw-down “Possum,” brought the crowd way up for a drop into “Moma,” but the sparkling oasis of the first set came at the end in “Reba.” Using his minimalist strokes, Trey’s new technique of laying way back in jams allowed Mike to step up as co-band leader, a situation where two heads are most certainly better than one. These understated grooves became the foundation for Phish’s delicate journey to the top, in another display of an increasingly patient band.
Hartford’s second night showed what a difference a day can make. 24 hours after their only inconsistent night of Summer 2010, Phish came back with a first-rate show that featured, in my opinion, the defining set of the six-show tour. As we sail into the second half of the weekend and into the woods of upstate New York, SPAC will likely bring more special evenings, but will Phish top such a powerful endeavor? They’ve been known to…
Answers are only hours away.
I: Fee, Rift, Wolfman’s Brother, Summer of ’89*, Foam, Possum, The Moma Dance, Julius, Reba, Cavern
II: Halley’s Comet > Light > Billy Breathes, Tweezer > Theme From the Bottom, Harry Hood, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
E: Sleeping Monkey, Tweezer Reprise, Tweezer Reprise