Phish bounced right back from Sunday night with a smashing two-set effort in Manchester, New Hampshire that popped from the very start and never let up. With an opening frame comprised of all but two songs un-played this tour, and a liquid second set that rolled off the stage in a non-stop musical highlight, Phish returned to the magical pastures of last week on Tuesday night. Featuring a stunning open jam in “Light” and a dazzling “Ghost” packaged in a knockout”Mike’s Groove,” Phish crafted one of their most engaging sets of the season. Spring-boarding off one of their best nights of tour, Phish will take a two-day break before they head south to Atlantic City for a three-day extravaganza to close out Fall 2010.
The band surprised the entire audience by opening the evening with “After Midnight,” playing the song for only the second time in history and flashing everyone back to the all-night millennial blowout at Big Cypress. Setting an electric vibe immediately, Phish never looked back as they burst with energy and precision through each selection in the opening half. Continuing with smoking versions of “The Sloth” and “Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues,” “Alumni’s” funk jam took center stage as the band locked together early. A particularly smooth and extended “Mellow Mood” provided one of the highlights of the opening set, while also foreshadowing a special second half moment. The parade of fall debuts progressed with Gordon’s “Access Me,” “Llama” and Trey’s “All of These Dreams.” But the centerpiece of a well-crafted first frame came in 2010’s second-only “The Curtain (With),” whose jam soared with enhanced poignancy, taking “With” to another level of beauty.
The other indelible first set standout came in the long-awaited 2010 debut of “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” Although the post-hiatus piece didn’t jump out of the box, Trey annihilated the song in a nasty guitar showcase. Bringing the edgier jam to several searing peaks, the band collectively cremated the elusive nugget that is so desperately begging to be put into rotation. Capping the first half with the fall’s second “It’s Ice” and another debut, “Walls of the Cave,” the opening frame overflowed with energy and featured impeccable song selection. But all the fun and debuts contained in the first half merely the table for a second set that stands among the tour’s best.
Kicking open door number two with a minimalist turned raucous “Possum,” Phish gave the song a more hearty run through than the many first set versions we’ve seen, reaching some engaging uptempo territory. But when “Light” dropped in the second slot, the festivities commenced in earnest. Taking the metaphysical piece on, perhaps, its defining excursion of the fall, Phish sculpted a multi-tiered piece of psychedelia. Blasting through the opening segment with intricate and powerful communication, the band seamlessly migrated into a rolling groove that Trey painted with rhythmic-turned-free-form melodies. Passing into an amorphous section of jamming, Phish locked onto each others’ ideas, steadily blossoming in a soul-tugging groove. As Fishman and Mike switched up their patterns, it sounded as though the band was momentarily moving towards “Manteca,” but what materialized was a full-on jam on the “Alumni Blues” funk groove that shined in the opening set – but with a whole lot more accoutrements! Moving right beyond the theme into a series of infectious dance grooves, Phish did back flips amidst IT, as they effortlessly cruised through a spectacular section of music. And just before they came to a conclusion, Trey perfectly inserted the opening lick of “Mike’s Song.”
There’s nothing quite like taking a massive jam to the dome and then being blindsided by another powerhouse. And with each subsequent version this fall, a powerhouse is exactly what “Mike’s Song” is becoming. Like a musical uppercut, the band tore apart a dense trip to the underworld as Trey unleashed all sorts of creative leads in a crunching heavy-hitter. The entire band attacked this jam with all of the show’s ballooning momentum, completely imploding Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena. With intent and menacing urgency, “Mike’s” brought a boisterous end to “Light’s” delicacies while drenching the crowd in symphonic fury. Musical density took hold of this version, as the same eight minutes seemed far longer as Phish bombarded us with sinister ideas. And upon arriving at “Mike’s” closing power chords, the band chose “Simple” to follow. Riding out the song’s melody into a serene musical zephyr, Phish tricked the gentle jam down into “Makisupa Policeman.”
While second set stops in Phish’s silly reggae number have been known to derail frames altogether, last night’s version has the opposite effect. Using the piece to segue into the late-Gregory Isaac’s classic “Night Nurse,” the band gave a sincere nod to one of Jamaica’s greatest musicians and vocalists. Isaacs died the the previous day, October 25, after an extended battle with lung cancer, and Phish honored him with, perhaps, their most well-executed reggae cover ever played. Oozing with an authentic roots vibe that often lacks in Phish’s reggae playing, they had clearly practiced this one and wanted to make sure they nailed it. Turning the mid-sized venue into an island dance hall, everyone ate up the tribute, and without missing a beat, the band moved right back into “Makisupa.” Pure cash money.
A juicy stop in “The Wedge” followed up the reggae vibe nicely, setting the table for an extended jaunt through the now-elusive “Ghost.” Long overdue, some began to wonder if the band was holding out for Halloween to drop the eerie funk staple, but such theories were put to rest with a dynamic second-set highlight that straddled the line between groove and rock. Beginning with a sparser rhythmic canvas, the band gradually layered ideas atop the sonic brew slowly bringing it to a boil. Trey and Page worked collaboratively on the top half of the jam as Mike and Fish snapped off a rhythmic pocket as tight as glue. The whole band came together in this piece, illustrating the lightening quick communication and gleaming chops of Phish right now. A harder beat and more forceful guitar leads pushed this version through a blissful bridge and into a mind-numbing sequence of subconscious Phish. The band careened towards a staggering peak as if strapped to the back of a rocket, and once they reached there, they slowly moved down the other side of the mountain with a mystical passage that seamlessly transformed into “Mango Song.”
“Mango” carried the infectious energy of the night through an enthusiastic outing, and upon the song’s ending, Phish burst into “Weekapaug” sans gaudy bass intro. Capping the set with a full-throttle bug out, “Weekapaug” overflowed with musical creativity while the band also lyrically reprised “Ghost” and “Night Nurse” in a set-ending mashup. Surfing a tidal wave of energy and emotion, Phish referenced “Low Rider” on the way to the “Weekapaug’s” ending – an ending that would be promptly blown out into a thrilling “Llama” reprise, complete with the entire first verse! Finishing the set with a final “Taboot, Taboot!” the band put down their blazing instruments, still flaming from the thrilling adventure. Picking them up once more for a “Show of Life” encore, the emotive ballad closed the evening with proper majesty.
Treating the mid-week crowd to a stellar performance, Phish’s newest era continued full-steam ahead last night as they put a mellow weekend in Massachusetts behind them, and blasted towards an imminent Halloween explosion this weekend. In another show filled with standout playing, tightly-woven and self-referential jamming, and an overall Phishy spirit, the band placed another golden brick in the road of Fall Tour last night.
And with only three left to go, we have reached the brink of Phish’s Halloween blowout in Atlantic City! Travel safely, wherever you are coming from, and we’ll meet up on the Jersey shore to put a collective exclamation point on a transformative fall tour. See you there! reigniting
I: After Midnight, The Sloth, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Mellow Mood, Access Me, Llama, All of These Dreams, The Curtain (With), Scent of a Mule, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, It’s Ice, Walls of the Cave
II: Possum, Light > Mike’s Song > Simple > Makisupa Policeman > Night Nurse* > Makisupa Policeman, The Wedge, Ghost > The Mango Song, Weekapaug Groove > Llama Reprise
E: Show of Life
*debut, Gregory Isaacs