Phish kicked off their three-night run in Atlantic City finale with a strong second frame Friday night that set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Showcasing several pieces that stood out throughout fall tour, Phish molded a front-loaded series of grooves in a hearty musical entrée on the Boardwalk of the Jersey Shore. Shaking off a sluggish opening set with the closing combo of “Cities > 46 Days,” these last two songs ignited the band, setting the table for an eventful second act.
After this retro-tour filled with intimate venues and often with immaculate sound, the “legendary” Boardwalk Hall was a bit of a let down in terms of size and sound. A massive room with a huge domed ceiling likening a natatorium, the music lost considerable quality on the floor beyond the soundboard, as it drifted into the rafters above. Hopefully, Phish’s crew will have the room sounding far better for the rest of this special weekend.
But let’s get back to the music. Carrying over the adrenalized energy of “46 Days” into the opening “Punch You In the Eye,” Phish lit a fuse to the second half of the show. But Friday night’s fire burned the brightest during the subsequent combination of “Sand” and “Carini” – two songs that have stood as beacons of light all Fall. Morphing the show into a rhythmic odyssey, the band smoothly progressed through an exquisute excursion of “Sand.” Rejuvenated with musical density, “Sand” has emerged as one of the all-stars of tour, and last night Phish provided more evidence to its defense. Transforming into liquid textures, Trey played laid-back leads over a jazzy pocket, allowing plenty of room for Page’s clavinet offerings. Boasting distinct flow and gradually building momentum, this version typifies the evolved version of “Sand” for this era, where the entire band donates to the dense puzzle rather than Trey annihilating solos over a linear beat.
Not only boasting a stupendous peak, “Sand” moved beyond, into an uncharted melodic realm where the entire band helped build the piece away from the song’s foundation into a free form jam. Taking “Sand” where it has never gone before, the band transitioned into a mid-tempo groove where the band moved singlemindedly. Open jamming wthin “Sand” – next generation stuff – who’d have thunk it? This very impressive improvisational sequence concluded with a somewhat abrupt, Trey-led switch into “Carini.” Though anytime “Carini” drops these days, a gorgeous jam is sure to follow. Building off the song’s sizzling arena rock, Phish used their newly revitalized vehicle to explore sparser, bass-led textures. Moving into creative dance patterns and then into an experimental outro, creativity was at a paramount once again as the each band member contributed to a song that was once defined by wailing guitar.
Melting into “Prince Caspian,” Phish used a more conventional version of their power-ballad to take a breath after two standout jaunts. Though many recent versions have been underlined by whole-band interplay, this one rode the coattails of Trey’s solo, completing the set’s opening sequence in classic fashion. After a brief pause to communicate, the band dropped into Taj Mahal’s “Corrina” straight out of left field, and the cover brought complete serenity to the show, drenching the audience in soulful melody.
At this natural break, the show could have gone in any number of directions, as a certain jam vehicle loomed around the corner. Selecting another scorching highlight of the fall, Phish began a particularly dense “Piper,” taking the set on a high-speed roller coaster ride. Communicating with incredible proficiency, the band sped into super-glued intergalactic journey, pushing the boundaries of new-school Phish. Navigating their spaceship as if commanded by a single mind, the band careened through a mid-set peak and found their way into “Theme From the Bottom” to resolve the maniacal chase.
After an out of place “Golgi,” the band – again – chose a fall highlight that has stood out since its surreal unveiling in Broomfield, “Slave to the Traffic Light.” Patiently building the spiritual soundtrack, Trey infused this version with that extra zest that separates great versions from the good ones. Fishman was with him from the inception on a meticulous climb to the stars. Boasting supreme phrasing from all members, this version carried certain majesty from beginning to end, bringing the show to a colossal and cathartic peak.
Building off “Slave’s” cleansing conclusion, Phish continued the upbeat vibe with “Fluffhead.” Closing the set with a relatively clean version of the multi-part composition, the show ended in blissful rage as Trey took liberty with his final solo, forming a multi-tiered, anthemic geyser. Giving a nod to last year’s Halloween costume, Phish ended the evening with Exile on Main Street’s “Loving Cup,” but there was nary a hint of what the band might do come tomorrow night’s second set. But that’s a whole ‘nother show away. Tonight is shaping up to be a Saturday night barnburner on the Boardwalk in AC. Often times Phish drops their most significant music of a holiday run before the final night, and with a strong boost from Friday’s second set, Saturday night has plenty of room for a freak scene. Soon we shall see…
1st Set Notes: Despite succinct versions of rarities “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” and “Timber Ho!,” the first set never picked up any steam until the band transitioned out of “Moma” into “Cities.” Taking the cover in a diverse direction, the band built away from conventional funk grooves into a soupier, psychedelic ambiance that eventually twisted into “46 Days.” Though ballistically crushing the set closer, the entire frame came across a bit haphazardly. But with the putting the pedal to the medal during the closer, Phish was on their way far more impressive second half.
I: The Star Spangled Banner, My Soul, AC/DC Bag, Ocelot, Sample in a Jar, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Sugar Shack, Timber Ho!, Bouncing Around the Room, Axilla, Rift, The Moma Dance > Cities > 46 Days
II: Punch You In the Eye, Sand > Carini > Prince Caspian, Corinna, Piper > Theme From the Bottom, Golgi Apparatus, Slave to the Traffic Light, Fluffhead
E: Loving Cup