Living the shadows of the elite sets of summer is an outstanding frame of Phish hasn’t gotten its due respect. With momentum like a freight train and speckled with several ten minute gems, what this set lacks in a true centerpiece jam, it more than makes up for in relentless flow. Composed of “all killer and no filler,” and with plenty to write home about, the first night of Alpine, unquestionably, comtains the dark horse set of leg one.
The lack of a timeless improvisational passage in a run of shows that was loaded with them, has been the primary reason this set hasn’t garnered the attention of its night two counterpart. But ask anyone who was at the two performances, and I’ll bet most would say that the opening night was the better show. When thinking of Alpine 2012, fans will immediately remember “Fee” and the crème de la crème sequence of “Light > Ghost,” but at the show—other than a couple classic covers to kick off the second set, those three jams carried the show. And because they were of such high quality, they could absolutely do that. But the first night’s second set had one dancing from start—well, at least second song—through the very last note of the set, a rare quality in Phish sets these days. Instead of focusing all of their energies in a front loaded frame and coasting to the end, the band kept the pedal to the medal throughout this main event.
After the show I called it a “perfect set,” and while. in retrospect, I might nitpick for a more significant closer, the flow of the set and jams within are nothing short of ideal. Once the chords of “Carini” followed a “Number Line” set-opener, the band didn’t come up for air until “Quinn the Eskimo” late in the show. Stringing together a series of high-energy jams—first groovy and then exploratory—the guys crushed this set from start to finish in a way they did very few this summer. There were no lulls, no fizzling, no bullshit—just pure musical fire. Phish has always had a way of filling Alpine’s vast pavilion with monstrous music to match, and on this night, there was plenty to go around.
“Carini” exploded out of form into heavy dance rhythms that resembled “Tweezer” far more than the jam it stemmed from. Though the band used the combo of “Golden Age > 2001” three times this summer, none popped like the pairing at Alpine. Transcending standard “Golden Age” rhythms and building into a more dynamic funk exchange, the band threw down an extended and intricate jam session that sits amongst the top dance floor bangers of tour. And when Trey hit a chordal tease of “2001” the band hopped right on the hint, seamless moving into the funk anthem.
Following the peak of “2001,” the vibe of the set changed, though its momentum didn’t waver a bit, with the start of “Rock and Roll.” Shifting gears from rhythmic conversations to exploratory rock, the guys carved out a stellar, guitar-led jaunt from the Velvet Underground cover, and surpassed it later in the set with a “Piper” that has gone under-appreciated amongst so many colossal versions of summer. In fact, “Piper,” in my opinion, is the improvisational highpoint of the set, though it almost seems like an afterthought on such an eye-popping setlist. The whole band converged on this jam unlike any other of the night, and when Trey hit a shredding, multi-note pattern, the jam elevates to another level. Firing as one, the guys got into a chugging, uptempo jam that found more than a few sweet spots and a surreal come down. Oh, and between “Rock and Roll” and “Piper,” the band unveiled the only “Steam” of 2012. Yeah, this set had it all.
Although “Hood > Zero” isn’t exactly a show-stopping closer, the band played solid versions of both. If Phish, instead, finished the show with “You Enjoy Myself” or “David Bowie,” this set would have that final touch and would draw far more attention. But in the end, would five minutes of standard “YEM” funk made that much difference? The lack of a big-time closer, however, is the only possible knock on this second half.
Very few set second sets these days contain both tour-highlight jams and non-stop flow. And while nothing in this set will make Leg One’s greatest hits, in terms of the live experience, few sets kept the party going from beginning to end like the first night of Alpine. A sparkling setlist, non-stop musical motion and plenty of jamming made this one of the most complete frames of tour. If you don’t agree, hit play on your iPod and see how many tomes you hit skip…See?
Number Line, Carini > Wilson > Golden Age -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Rock and Roll > Steam > Piper > Quinn the Eskimo, Harry Hood > Character Zero
Jam of the Day:
Quite a diverse chunk of jamming!