A night after Phish showcased their sinister and creative side, the came out Saturday with a far more playful affair, weaving Violent Femme’s “Blister in the Sun” throughout a second set that lacked back-end flow—a problem that has plagued more than a few shows this tour. Despite the momentum-stalling, mid-set selections of “Number Line” and “Scent of a Mule,” the band never allowed any second-half jam to breathe other than the opening “Disease.” With a far more fun than serious night of music, the band has left quite a bit hanging for their tour finale.
While crafting a smoking opening frame, Phish largely left the bust out stone unturned in favor of a modern-shaped setlist. Though the guys sounded tight from the jump, the set picked up considerable steam as with the drop into “Cities.” Steering the piece into Plinksville, the band let things grow for the first time of the night as the liquid grooves enveloped the pavilion. Seamlessly moving into a maniacal “Maze,” Page destroyed the place with his organ solo, bringing the audience to its most energetic point thus far by leaps and bounds.
The second standout pairing of the set began with the second appearance of Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” this summer. Using the short instrumental to launch into “Bathtub Gin,” here would come the undeniable highlight of the opening frame. Within the slow cadence of the jam’s onset, Trey took hold of the jam and never let go. Spouting one creative melody after another, he led the band and audience on a super-charged joyride. Though the guys supported his soulful outpouring with proficiency, there was no question who the spotlight was on in this jam. And to finalize the set, Trey picked another song that would showcase his chops with a rare first-set appearance of “Good Time, Bad Times.”
When a second half opens with “Disease” it always feels that the band could be on the precipice of writing an epic set-long tale, as so many have started with the improvisational go-to. But this set would follow a different path. Weaving the melody of “Blister in the Sun” early into the “Disease” jam, the entire band hopped on the idea and segued smoothly into the timeless song for the first time since Barcelona ’98. Moving just as smoothly back into the “Disease” jam it seemed that this was but a fun stop along the way, but little did we know it would soon turn into the theme of the set. Within the dark and groovy “Disease” jam, if I’m not mistaken, the guys toyed around with the “Moby Dick” theme, referencing their classic Deer Creek show in 2000 where every jam wound up in the Led Zeppelin cover—some tongue-in-cheek foreshadowing as to what was coming? Playing this heavy jaunt—and highlight of the night—to its natural conclusion, Mike introduced the envelope filter, and within measures made the switch into “Boogie On.” Trey added some engaging loops behind the latter part of the jam, and it seemed that the band was going to bring the cover into uncharted waters. But, instead, Red kept the setlist moving with “Golden Age.”
One had to think that tour’s final “Golden Age—a song that has been an improvisational revelation this summer—placed in the middle of the second set at SPAC was primed for take off. But before the jam got a chance to sprout baby wings, the band bailed out into “2001.” The funk instrumental set up was certainly setting up the rest of the set, and what came out of its peak would determine quite about bit the show’s contour. And Troy chose “Number Line.” With this set-deflating move, the guys moved into a conventional jam in which they would weave in teases of “Blister in the Sun.” And that was the script for the rest of the night—except for “Prince Caspian.”
Floating through the jam of the mellow anthem, the guys created something wholly beautiful out of “Caspian.” Coming together in a stunning three-part conversation, Page, Mike, and Trey sculpted a minimalist and cerebral musical portrait that evoked the sound of the Grateful Dead. Easily one of the highlights of the night, Trey laid back amidst the band’s rolling textures, playing with a soulful sensibility. But what happened next was a bit confusing. As the guys bled into a tranquil soundscape, Trey hinted at the beginning of “Piper,” and everyone I’ve talked to since the show ended was sure that’s where we were headed. But when Trey countered his own idea with “Scent of a Mule,” the word “deflating” would be a colossal understatement. Killing any sense of set flow or coherency, even his own band members—according to friends in the front row—looked perplexed at the call.
The invigorated speed-grass passed through another verse of “Blister in the Sun” within a more engaging than usual “Muel Duel.” And when the band cranked up “Mike’s Song,” everyone knew how the show would end. Lacing teases of “Blister” into both “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug” the guys concluded one of the those sets that many will look back on fondly, and others, not so much. And that’s just the nature of the beast.
Always best when viewed as a whole, the middle night of SPAC’s three-pack provided light hearted entertainment with three quality excursions in “Gin,” “Disease,” and “Caspian.” And when the band balances the scales with an in-depth journey to end their tour tonight, all will feel right in the world of Phish. But that’s another story for another time.
I: Grind, Possum > Golgi Apparatus, The Moma Dance, Torn and Frayed, Rift, Cities -> Maze, Lawn Boy,Peaches en Regalia > Bathtub Gin, Good Times Bad Times
II: Down with Disease -> Blister in the Sun -> Down with Disease > Boogie On Reggae Woman > Golden Age -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Backwards Down the Number Line*, Prince Caspian -> Scent of a Mule -> Blister in the Sun > Scent of a Mule, Mike’s Song* > Contact > Weekapaug Groove*
* w/ “Blister in the Sun” teases