The second night of Bethel Woods proved two things: Phish is having fun again, and jams are returning to the first set. For the past two years, one of the biggest knocks on Phish was that their first sets were very predictable and contained little improv–this seems to be changing this summer.
Saturday night’s show strayed from the conventional 3.0. They hit the stage with Theme From the Bottom–it was the first time the opened with it since 8/9/1997 at Alpine Valley. Page started the song like it’s supposed to be started–not with Trey.
Set 1: Theme From the Bottom, NICU, Cities, Halley’s Comet > Runaway Jim, Gumbo > Quinn the Eskimo > Limb By Limb, Horn, Bathtub Gin
Set 2: Down with Disease > Free > Backwards Down the Number Line > Makisupa Policeman -> Harry Hood > Cavern > David Bowie
To me, that statistic was shadowed by the fact that Halley’s Comet finally opened up into a jam. After an energetic Cities, Halley’s Comet came out to play. Once Trey went past the normal point where they’d wrap things up, I thought to myself, “finally”. Trey uses all sorts of different sounds in his arsenal. He moves between strumming, noodling, dark, and light nearly flawlessly. Page kept a swanky sound in the background until Mike became more of a driving force. His simple bassline became a pattern for the rest to hang onto. Trey started following Mike–so did Page–but this gave Trey a springboard to delicately play notes on top of the rest of the band. Trey played very thoughtfully in this jam–the jam makes me smile. I can’t believe it came in the beginning of the first set. It segued into Runaway Jim. I can take or leave Jims for the most part–I don’t care to see them, but I also don’t dislike seeing them. This one was pretty special though–Page and Trey extended the middle of the song out a bit–the part that normally gets real quiet before Trey coming back strong with the chords to Jim. While the normal jam segment was nothing, the composed part was interesting!
Quinn came out of Gumbo, just like the last time it was played, at MSG. I guess that’s it–that’s all that’s worth talking about in the first set.
The set-closing Gin is outstanding. I like when they close sets with a jammed-out song, rather than just closing with a typical set-closer–that’s just what happened last night. Out of the jam’s gates, everyone gets pretty quiet. Fishman’s beat starts changing to keep up with Trey’s perky picking during the jam. Soon, Trey’s guitar starts coming up to hose us down in a way that sounds very reminiscent to the MSG Ghost–GLORIOUS! Fishman was rolling right along on his toms to keep the perk behind the jam. At this point, there was extremely thoughtful playing by everyone going on–I’m so proud. Trey teases the end of Gin but then quickly launches back into the jam–the crowd melts down. Mike comes back out with his synthetic-bass sound–it’s over this that Trey starts belting the lyrics to Manteca in a faster-than-normal fashion. What fantastic improvisation. Thank you Trey.
The band launch into Down with Disease to open up the second set. During the energetic climb in the jam, Trey peppered the jam with licks that sounded very similar to the MSG Ghost. However, the climbing part of the jam was pretty stale sounding. After what I like to call ‘the sink’ of the DWD jam (where the hi-hat closes up and the jam goes into a new direction), we didn’t anything else too impressive. The spacey music just leads us into a basic Free.
I’m not sure if the be beginning of Number Line was purposely rearranged or was just messed up–definitely was different though. Trey has points in the beginning of the jam that make a few people cringe, but once he gets onto the same page as the rest of the band, it’s quite an interesting jam. It sounded like darker noodling, but perfectly with the sound of the rest of the band.
Makisupa brought a pretty big debate to the OPT Live Stream chat room last night. Some were calling it a train wreck, I argued that it was pure Phish. It was hilarious. Trey sounded like he didn’t know what he wanted to use as the “keyword”, he passes the story to Page. Page was caught off guard and said “woke up this morning……AND SMOKED A BIG SPLIFF!” Trey moved to Fish, Mike and back to himself. The whole song is hilarious. Not only is the song good because of its playful spirit, but also because it holds up musically. A jam evolves after Trey goes, “you’re in Page’s house!”, Fish starts breaking it the fuck down and Mike starts breaking down with Page soloin’ dirty on top–just awesome. Trey goes on and says, “and this is what it sounds like…in Fish’s house..” — then Fish rolls right into Hood. It caught everyone off-guard–sealing the deal on this version of Makisupa being pure Phish; it was silly, improvised, and caught everyone off-guard.
The Hood wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exciting either. Trey had trouble with the heavy metal part again–I still don’t get why that’s so difficult for him. The jam was delicate, thoughtful, and pretty; however, it never really comes to a head at all before the end.
I thought Cavern would close the second set, but Phish fooled me again and dropped into Bowie. This is the second best David Bowie next to Utica’s of 3.0. Trey snarls into the ending. Trey played by leading the band, rather than getting ahead of himself like he often does during recent Bowies. Trey played with direction in this one. Trey played with meaning. Even the ‘lulls’ during the trilling end-segment contained thoughtful jamming. Excellent job, Trey.
In conclusion, this is better than 1.1 and 5.27. First set jams are back. Trey is finally playing thoughtfully and with direction. Let’s see what happens tonight! Tweezer Reprise to encore?