Following a thrilling opening night, Phish again reached deep into their bag of tricks for last night’s show in Atlantic City, the second of three shows at Bader Field. Featuring a Light/Crosseyed/Manteca mash-up as its centerpiece, the show felt in some ways like the musical equivalent of Chris Kuroda’s million-piece light rig: so flashy that it almost obscures the subtle beauty beneath the surface.
We’ll get to all that, though. The opening notes of Mike’s Song immediately put the show in amazing company: since 1990, the list of shows with Mike’s openers consists of two fall ’97 shows, 4/3/98, Lemonwheel night 1, the amazing 7/2/97, Charlotte ’11, and, um, Coventry. The song was powerfully played, with some salacious bass work from Mike and some nastiness from Trey. Weekapaug wasn’t really notable, aside from a Nellie Kane tease. If I were making an awful pun, I wouldn’t call it Weak-apaug, but I wouldn’t call it Weekap-awesome. Fortunately, I’m not making awful puns, so it’s not an issue either way.
The audience crossed their collective fingers for Gumbo and Halley’s, hoping that one might bring a triumphant return to its jammier days, as Roses and Tube have on this tour. Sadly, it was not to be, as Gumbo failed to break the 5-minute mark, and Halley’s quickly yielded the stage to My Friend. Though well-played, My Friend was notable mostly for the banter that it led to, after a solid Wolfman’s. Following an aborted Horse — which inspired a tweet that got favorited and re-tweeted enough times that I sincerely worry for all my twitter followers — Trey mentioned his hatred for the My Friend ending. Fish called it the best ending in rock history, which caused Trey to ask Page what his favorite song-ending was. I’m sure I’m not the only person wishing he’d said Brother, but he went with Lawn Boy. Of course.
That song was played, then teased in the intro to what would be another strong Possum. This one included a tasty breakdown-then-explode section. The fun continued during Punch You in the Eye, when the audience continued the previous night’s Twist-inspired “WOO!” Ocelot and Suzy closed the door on what was a strong, if not particularly jammy, first set. Possum and Wolfman’s were the musical highlights, but the banter is probably the best part of the set.
The opening notes of Crosseyed made it clear that the band was going to kick it up a notch in the second set. From there, the energy never really dipped. The jam out of Crosseyed sounded more or less what the first few minutes of any Crosseyed jam sounds like: high-energy soloing from Trey. Things began to get interesting when the jam broke down and Trey hinted at, then eventually started, Slave to the Traffic Light. This was the song’s first appearance in such an early-second-set slot since July 4, 1999, and it worked.
Perhaps inspired by my tweet (okay, maybe not), the band launched into Light. This would set the tone for the rest of the set, and provide the show’s clear highlight. Chants of “Still waiting” were layered over the pre-jam vocals. Soon after, Trey began playing the Manteca riff, and the band followed. A groove-based jam ensued, with Trey alternating between staccato chords and soloing over a Possum-like drumbeat. The groove built and built, and incorporated a sung “Still waiting” / “And the light is growing brighter” pairing that led into a strong instrumental climax before the song finally ended.
Theme and Golgi followed. These were excellent setlist choices: compared to songs like Alaska, these tunes are far better ways to change the pace in a second set while keeping the audience rapt.
The fun continued with Sand — a pretty good rendition, but one that, without the predictable return of the “Still waiting” refrain, would feel like a Trey band version. A short Number Line followed, and the set came to a close with an excellent, raging Antelope. The band returned with 2012’s first Good Times Bad Times, whose composed section was a bit rough around the edges, but Trey recovered wonderfully for a fresh, biting solo.
Front to back, this was another strong show. My only worry is that the band might begin to use the setlist-recap thing as a crutch. Don’t get me wrong — night 1’s Bowie, with the thousand teases — and the Crosseyed debris that floated through set 2 were loads of fun. But they’re close to feeling predictable. In recent years, Phish has closed many a three-night run with shows that border on gimmicky. My hope is that tonight, the band will bring back all the energy and improvisation from the first two nights, and leave the gimmicks at home.