With Fun & Games Behind Them, Night Two Brings Out Serious Music

Sleeping Monkey | 6.20.12 | from Hidden Track

Tuesday night was made-for-TV (webcast) Phish. They showcased a “jukebox”-style of playing, perfect for fun and games like tucking things into underwear, bringing people on stage, playing with light sabers in the dark, and wearing Mexican sombreros. All the silliness and stage banter seemed to have taken up time for serious improv–which is just fine every now and then–and distracted Trey a bit (his playing wasn’t nearly on par with AC or DCU). But last night, nTelos’ final show took a turn towards some serious musical waters. Banter and silliness were certainly still lingering from the night before, but it wasn’t playing the leading role anymore–the music was.

The night got kicked off with Sparkle. Not a big deal you say? Well you’re wrong. This was the first time Sparkle opened a show since 3/22/1992–20 years ago. Ha Ha Ha was played next right before a short but sweet AC/DC Bag. Divided Sky, a song that was currently tied for the longest gap not played since 2000 finally came out. It was in this song that you could tell Trey was back to himself. He wasn’t interested in playing squeeky, poorly placed notes, and missed cues like he did the night before. Trey destroyed Divided Sky with sniper-like precision. The improvised part at the end was particularly exciting before the band perfectly executed the finishing notes. After a historic opener and a Divided as good as you can get anywhere, we knew that it was going to be a night with a nice mix of fun and musical acrobatics.

As many of you could probably see on the stream (who weren’t there) There were like four Dog Log signs; three of them in a row. I was thinking that it would be hard to ignore them but wasn’t sure if they’d cave as it seems like they are ignoring signs a bit more this year after taking non-stop sign requests last summer. But Trey walked up to the mic and laughed, “there’s enough of those damn signs” and started playing the coveted rarity. The song had only been played six times in 17 years! The last time it was played was at the IT festival on 8/2/03. A lot of people seemed to be surprised that the band nailed every part of the song with ease–Fish even threw in some fun cowbell and woodblock rolls inside of the punctuated breaks of the song. The reason it was played so rust-free is because they have been sound checking with it somewhat regularly for years now. It’s actually amazing they haven’t played it until now. It will be fun to see if it comes into regular rotation or doesn’t come back for another nine years.

Official Poster

Undermind came out for the first time since the FANTASTIC UIC version last summer. It was played really well but slowly fizzled into nothing at the end which is incredibly disappointing. Undermind has a naturally open end and a throbbing/funky sound to it that’s a perfect petri dish for some serious extended improvisation. It’s criminal that they have only used this song for a jam once. Trey, instead, decided to flex his rock and roll muscles in the following Mike’s Song.

The Mike’s Song featured Trey doing some nice, dark patterns on the Ocedoc before coming to a shredding finish. After Hydrogen and a decent Weekapaug, rang out Cities. Every time they play Cities in a first set, I think of the Greek Cities in 2010 and the Bethel Cities in 2011. Then I’m always disappointed. This sucker popped into a nice groove for the opening to the jam. Trey quickly started playing something that was vaguely familiar but hard to put a finger on. As he morphed it more, it was obvious it was about to be the first Ya Mar of the year. It was set up to be a perfect and flawless segue…then Fishman totally stopped, then started up the Ya Mar beat from scratch. I’m not sure if that turns it into a “>” rather than the “->” we wish it was or not.

For the first time since 7/26/98, Bold as  Love was played in the middle of a set, and well at that. The set closed and an oddly tame Julius.

I think it’s important to note a few things before discussing the second set:

– This was another 90+ minute set.  Phish has been playing the most consistently longest concerts of their careen in 3.0, and especially in the last two years. Sets are regularly 90-100 minutes long. Compare that to the 60-75 minute sets of coveted years like 1997, or the 60 minutes sets of shows like 12/31/93. This is something to keep in mind and be happy about moving forward. Their age is actually keeping them playing longer shows.

– It seems like ever since the Bonnaroo show people are holding up huge-ass flags, light up…things, and “rage sticks”. This is seriously obnoxious. No one wants to be behind some bouncing stuffed animal with glowsticks stabbed into it tied up to a stick for 3 hours. More importantly, what kind of person enjoys holding things in the air for hours on end? Knock it off and go do that at Umphrees McGee shows.

– Chris’s lights are way too fucking much now–come to think of it, they are probably attracting all these “rage stick”-wielding kids.

The Rock and Roll opener played out in typical fashion. It rocked, yeah–but many of us have grown so tiresome of that two-dimensional guitar playing. Much of it sounds the same. Give me a good tension/explosive release jam if you really wanna rock socks off. I was far more excited once Tweezer started up, only the second of the year so far.

Trey started doing old school digital delay loops,  you know, the kind you heard between ’97 and ’00 in songs like Ghost and 2001. Although they were not ‘infinite’ loops–as in, they dissolved quickly–it was still a big step to harnessing that powerful sound many of us have been longing to hear again. Trey experimented with his loops during the entire composed section of Tweezer actually. It was actually kind of funny–it seemed like at some points he was having trouble switching between pedals and made for a couple really loud loops and other musical mishaps…all fun though. The jam sunk quick out of the gates. And featured some patterns from Trey scratching his guitar strings, kind of like how he did for part of the AC Tube jam…the first breakdown, but more dirty this time. The entire band meshed perfectly around Big Red as he ever-so-patiently built his perfectly placed notes into more and more prominent ones. Soon, Trey’s guitar was standing tall above stage weaving blankets of shreds in and out of the rhythmic soundscape. It’s a great Tweezer. When the jam comes down after the peak, it comes down low…too low. Mike and Fish quietly, in a cumbersome fashion, limp to a quiet end. In years ago, the band might start up a secondary jam out of this–however, in 3.0, 12 minutes is apparently long enough for a Tweezer and Trey started up a standard Free.

Trey and Mike sing to Fish | 6.20.12 | from Hidden Track

After Guyute served as an interlude after the first movement of the second set, Birds of a Feather started. Obviously Bader’s version was fresh on everyone’s mind still. After a jamtastic Tweezer, why wouldn’t the band take this Bird out for flight? Well, they didn’t–I’m actually not sure why they even bothered playing it.

Hood came next. The last time Hood was played was at Bonnaroo when it segued into Light. It’s not common that Hood go unfinished. In fact, the last time it was unfinished before Bonnaroo was 6/18/04 in Brooklyn and 7/9/98 before that! Well, for the first time, the song was unfinished two times in a row! While Bonnaroo’s was unfinished because of an impatient Trey, this one was unfinished because of a perfectly patient Trey. The band locked onto a mellow groove out of the gates…one that was far too good to mess with. The delicate and spacey jam eventually went so deep that returning to the song just wasn’t acceptable any longer–the only logical move was….WHAT’S THE USE?! In glorious fashion, Trey slipped into What’s the Use for a particularly gorgeous rendition, using quiet parts to be just as important as louder parts.  After What’s the Use? it sounded like Fishman wanted to go back into the Hood jam–which would have been amazing. Instead Page slipped into Wading in the Velvet sea–no complaints there.

The set closed on an unimpressive Possum before the band came back out for a unique take on a classic encore. After noodling the Star Wars theme on guitar, Sleeping Monkey started and Trey said that we needed one more “tuck” to finish the run, continuing that it should be done at the end of the song. Trey said he’s going to sing the song to Fish because he was, indeed, his “father”. Trey had trouble getting more than a few feet from his mic cord when he took it off the stand, so he moved to Mike’s to serenade Fishman, Mike singing his parts duet-style with Trey on a single mic. Trey moved to Fish’s drum kit so Fish could take center stage for his signing part and tucking. Trey quickly rushed back to his guitar for the guitar solo part of the song and shortly thereafter Tweezer Reprise started up with Fish quoting Sleeping Monkey a bit still. As they were ready to leave the 6,500-person sell out crowd for the night, Trey said, “Jon Fishman, Moby Dick” and they walked off stage.

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This was a good show, however it didn’t push the boundaries like Bader or DCU did. I hope they continue on the path they started at the beginning of tour instead of being hunkered down on playing as many songs as possible to hit the 200-song mark they mentioned in Rolling Stone for this tour.