You know the drill, so let’s cut right to the action from SPAC2.
“Crowd Control” starts off in its now-traditional show-opening slot (it has opened the show in each of its six appearances since Phish returned to the stage in 2009), giving way to a spirited if standard “Chalk Dust Torture,” the first repeat of the tour. “The Wedge” and “Funky Bitch” maintain an upbeat and solidly played opening stanza.
“Heavy Things” saw some minor vocal struggles from Trey but was otherwise well-played, and was followed by a one-two punch from Farmhouse with an unexpected “Bug,” the first performance of the song in the first set in over a dozen years (9/25/00, Bonner Springs, KS). The first set seems like a potentially better fit for “Bug” – a song that many fans (including this one) love, but that can often fall fairly flat when positioned in the more common prominent, late-second-set or encore slots. “Bouncing” offers a breather before “Tube” that teases at some delicious grooves that could have offered the first extended improv of the set, but is cut far too short (and even at 6:44 is comparatively long for 3.0). Then the best “Julius” EVER... hint: they are all the “best ever” – “Julius” rarely varies, and always rages.
Frankly, the set could well have ended right there. It would have been a little short at a shade under an hour, but you could have put this one in the books and it would have already been an improvement on the pedestrian and often sloppy first sets offered in Bangor and SPAC1, even without an improvisational highlight. But then they dropped the big one. “Split Open and Melt” has been relatively tame in recent years, despite always being pregnant with the massive potential so often demonstrated “back in the day.” The “Melt” offered here, however, is precisely why, for this fan at least, Phish is a hobby – nay, an obsession. Clocking in at almost nineteen minutes, this monster leaves the tightly woven structure of the song proper and meanders, patiently, through multiple cycles of pure bliss.
While many “out there” “Melt” jams tend to be chaotic and/or dark, this one weaves a tapestry of soothing melodic beauty, and was eerily reminiscent of the “Light” jam from the night before. While the versions offered on 10/20/10 Utica and 8/18/12 BGCA jump to mind as reasonable contenders for which arguments can be made, this was IMHO hands-down the best “Melt” jam segment of 3.0. If you haven’t heard it yet, do it now. Yes, the ending was as horrible as the rest of the “Melt” was transcendent... and frankly the opening composed section was not nailed, either; but when the jam crushes skulls like that, those are matters for the historians. You go that far out, there is no graceful way to ease back into that ending, and needless to say most fans will take that problem every day, and twice on Sunday. Fishman in particular seemed to be getting quite the chuckle out of this post-orgasm train-wreck. Good times!
As if it needed a novelty, for those enjoying the gig from the couch on the official webcast, this “Melt” featured... FIGHT BELL CAM! I’m imaging Mike walking in on some (probably-non-existent) webcast production meeting... “hey, guys, so I had this great idea, we’d have a camera, see, and it would just be on my fight bell; wouldn’t that be neat?” Sure, other bands can jam, and other bands offer webcasts, but does any other band offer a dedicated camera on the bass player’s fight bell? You can bet your ass they don’t! L-o-v-e this band!
After an intermission of precisely 15 minutes, “Backwards Down the Number Line” opens set two. I don’t want to play Debbie Downer, but I’m going to vocalize what a lot of fans think, but are seemingly afraid to say because, well, who wants to be the person to shit on such a happy song? It is always someone’s birthday; maybe the band could resolve to play the song, say, once or twice a tour, on behalf of all the birthdays that take place around that tour? I like “Number Line,” but it seems just a wee bit overplayed (every three shows since its 2009 debut). As always, YMMV.
In any case, “Tweezer” then opens up the jam festivities. Oddly skipped at each of Phish’s twelve previous SPAC performances, hopes rode high, and the possibilities seemed great early on for cosmic lift-off... until Trey’s deployment of the rip-cord, the first jarring premature endjamulation of the tour. Nothing ‘wrong’ with this “Tweezer” but as “Tweezer” goes, this one gets the job done, but little more.
If you are going to pull the rip-cord off the truck, at least in this case it was in favor of the fan-favorite, “Sand.” “Sand” always brings the heat, and in this case it did so at a significantly faster tempo than others of recent vintage. Allowing the crowd to boogie til their butts hurt and sweat out the little remaining fluids from the days' heat, “Sand” made way for a scorching “Carini.” Now, let’s recall that every version can’t be “the best” version; it doesn’t work like that, Phish songs don’t work like a perfectly modeled sales projection chart. But with “Carini,” sometimes you wonder. Regardless of where this version falls in your personal “best of” list, the fact is that, especially of late, “Carini” is money in the bank. Just look at the last few: Bill Graham, Dick’s, MSG – all monsters. SPAC2 absolutely takes a seat among that rarified air. While there isn’t a single dominant “must-hear, best-ever” version of any single song in this set, the “Sand” > “Carini” segment taken as a whole, really does deserve your attention for a dedicated listen.
The moving outro to the “Carini” jam then featured a slick segue into “Architect,” the first Phish performance of a tune from Trey’s 2012 album, Traveler. Traveler isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though it is certainly mine, adult contemporary overtones notwithstanding. TAB has always been and will seemingly remain both a viable artistic outlet in itself, as well as an incubator for new Phish tunes. So if you haven’t had the chance, give Traveler a listen, or if you dismissed it on a first listen, give it another shot. Both “Corona” and “Frost” from Traveler were sounchecked in Bangor, so one can reasonably expect more from this record as we move further into the tour.
The rest of the set... was fun, rocking, Saturday Night crowd-pleasing, but not much to write home about. “Wilson” > “Boogie On” (with vocal flubs so bad that they were great, leading to basically the whole band cracking up) and then “Possum.” Insert your own commentary on the placement of the marsupial in this second-set closing slot... wouldn’t have been my call, but that is why I’m just some dude on the couch. “Show of Life” takes us home to the inevitable and always balls-to-the-wall “Tweezer Reprise.”
Overall? Darn good Phish show, very enjoyable, to these ears the most consistent of the three so far in 2013. While not demonstrating the cohesion and “wholeness” of the excellent (if criminally overrated by some) SPAC1 second set, this gig had fewer lows, exceptional highlights (“Melt,” “Sand,” “Carini”), a debut (“Architect”), and did I mention FIGHT BELL CAM!?
So that’s a wrap... we’ll see y’all back here tomorrow to recap SPAC3. If you are attending the gig tonight, be safe, stay hydrated, be aware of your surroundings and how your actions impact others, and have a blast!
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February 26, 1997
20 years ago
Encore: Highway to Hell
 Heavy metal outro.
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