One more night in Hampton for an undersold Sunday show that I hoped would put an exclamation point on the weekend and get Fall Tour off to a rampaging start. And did it ever. Forgive me for rushing my set up, here, but I’m dying to spark this one and get to it.
You can come out and open a set with a jamming workhorse like “Wolfman’s Brother” or “Bathtub Gin.” On the other hand, you can fire off a few rockers to get the burners lit. Phish chose the latter course on Sunday, and the opening triumvirate of “Julius,” “Funky Bitch” and “Back On the Train” worked to perfection. As “BOTT” reached a steam whistle climax, two things were clear: First, Mike’s voice had improved significantly since Saturday night, though it still didn’t sound 100%. I’m guessing it was mint tea with honey. Second, the band was absolutely dialed in. “Roses Are Free” may have only teased us, once again, by head faking in the direction of the Island Tour version, but I liked the two minutes of improvisation at the end. So, if a jammed out “Roses” is something you’ve been chasing, I think you should count it. Hey, length isn’t everything. After “Sample In a Jar” and the first “Ginseng Sullivan” in more than a year, it was time to dump some fuel in the furnace with “46 Days.” If you encounter someone whose heart has stopped, you can attempt to resuscitate him with chest compressions, or you could just play him a good version of “46 Days.” This version should work just fine.
Once upon a time, I was not a big fan of “Divided Sky,” but that changed last summer. I now look forward to the gorgeous composition and the passion that Trey can bring to that solo. This is not a flawless version, and this is not the greatest version, but that is very far from the point. The sight of Hampton Coliseum ablaze with a veritable starscape of lighters during a 2m 33s pause is something I will never forget. It was beyond cool; it was magnificent, and I’ll forever believe it lit the fuse on the bomb that went off in the second set. First, though, Page grabbed the rainbow spotlight of “Bold As Love” to close set one. This was my favorite opening frame of the run, but to borrow a phrase from @cactoid, YMM, of course, V.
Set two opened with an anti-dedication to a group of fans wearing “Where’s Waldo” costumes. Since Trey said the song was NOT for the Waldoes, I assume it was for the folks who hung the “Paul and Silas” sign each night. Well done. With that request fulfilled, it was time for an explosion of cheers and glowsticks as “Tweezer” ripped into the Mothership. I’m tempted to describe this version with a string of expletives. That may do it more justice than my description will, but I suppose decorum demands I give it a shot anyway, so here goes. The jam starts simply enough, with some wokka chops and pitch shifting from Trey. Around 9:30, Mike and Page drop out for a moment, and when they come back in, things take on a creepy, Halloween feel. This intensifies SERIOUSLY when Mike takes position behind Fish and starts hammering on his bass with a drumstick. By 13:00, we are in the heart of an EVIL October “Tweezer.” It’s a monster that lurches around and menaces everyone in the building. Just before the 15:00 minute mark, Trey finds a screeching chord blast, and this creature reaches a crescendo with its teeth bared before slowly receding into its lair. In its wake, the darkness swirls, and just after 19:00, Page summons sheer beauty to lull the beast back to sleep. The ambient section of this “Tweezer” nearly brought me to tears. It is an achingly beautiful catharsis. Following that stunning turn from wicked to wondrous, “Golden Age” has never seemed more appropriate. It develops into a dirty dance party as Trey and Page color and fill against the rhythm. Fish and Mike are so good in this segment, and the groove gets so deep and tight that even a partial “Streets of Cairo” tease sounds awesome. Around 12:30 the jam swells and then slowly starts to contract. As the space grows and chaos builds in, it seems like we may again wake the evil beast. We come dangerously close, but what emerges from hiding is a different entity. “Piper,” like “Golden Age,” seems perfectly placed here, and we quickly take off for a triumphant ride on the back of the red, red worm. This jam is pure rock and roll. Somewhere around 6:20, Trey hits some chords that sound like “The Real Me,” but instead it’s a perfect segue into the debut of BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business.” Hot damn! I just got goosebumps hearing it again! With the crowd shouting the chorus, it was clear that Phish is in the business of kickin’ your ass, and business is boomin’.
“TCOB” is followed by a dance party reprise in the form of a terrific “2001” and a booty-shakin’ “Sand” that Trey infuses with a screaming madness. The groove machine finally winds down, and the jam lands in the warm glow of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” It’s a unique and wonderful version for “Slave” fans to enjoy, with deft sustain and feedback from Trey, as well as another lighter tribute to the greatest band in the world. “Slave” is the final link a set-long chain of perfectly placed tunes. Page gets another chance to shine in the encore with “A Day in the Life,” and of course we get our final chance to raise our arms and shout with the unrivaled triumph of “Tweezer Reprise.” Absolutely amazing.
If you haven’t listened to this set yet, you definitely should, but let’s check something first. Have you acquired tickets yet for a show this Fall? No? Then you should run, DO NOT WALK and DO IT NOW!! This band is on fire, and it’s only the start of the tour. Last night’s second set was the kind of legendary performance I have hoped to witness for more than 15 years. Phish covered so many different styles in the span of just 95 minutes; bluegrass, monstrous chaos, sublime ambience, dance funk, and pure classic rock. You’ve just gotta love this band.
See you in Atlantic City!
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Jazz Mandolin Project: January 22, 1998
20 years ago
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