Ah"...the Continental Airlines Arena in beautiful northeastern New Jersey, formerly known as the Brendan Byrne Arena and home to numerous excellent Dead shows in the 80's (with tapes often labeled as merely "Meadowlands"). I wonder if those Deadheads had as difficult a time getting into the venue as we did. This was the first time Phish played Continental, and the only way to access the arena via the parking lot was through a tiny space in a chain link fence, causing unbelievably long lines and thus delays. Logic would have seemed to dictate creating more openings, or using more (or less surly) security staff, but logic is seldom in abundance at the huge hockey arenas Phish rocks on the East Coast.
As it turned out, February 24th ended up being one of the more controversial shows of the winter tour because this was where B.B. King sat in with the band for the last three songs of the first set (all B.B tunes), a sequence totaling nearly an hour. I say "controversial" because this resulted in opinions ranging from "best guest spot ever," to the more common, "the dullest hour of Phish I've ever seen"...B.B. didn't seem to know where he was." Not having seen Phish since September of 2000, I would cast my vote in the latter camp.
After opening the set with a raging "Disease" and fine versions of "Wolfman's" and "Limb by Limb", the addition of B.B. King brought the house energy down to a frighteningly low level. While the old school meets new school pairing of Phish and King sure seems cool on paper, the actual result was a dreary hour of tentative blues licks that was probably far more suited to a smoky nightclub than a packed arena. Things bordered on embarrassing at times; Trey and B.B. often seemed to be stepping on each other's toes, while not wanting to outdo the other, and neither Phish nor King could seem to decide when it was time for the latter to leave. So while King remains a living legend, and the effort was appreciated, the Hiatus left the packed arena hungry for some raging Phish, and judging from the amount of fans in their seats, this wasn't it.
Fortunately, Set II was relatively solid from top to bottom, featuring a bevy of setlist staples that were goosed with some extra juice, the "Halley's" > "Hood" combo in particular. "Waves" will eventually morph into the Set II standout that its capable of becoming, and the "Farmhouse" encore, played in its original key of D, was a pleasant sendoff.
But ultimately, 2/24 was more of a historical curiosity than a good Phish gig. However, if this show led anyone to believe that post-Hiatus version of Phish painted a portrait of a band slowly losing its edge, the next three shows of the winter run wasted no time in putting such thoughts to rest.