Even before it started, the second show had an advantage over the first night. Now that the storm was gone, the clothesline was hung. This much-larger-than-life clothing flapped in the breeze (the bra got special attention from the crowd), as the show opened. While no one expected “The Wedge”, it made sense after the fact. “…Limestone blocks so large,” after all. The arrangement was much closer to the Rift version than the one I had seen at Red Rocks. Alas, that was about it for the first set, other than the interesting “Tweezer”. Perhaps the first night would be the better of the two. It was at the Ball.
Then again, perhaps not. What to say about this second set. I'm actually nervous writing this review, feeling tempted to just say to listen to the tapes. The “DWD” -> “Bathtub Gin” was simply amazing, much better than my meager writing skills could convey. Sure it had the funk common to all of Summer ’97,but so much more. During “Bathtub Gin”, Trey hits this groove and runs with it. It builds and builds and builds until you think you are about to explode with joy. If you notice a weird form in the jam around twenty-four minutes into the “Disease”, that's because Jon and Page left their instruments to spray paint on little pieces of wood — similar to the pieces of wood for us to paint in the free art area.
The “Bathtub” led into “Uncle Pen” to give us a chance to reflect and try to assimilate what had gone before. One had to be able to assimilate quickly, because the next song was “2001” and it was a monster version. This is perhaps the definitive Summer ‘97 song. The funk went on and on. For a bit there Mike and Trey got their chance to spray paint (I liked Mike's the best of the four) and then came back. After nearly twenty-three minutes (!), Trey explained the point of the painting. All of our painted wood had been gathered together in a big structure. They were going to add theirs on top to make it a combined work between us and them. As the wood was passed toward the sculpture on the extreme right-hand side of the field, they played a little jam that some people have taken to calling “Art Jam”. If you don't call it a different song, the “2001” clocks at nearly thirty-three minutes, putting it just behind the 12/29/94 “Bowie” for the longest song I have seen.
The art was passed to the sculpture, putting an end to perhaps the best set of live music I have ever seen. Well that's what we thought…until they fired up “Harry Hood”. That was it, you should have seen the smiles. During the “Hood” jam, Trey asked Chris to turn off the lights, à la the Gorge. I don't know who was in charge of the video screens, but he or she was making it appear like there were multiple moons in the sky and had them chasing each other. During this jam, a new “Hood” tradition was born. Glowsticks suddenly started flying through the sky. It was beautiful. I know some people don't like the glowstick war and I understand why, but it does put on a good show. The “Hood” came to an end, Trey told us that he liked the glowsticks and we should go get more. We looked around and screamed "And we get another set of this!"
While the raw stats on this set are impressive enough (five songs, ninety-four minutes and fifty-four seconds; excluding the “Uncle Pen” makes four songs, 90:35), it is far from the only measure of this set. The playing was stunning throughout. Only the “Art Jam” doesn't hold up on tape. And when you throw in the painting, the speech about making art together, the moon, the glowsticks, you’ve got easily the best set I have seen in ages, if not ever. I don't know when I've ever been as happy as I was during the break.
Hopes ran high for the third set, but the band was effectively done for the night and understandably so. We got a cool setlist with the first “Buffalo Bill” since 12/31/94, followed by the rarities “NICU”, “Weigh”, and “Guyute”. The most surprising moment though came during “Scent”. Instead of the usual dueling solos jam, they played almost a “Mind Left Body” theme. A sweet “Prince Caspian” closed the set, and the weekend was almost over.
Phish seem to have this thing now with ending their air force base festivals with controversy. The previous year had the unfinished “Harpua”. This year had a two-song encore. “Circus Comes to Town” is a good song no matter what the naysayers complain about. During the “Tweezer Reprise” that followed, a giant match was suddenly revealed next to our art. It caught on fire and slowly descended toward the sculpture. Our art burned while Phish fiddled.
Afterward I heard a lot of theories as to why they did it. A lot of people were just pissed. "They made this big deal about this being what we could accomplish with them and they torched it." Others saw it as a prankster-esque gesture or as a way of celebrating the spontaneity of their jams. Still others were practical. Where could you store a huge tower of painted wood.
My theory is different. Once again Phish have created a moment that no one who was there would ever forget. They did it with the hot dog, they did it with the “DWD” in the sea of balloons, and they did it with the match. As I walked out the venue (to the strains of Disco Inferno) and towards the traffic jam to come, I knew that I would never forget this weekend. I think the sheer length of this review attests to that.