Alaska served as the first and only real “breather” of the set, but shouldn’t be overlooked. Trey’s slow burning blues soloing, so fitting for Chicago, gave the song some real distinction. Page’s jangling keys early in the set suggested a shot of Bathtub Gin, and sure enough, that fine tune followed in a solid if fairly uninventive version. Page ruled the Maze, and Cavern > First Tube worked its magic to cap this engaging, high energy 1st set.
Crosseyed and Painless, the first cover of the night, served as a great 2nd Set opener. Phish have really made this brilliant song their own in 3.0 (07-31-2009 is a favorite version). Emerging from a brief drift of space and sound effects, No Quarter was played at full power, then segued almost immediately into Timber, featuring the first of many delightful C+P quotes/teases. Tweezer followed and quickly evolved into a sparkling, energetic jam, as did Piper. The well-placed Caspian that bridges the two is short and sweet. Next up, shortest Ghost ever? Possibly, but the funk fit nicely in the flow before giving way to the hilarity of Makisupa. Dear Phish: Love you guys.
Sleep was a nice breather. Buffalo Bill started the second half of the set with an interesting injection of weirdness (it’s a strange little song) but the failed segue-out just seemed clumsy and briefly “broke the spell.” What followed was a stack of classic high-energy set closers that didn’t really stray from the box but were livened up with several crowd-pleasing C+P teases. The same can be said for the encore: a well selected sequence of solid songs to top off a fantastic night in Chicago.
This show was an absolute blast from start to finish, and makes for good repeat listening. There’s been a lot of speculation about why Phish has seemed to favor fast-paced multi-song sequences over sustained improvisation in recent years, and I think the first part of this 2nd Set reveals how well that can work sometimes, creating a sort of fast-forwarding warp drive. The C+P “theme” was thrilling live, but holds up a little less compellingly “on tape.” Still, overall this is pretty easily a Top 10 show of the year, I think. Still waiting…