The First Tube to open is one of those 'uh-oh, Trey is on tonight' revelations. The entire tone and direction during his solo is atypical for the song, full of life, energy, and excitement. And is there a more beloved bluegrass tune in the repertoire than Uncle Pen? It always takes me back to the Great Went when I hear it.
Carini boasts the first real exploration of the night, and it's a doozy. Trey leaves space for the rest of the band to lay down some gooey texture at the outset of the jam, and then takes them on a classic, patient, major-melodic journey. Carini has been no slouch in the 3.0 years, most notably with the 2011 summer tour closer on 9/14/11, and the excellent summer tour-opening version on 6/7/12. But I'd argue you might have to go back to its 2/17/97 debut to hear a version that tops Dicks. It's that good. It's reminiscent at times of some of the band's best spacey, mid-tempo melodic jamming of the late 90s (The 8/1/98 Tweezer come to mind). That was in the #3 slot.
After Kill Devil Falls confidently and quickly completes the 'Fuck,' the band drops a mid-first-set You Enjoy Myself. Once the most commonly played song in Phish’s repertoire, YEM became a bit of a rarity in the last year or so, but every show at which it was played in 2012 is a keeper. This version is 'typically great,' and punctuated by what's certainly the funnest vocal jam of the 3.0 years. I won't spoil it for you if you haven't heard it. (I may be in the minority on this one, but I'll also note hear that I actually prefer the delicateness uniqueness of the 8/19/12 YEM). Still, a first set YEM after a Carini like that already has this set miles above most opening segment offerings in 3.0.
And then after a nice Ocelot (will this song ever get to see the second set?), the band drops a bomb with Undermind. A rarity that had only a single show gap between its previous appearance (at the excellent but now sure to be overshadowed segue-heavy show on 8/28/12), this version immediately declares itself as not only the one to beat, but one of the top jams of 3.0. Mike and Fish have a lot of fun fleshing out the rhythmic clicks and pops on this, with 2.0-like confidence, and then around 9 minutes Trey takes off, again. The floor of the jam is solid and has space, and he just climbs to the heavens like its 1999, only there's enough tonal and stylistic variation to remind you this is definitely 2012, and Page follows. And right when you think you're listening to the future, the 4/18/92 Hood peaks in for a tiny hello in the form of a barely recognizable (possibly unintentional?) but certainly present Linus & Lucy quote. Trill-laden (but not indulgent) wall of sound finale to this 15 minute masterpiece, and the best first set the band has played in eons, and certainly in 3.0. (Shout-out to 8/7/09 here, though, and its excellent Sneaking Sally. I'd put that first set in the number 2 slot now.)
Right, so, Fuck You, apparently! The crowd was onto things by now, and you can hear Page responding to the profanity being thrown at them before the second set with a 'hey hey, we're not finished!' Fuck Your Face, then? Right. And so what does the band bust out to open to the second set? Not another Rock n' Roll (though hey, nothing wrong with that 20-minute offering on Long Beach on 8/15/12), but Runaway Jim. And this Jim is special for a lot of reasons. Actually this second leg in general was special for one particular reason: the return of the 20-minute second set opener. Along with the aforementioned Rock n Roll, and the excellent Sand that would follow on 9/2/12, this Jim stands like the proud return of a jam-slot that some of us feared had runaway for good. It also marks the return of a true type-II Runaway Jim jam, something you could argue hasn't occurred since 12/31/03 (unless you count Coventry's short but interesting improv). Indeed there are echoes of 2.0 in this show in terms of the band's willingness to launch a jam just about anywhere, and the ease with which they do it. This Jim is arguable the most 2.0-sounding offering of the night in terms of the themes it seamlessly explores. It's not the most engaging jam of the night, but that doesn't mean it's not one of the best the band has delivered in the past four years. And fuck, they opened a second set with a twenty minute Jim. The last time they did [i]that[/i] was 7/3/00.
The Farmhouse>Alaska sequence is notable for a couple related reasons. One: the band stretches the Farmhouse outro into a jam in its own right, a 5 minute ambient affair which seemed like a prime set up for 2001. And that is, two: the band undoubtedly slipped another mini-prank inside the Fuck Your Face gag by faking out Also Sprach Zarathustra and swapping it with Alaska. Ha ha ha.
And then the Chalk Dust. Like the first set Undermind, Chalk Dust had just been performed on 8/28, to interesting effect; they turned an outro into a neat little jam that segued into Frankie Says. The band was obviously feeling confident with this otherwise typically straight-ahead classic. And by this point in the night the show was already a classic in its own right. But then they went ahead and played another 18 minute jam that you could argue is the highlight of the whole show. Chalk Dust isn't entirely a stranger to Type II exploration: 7/10/99 and 8/3/03 represent the longest and most interesting 1.0 and 2.0 versions, respectively, and the excellent (and often overlooked) 17-minute version from 6/25/10 is a high point from that underrated 3.0 tour. All are very different but on similar footing in terms of their greatness. I'm not sure if this one tops them, but it's certainly in the same camp, and if you said it was the best, I wouldn't call you crazy. Like the Carini and Undermind jams, when Trey feels comfortable enough in the jam to launch his glory-mode-melodicism it just all comes together. By that point you can hear a kind of joy and pride in Mike's playing as a kind of compliment to it. It’s moving shit. It sounds like coming home.
That they complete the FYF phrase with Emotional Rescue of all things is just straight up money by this point. You won't hear a case from me about it being the best version of the song they've ever played (that'd go to its debut on 11/21/97), and in fact it might be the worst actual performance. But it’s a hilarious, true-to-form bustout, made all the more fitting coming on the heels of a show that feels a lot like true redemption for the band, even to the most jaded of vets. "Is there nothing I can say, nothing I can do? To change your mind.. I'm so in love with you..." Well yeah, play a show like that, boys, and I'm yours forever. Anyway, Fuck Your Face completes the other half of the exclamation mark to close the set, and the Grind and Meatstick tag a heartfelt uplifting coda onto the gag.
Put that one in your stash, folks. Next to the best of them.