In the parking lot at Nassau Coliseum it was already dark and rainy with nary an hour `til show time. The bleak weather had dampened any hopes for a nice New York City skyline view on the way in, but hopes were high for the first of this run of shows, billed as the "Twentieth Anniversary Tour"¯. The arena shows that went down in February stand as some of the finest shows of post-Hiatus Phish, and many Heads were excited to get back indoors.
There were few ticketless fans, and most folks had made it in by the time the house lights went down, a little on the early side: twenty minutes late instead of the customary thirty. Every empty space in the house was filled as the final musty, wet masses made their way into the aging Coliseum as the band meandered onstage.
With little warning the band simply started into "Bouncin'"¯. It was met with the requisite crowd roar, though some fans looked at each other and scratched their heads. Trey rushed into the familiar opening chords of "Runaway Jim"¯ and the boys were finally off, the arena crowd latching onto something upbeat to groove to. Trey simply smiled and tore through a fairly brief solo, the band brushing away the dust from three months off the road by the time the song came to a close. A brief pause, and the band crept into "Ghost"¯, Gordon's bass pumped along, trading back and forth with evil sounding guitar licks before Fishman's thunderous entrance pulled everything together into one funky groove. The jam grew apart and floated towards the deep end, each member contributing quietly before drifting into the back and forth sway of the instrumental, "What's the Use?"¯. The hum of distorted guitars and the bellowing drone of Page's organ dominated the number as most of the arena swayed back and forth, some taking an early breather.
Sensing the need for an energy boost, the band provided just that with the "AC/DC Bag"¯ that followed. The rest of the band raced at a frenetic pace, almost unable to keep up with Trey's always elusive guitar solo that seemed to keep one step ahead of the game. By the end of the jam it had built so such a fury that the three front line members were wailing almost uncontrollably on top of a pulsating drumbeat. Trey reeled the band in, let the distortion moan for just a second longer, and cleared the air for Fishman's beat before unleashing the trademark riff of "First Tube"¯.
Always a crowd pleaser with the kids who came to dance, this one elicited a big response as the persuasive rhythmic pulse of the song pulled the audience along in unison before slowing to a crawl like a car run out of gas, the audience just happy to have made it to where they needed to go. "Frankie Says"¯ was next, and was a fine breather tune, harkening back to its debut on the first night of the Island Tour in 1998, the only other time Phish decided to spontaneously blaze through the northeast for a four night mini tour.
"Bathtub Gin"¯ followed, and is always a favorite. After progressing quickly through the lyric section, the jam took off in the manner that seems to typify new Phish, an up-tempo jam driven by an infectious beat, but ultimately weaving and unweaving the melody before giving way to Trey's rainbow of guitar noise. The jam sometimes paved the way to new places, other times it simply drifted off into the abyss. By the time the jam slowed it gave way to the crashing chords and telltale opening lick of "Free"¯. The band seemed to back away and give Trey plenty of space during the verses, before bringing the pot to a boil on the choruses. Mike chimed in with some of his bass thunder for the break down section, showing off a murky underwater tone, filling the gaps with his own brand of cow funk. This one is an absolute rocker and served to whip the arena into a frenzy, the crowd's hunger for Phish briefly satiated by the filling hour and twenty minute set it had just experienced.
"Waves"¯ opened the second set, and the jam took off to a good place, a highly melodic and mesmerizing trip. Trey's solo sat on top of inspired piano playing from Mr. McConell. Clocking in around thirteen minutes, this version begins to explore where this song can go, though the jam was reined in a tad to early.
Phish proved how adroit they can be, quickly moving from the astral listlessness of "Waves"¯ to the fist-pumping arena rock of "Sample in a Jar"¯. This one got everyone going, as it's a song designed to elicit even a foot-tap and a smile from the most hardened show-goer. Mike's sonic dissonance filled the room and "Down With Disease"¯ was soon cued in with a low end that could be felt in the last row of the arena. This song contains one of Trey's greatest riffs, and one that can bring the energy level to a peak whenever the red bearded gunslinger decides to bring the jam back down with it. This version, which was the notable showstopper of the night, is a standout in that Trey abandons the riff all together and the group delves as one unit into uncharted waters.
After digging a few holes already during the show, they had finally struck paydirt. The groove shimmied along, led by Mike's twisting bassline, Trey and Page crashing in unison on top of a downright nasty Henrietta drumbeat. "Once, twice"¯, the groove seemed to shout, pausing briefly to cue the listener into the rhythm section, before clapping happily away again. Gordon and Fishman added a series of fills, before passing the reigns back to Trey, who guided the band into stopping on a dime. If they'd been looking for it all show, they'd found it now.
Page's lonely piano started up "Walls of the Cave"¯ before Fish's woodblocks dragged the song into the lyrics segment. This one seems to hearken back the old big time showstoppers that had been noticeably absent from the most recent additions to the Phish repertoire. Though some aren't sold on the song's beginning sections, the jam section is a fiery river of smoldering new Phish, working the audience into a blissful froth of bouncing, happy, screaming people.
"Two Versions Of Me"¯ followed, and was a good breather song, the lyrics and imagery growing on this listener with each listen. After a brief pow wow, Trey crept to the microphone and bashfully stated that they would play a new song, before starting "Crowd Control"¯. This song bounces along with country rock flair, reeling in the listening on a big fat hook. Though Trey and Page seemed more focused on remembering the lyrics, this shows a lot of promise and could turn into a favorite of both the hardcore and casual fans, combining high energy with rollicking rock sensibility and an infectious hook.
After a brief sigh of relief for making it through "¯Crowd Control"¯ relatively unscathed, Trey stepped to the mic and said, "We'd like to play an old song for you now, this song will be sung by our bass player, it's called `his song'"¯. Sensing the end was near, the crowd reached back and prepared to close out the set with high energy as the band raged through "Mike Song"¯, before dropping into the lilting melodies of "I am Hydrogen"¯. When Fish cued in Mike's slapping bass with a snap of the high-hat, everyone knew we were coming down the final jam, and it was time to get down. This "Weekapaug"¯ was short, sweet, and spicy all at once, the boys laid it on the line one more time before the jam was wrestled home, the band taking exit under darkened house lights, all the kids in the arena screaming their lungs out for just one more.
The road crew busily hurried about and set up another microphone in between Trey and Mike's, and the audience buzzed, wondering who would appear when the band returned. Trey introduced former Space Antelope band mate, the Dude of Life, bringing up a cheer of "Duuuude"¯ from the crowd before delving into "Crimes of the Mind"¯, the title track from the Dude's first album. More than anything, this was a reminder of how far Phish has come for their twentieth anniversary run. In many ways the encore was a rare look over the shoulder for the band, back to a different time when the group was emerging out of the dense greenery of Vermont to take their place on the national stage. "Here's to twenty incredible years of Phish,"¯ the Dude exclaimed as the number wound down, "and most importantly, here's to twenty more incredible years of Phish!"¯ There wasn't a person in the house who couldn't agree heartily with the sentiment.