The show the previous night wasn't quite the scorcher some were expecting in the wake of the blizzard that canceled so many people's flights.. but then again, the blizzard wasn't what people expected either. Nevertheless expectations were high on this night especially considering the positive signs the band left on 12/27 in the form of a great Seven Below->What's the Use and some interesting deviations adventures in Cool It Down and Roggae.
12/28 took things up a notch and delivered on that promise and then some. Things started getting interesting when Trey busted out a Sarah Palin noise box as a way of introducing Alaska (ala Beavis and Butthead and the 12/9/95 Wilson for those of you keeping score). They rode the bluesy vibe through this set and to great effect. They had soundchecked She Caught the Katy and this was well played and probably benefited from the boys having recently donned the Little Feat costume. Wolfman's was the first proper take off of the night though, building out of the blues into proper funk (Phish was groooovy on this night at times, let me tell you) and then into Trey lead peaks through a big finale that somehow still worked in the Wolfman's theme. Reminded me a bit of the cathartic and overlooked version from 12/1/03 in Albany. Stash was played to similar and even greater (if significantly darker) effect, always flirting with going into major territory but never quite going over to the other side. Great dark but focused tension work and one of 3.0s best versions of a song that's been strong in the era (again if you're keeping track, the last three performances of Stash, which also includes 10/31 and 10/24, have all been serious keepers.)
The second set was all about pace, performance and detail. Though neither Carini nor Backwards Down the Number Line really went out there in terms of what those songs have been capable of this year, both were really tight and felt like they building towards something. The Back on the Train->Limb by Limb>Wedge segment was flawless, including some really intricate rhythmic stuff that would set the stage for bigger things to come. The Wedge is full of extra fills.
And put me in the camp who don't mind mid-second set chillouts if they're going to be of the Frankie Says->Albuquerque variety. It helps that I'm a fan of both songs, for different reasons, but you can't really find fault with either performance. One is full of lush ambience, and the other is as soulful as you can get (Phish doing Neil Young is always good, and Trey was very convincing on this one; he hits a couple notes that elicited some serious props/jaw-drops from Page).
But the Hood is the highlight, no question. You haven't heard a Hood like this before, I'll promise you that. Though the song has been somewhat rejuvenated in the 3.0 years after a bit of stagnation post-97 and through 2.0 (93-95 was its real heyday), nothing in the modern era touches this one, because it goes in a completely different direction. Trey plucks some amazing licks out of the sky, delivers them with that delicate staccato and all of a sudden there's room for Mike to respond. The end result is a kind of calypso-groove hose. The crowd erupts in dancey approval more than once spontaneously in this jam and for good reason. If this jam a sign of what happens when you mix the Little Feat grooves with the band's attention-to-detail ambience then good things are in store for the MSG run and 2011. Felt for a moment we were getting down in the Everglades again for a second there...