[For this recap we'd like to welcome guest blogger David M. Goldstein) -lbc]
The first thing to note about seeing Phish on Randall’s Island was that given the encouragement to use mass transit and the limited amount of parking passes, the lot scene was virtually non-existent. But in a city with as many culinary delights as New York, this could actually be used to one’s advantage. Why limit yourself to heady grilled cheese and ice cold Sammy Smiths on lot when you can do what my party did and gorge yourself on delicious barbeque in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and then chase it with key lime pie and views of the Statute of Liberty?
But what seems like a delicious idea at the time turns far more sinister when you’re in the throes of the meat sweats while waiting over forty minutes for a bus that will supposedly take you to the venue. This process was a stark reminder that what appears to be ridiculously easy on a Friday evening can become a slog on Saturday, when the casual listener reigns supreme and results in a New York City crowd three times the size of the one the night prior. I didn’t speak with anyone who arrived via the ferry, but to be frank, the Saturday bus situation was somewhat of a pain in the nether regions, especially when you’re oozing beef brisket and pulled pork out of your pores.
But upon arrival at the venue, all was forgiven, and we largely have Mother Nature to thank. Remember the hypothermia inducing, Noah’s Ark summoning, deluge that was last summer’s concert at Jones Beach? What’s the complete opposite of that? It was a steady 80 degrees with low humidity and a light breeze, and the incredible weather allowed fans to enjoy Randall’s Island for the green urban oasis that the NYC Parks Department always paints it as – not the mud-centric apocalypse that results from the slightest of drizzles. Food vendors were plentiful and varied, and the beer lines, while just as long, moved quicker than the night before; Sixpoint’s exclusive “Vlad the ImPaler” was a tasty brew indeed – a crisp wheat ale bearing a pleasant similarity to a Bell’s Oberon.
A sunny evening with plentiful food and drink in a lovely park environment might have been enough in and of itself. But apparently Phish was playing, too! The pre-show music was a fitting salute to the CBGB Class of ’77, a mixture of early Talking Heads and The Ramones, likely in tribute to the recently deceased Tommy Ramone. And after kicking off with the first “AC/DC Bag” of the tour, the remainder of the first set wasn’t exactly ‘bad,’ per se, just standard 3.0 to a tee; a variety of six minute rock songs stacked in no particular order like a cord of firewood with an inevitable “Antelope” closer that you could see from a mile off.
Unlike the previous night, the highlight of the first set wasn’t an 18 minute Type II maelstrom that came out of nowhere, but rather a touch of comedy. After a somewhat botched ending to “Back on the Train,” Trey opted to play it for laughs, reprising the muddled conclusion not once, but twice, and then proceeding to state it was planned all along, as was his butchering of the intro to “You Enjoy Myself” one week prior. Was this perhaps a sly jab at social media gadflies who critique his every brain cramp with an eagle eye (and guilty as charged)? Elsewhere, “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” seemed slightly more aggressive than usual, with Trey living out his My Bloody Valentine shoegaze fantasies with extra peals of white noise. I find “The Line” far more tolerable when it’s placed in the first set, and “Sparkle” always brings back pleasant memories of me being a gawky 14-year old at a Jewish youth group social. But for the most part, the first set sounds exactly like it looks on paper, and stand-up comedy bits aside, will not account for many repeat spins in this household.
Continuing the regional NYC theme, the setbreak music consisted of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Superfly” soundtrack, transferring the proceedings from 1977 East Village to 1972 Harlem. This also provided my party with the opportunity to perform a version of “meat sweats reprise;” eating jalapeno corn dogs because that vendor had the shortest line, but also because batter-fried meat on a stick is awesome.
The opening “Punch You in the Eye” was the first one played on Summer Tour, and never, EVER unwelcome in that slot. It wisely makes far more sense as a second set opener at summer shows simply because utilizing Kuroda’s swirling lights in broad daylight pre-HEY! would be a colossal waste of electricity. Trey played the “Landlady” section with aplomb, and then it was time for the man with the lumpiest of heads. Moving from dark, wah-infused metal in which many a whale was harpooned to Page McConnell Rhodes warmth, this “Carini” would have been the undisputed highlight in many an average to good Phish set; especially when it also contained wook destroying Gordon bombs like this one did. But this is New York City. Much like the 20 year old Doc Gooden on the ’85 Mets, the boys were just toying with us; you expect the fastball, then your knees buckle at the curve.
The ensuing combo of “Ghost” and “Wingsuit” comprised the strongest consecutive 26 minutes of summer 2014 thus far. When the band completely nails the drop, it augurs well for the rest of the song, and when Trey steers the jam into D Major, as he so recently (and awesomely) did on 10/25/13 in Worcester, all bets are off. It’s hardly a secret that Phish D Major jams are loaded with money and golden hose, and this “Ghost” was aces in that regard; my handwritten scrawl appeared to read “BIG D. HAPPY JAM BRIGHT.” And as it proceeded to wind down via a discordant funk jam with lots of Page clavinet and a hearty dose of N’awlins swamp, we realized a contender for a Top Ten jam of summer ’14 was afoot.
From its auspicious debut on Halloween to its recent placement as the conclusion of Phish’s newest album, nobody will dispute that “Wingsuit” is a very high quality composition for a band that’s been around over 30 years. The Randall’s Island version was the fourth played since Halloween, but perhaps the first in which its potential as a teary-eyed jam vehicle with towering peaks has been realized. Whether it was the presence of a bright orange “Super Moon” over the East River, the lights of the Triboro Bridge, or simply a huge burst of inspiration, I can only properly describe this “Wingsuit” as “epic,” transporting the listener to a huge European field in the late 70’s where David Gilmour is completely re-arranging your genetic makeup. It was even better than that afternoon’s beef rib, something I did not believe humanly possible.
The rest, as they say, was pure gravy. The “Rock and Roll” was a tour debut, and a nice little rager to properly welcome us back to planet Earth. And the “Hood” was unique in that it was an interesting amalgamation of Type I and Type II jamming (Type 1.5 maybe?), never straying from its major key, but still containing all kinds of tasty McConnell Lil Pumpkin licks and sly noodling from Trey that are generally not part of the song proper. “Tube” picked up where the Mann version left off; which is to say under five minutes, but still flecked with some ridiculously hard clavinet funk, and the ending “First Tube” was a nice cap to the evening because you knew they weren’t going to end off with “Joy,” and “Tube Sando Encore” just sounds cool.
Photo by Andrea Z Nusinov
Leaving Randall’s Island via MTA bus was far easier than getting there, though it would have been nice had somebody alerted us to the fact that the ‘4’ subway train we had painfully squeezed our bodies into was running on the local track. But transportation issues can be excused when a second set is as elegantly constructed and contains as much goodness as the Saturday night Randall’s one did. The “Ghost” and “Wingsuit” were both near-classic versions that made standing through an epic “Yarmouth Road” and “Devotion to a Dream” one-two punch tolerable in hindsight, and the entirety of the Randall’s venue experience was incredibly pleasant. Eighty degrees and sunny while drunk on smoked meats tends to have that effect.
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