Pretty much anyone who was in New York City on 2/12/06 remembers that day. The vast majority of NYC’s 8+ million inhabitants probably remember the record setting blizzard that dumped nearly 27 inches of snow in Central Park. For the 2,800 lucky souls who spent the evening a few blocks west at the Beacon Theater, the blizzard is only the second most memorable part of that day. More memorable is the outstanding Phil & Friends show with Trey sitting in for the entire show in place of Barry Sless.
I was lucky enough to be tipped off that morning that Trey would be sitting in. Somehow, great seats were still available on Ticketmaster. After pulling an Orchestra Row M, I set off to make the journey from the East Village to the Upper West Side.
Most folks in attendance were probably expecting a “snow” song to kick things off, but instead the band got right down to business with a nice run through of “Help” > “Slip” > “Franklin’s.” While this version doesn’t hold a candle to the Warfield ‘99 version with Page and Trey (the “Franklin’s,” in particular, is a bit ragged), it was still a great way to get things started. After an enjoyable version of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” we got the real meat of the first set. Typically, it’s a bad sign when the trio of “They Love Each Other” -> “Cold Rain & Snow” -> “Loose Lucy” form the highlights of a set. Not the case here, though. “TLEO” is downright hosey. Trey’s first solo veered into “I Know You Rider” territory, while the jam out of the final verse headed into a version of “Cold Rain & Snow” that simply did not need vocals.
After “Loose Lucy” we got one of the real treats of the set, a stunning version of “Buckets of Rain,” the last track from arguably Dylan’s greatest album, Blood on the Tracks, featuring Trey and Joan Osborne delivering tandem vocals and Larry Campbell on mandolin. A second consecutive Dylan cover in "All Along the Watchtower" closed the set.
Set II opens with a typically great version of "St. Stephen" (although check out the 6/30/06 version to hear Trey really launch this tune into the stratosphere). Next up is a Ryan Adams cover, "What Sin Replaces Love." At the time it seemed odd placement for this quiet song, but Phil knew what the rest of us didn't: the next hour was going to be straight psychedelic fire.
"Cryptical Envelopment" started up and the musical ideas flow like wine. At times Trey takes the lead, other times the jam is driven by Phil, still others Trey and Larry trade licks. Is that a "Cosmic Charley" jam? Over 22 minutes, the jam ebbs and flows but never bores, finally resolving into "Dark Star." Before long, "Dark Star" threatens to turn spacey when things take an unexpected turn as Larry Campbell picks up the violin -- during "DARK STAR." It completely works, though, and soon Trey is locked into Larry's violin. Phil steers the band into a unique version "The Other One" proper interspersed with fiery leads from Trey and Larry's continued fiddle work. The second verse of "Dark Star" is next and Larry finally returns to his guitar as he and Trey put the finishing touches on this 55-minute excursion.
No rest for the wicked, though, as "Eyes of the World" follows, one of the songs conspicuously absent from the '99 Phil & Phriends shows. "Eyes" is a fairly short version, sadly without the '73-'74 coda. Next up is "GDTRFB," a song that was hinted at during the preceding "Dark Star" / "Other One" madness. A perfunctory "Gimme Shelter" closed out the set. "Wolfman's Brother" appeared in the encore slot, the fourth (and, to date, final) time Phil has performed the song with a member of Phish. A bonus "In the Midnight Hour" sent everyone home happy.
The natural impulse, for Phish nerds anyway, is to compare this show to the other Phil & Friends shows with Trey. This is one case where I wouldn't make those comparisons. First off, those April '99 shows were magical. Most shows, including most Phish and Dead shows will pale in comparison. Second, this show was simply different. It doesn't have the same telepathic peaks that Kimock/Anastasio hit repeatedly over the Warfield run, nor does it have Page McConnell on piano. But what it does have is plenty: "Cold Rain & Snow" with Trey's guitar on lead vocals, a delicate "Buckets of Rain" and, of course, 55 minutes of Rolling Thunder with a fiddle.
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