[Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome Mockingbird Foundation Board Member Matt Sexauer for this recap.]
If you weren’t able to make it to Saratoga, were unavailable to couch tour the webcast, or you were way back on the SPAC lawn, here’s the recap of what you missed for Phish’s second outing of their semi-annual 3-night July 4th holiday SPAC run.
The show opened with a well-performed “Crowd Control." Across social media this tune seemed inevitable to open a show and now was the time. Was it because of Fish’s Bernie donuts? Was it due to the slightly delayed start time to help herd the audience into the venue? Either way, excitement was high, as this tune has served as an omen of a raging show in the past. Listen to this version for Trey’s prowess in melodious soloing.
"Divided Sky" - Photo © Derek Gregory
In the two spot was the Fishman/Gordon driven “555." You could tell by the way Mike was digging into the groove that this set could go somewhere deep and funky, but I felt that the solo section was played conservatively in spite of Mike pushing for more. The “five-fifty-five” outro lyrics came back at the energetic peak of the solo section, so it was time to move on.
The final hit to close out “555” also served as the downbeat to “Seven Below." I absolutely love how Fishman commits to the sixteenth notes on beat 4 throughout this piece as a recurring rhythmic motive. The close up on Fish’s kit showed great form in his left hand fulcrum to create a fantastic multiple bounce stroke. A very solid performance by all led this tune to serve as one of the Set I highlights. Before the vibration on the drum kit cymbals stopped, a visibly happy Trey launches into “Back On The Train," complete with “Sleeping Monkey” quotes. I defy you not to dance when Page’s Clavinet is contributing to the motor rhythm behind Trey’s wah pedal solo. Energy was up, the crowd was primed, and a fist pumping Trey bowed to the audience.
In a position to zig toward keeping the energy up, the band zagged for a breather. “Army Of One” followed the prior three segued tunes, followed by “Divided Sky." Tonight “the note” had a hang time of 1:13:64. Never a tune to dismantle the venue, the solo section had a nice slow burn perfect for a warm summer evening.
Here’s a tip: If you see Page scrambling a bit in his rig while at the same time you hear Fishman’s left foot tapping out time on the hi-hat, chances are you’re headed for Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. Such was the case, when everyone at SPAC was informed that they had been selected as the first astronaut to explore the planet Mars! “Martian Monster” had arrived. And like my grandmother’s license plate border used to read “When Page gets up, you get down!” This version had Trey contributing on Marimba Lumina. “Martian Monster” also is a great vehicle for Chris Kuroda’s new giant Winamp visualizer.
"Julius" - Photo © Derek Gregory
But once again, in a moment where programming groove-based energy might prove successful, the band opted for the through-composed “Rift," followed by the slow poke version of “Water In The Sky." Our trip was short, indeed.
“46 Days” started with a playful beginning between all four members, filling in the spaces of the tune before launching into the IV chord together, and launching into a solidly rocked version that very well could have served as the set closer. But that was left up to “Walls Of The Cave." Listen to this one for some cool bluesey licks by Trey underneath the piano and woodblock section. “WOTC” may be slow to get to its energetic peak, but when it arrived, it was where the energy of the night was meant to be.
For the most part, the “Crowd Control” opener prophecy hadn’t been fulfilled. But in Phish we trust. Enter the second set.
For the next 48 minutes and 49 seconds Phish launched into a string of five songs without a break, pause, or committee to discuss the direction of the music. It was the shot in the arm that the first set needed.
The set started off with “No Men In No Man’s Land” and segued into “Fuego," the jam section was sent into alternate keys and whole tone scales giving it an eerie modal feel to it. The jam dissolved and then was revived by Trey back into a driving rock style, finally circling back to the flat-3, flat-2, tonic “Fuego” riff. Without a chance to take a breath, Trey launched into “Light," fittingly because Kuroda’s new light panels had seemed to stop working, and then miraculously began to shine again. Listen to this version for the quintessential polyphonic Phish sound, where you could focus in on any member of the band and hear an interesting and independent musical idea being shaped that just melds with the other three. Page got a chance to stretch out a bit on the Fender Rhodes, and the “Light” jam continued a long and weaving path, where it broke down into more space/modal sounds and a “NMINML” quote.
This jam transitioned with a very slick segue into “Golden Age” that kept the energy of the set alive. But the next time that we all get together and have a meeting, we have to discuss the clapping situation in this song. We must agree on exactly where we’re going to clap when we hear the lyric “Clap your hands”, or to just not clap at all. I vote not to clap.
“Taste” finished out the five-song behemoth. Page’s piano solo was absolutely on fire, which is worth a listen.
Photo © @OlkerPhoto
It was time for a breather with “The Horse” into “Silent In The Morning.” In all of my years of listening and watching, I never took an appreciation of the left-handed sixteenth note work by Trey and Mike during the chorus of this song. It’s truly masterful.
“Julius” was up next to help SPAC maintain an energetic cruising altitude. They even gave the keyboard some with an unprecedented organ solo!
And for the third time this tour Phish performed the music of The Beatles, this time with “A Day In The Life." It was the perfect way to end the set.
Encore opened up with “Bouncing Around The Room.” When are they going to open up this tune and jam on it? Anyway, at 3:41 it is tied for the 54th longest “Bouncing” in Phish history. And appropriately closing out SPAC 2 was “Run Like An Antelope.” If you were following on Twitter you may have seen that Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life were in the audience. They were available to deliver the “Marco Esquandolas” line, but sadly did not.
Bows, a “They Attack” quote prompted by a tee shirt on stage that read the same, and the house lights came up. The roof of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center wasn’t blown off. However, it was nicely loosened for a fully fueled Sunday show.
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