[phish.net welcomes and thanks guest writer, Robert Ker, for the recap of 12/29/18 - ed]
Set two began with 2018 MVP candidate “Carini.” A launchpad for many superb second sets this year, the band played the song with a vigor that suggested they couldn’t wait to get to the jam. And then once the jam kicked off in impressive fashion, Trey played as if he couldn’t wait to get out of it. What seemed in the moment like a ripcord into "Tweezer" that could suggest an impatient Trey, eager to dabble in bits of his catalogue to gauge audience reaction; the gesture instead proved the opposite. They slid into "Tweezer’s" jam portion with a series of start-stops that encouraged the dreaded “woos” (to be fair to those in attendance, the crowd seemed reluctant to “woo” but was encouraged to do so by Trey—don’t hate the players, hate the game). After Page hit reset on the increasingly ambient jam with a big synthesizer bwaaaaaa, the band began to build a more melodic crescendo back up, with Trey finding licks that built upon each other, with Page providing complementary flourishes and the rhythm section holding down a firm pocket.
After peaking the jam more than once, they brought it back to a shuffling funk that bled directly into “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long,” the funkiest Kasvot song. Now evident—if it wasn’t already—that the band was in the midst of one of those rarified evenings, they turned in a filthy rendition of the song that mostly served as a showcase for Fishman: not only he did he deliver spry backing vocals, but he also took spotlight for a couple of solo breakdowns, unusual for the solo-averse Bob Weaver and a joy to behold. Once Cactus got his turn with a sci-fi-sounding solo that didn’t stray far from the song’s foundation, the band brought the song around before deciding they weren’t done with “Tweezer.”
Starting from the “Tweezer” riff, they once more guided the song through spacey-territory and back into ever more peaks. The whole stretch was Phish at its finest, building on decades of experience manning the hose and melding together two songs written 28 years apart (one of them in its second-ever performance). It would even be fair to call this a 27-minute “Tweezer” with “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” in the middle; this is how you ingrain new material into your repertoire.
With seemingly nowhere and everywhere to go from here, the band opted to bypass the ballads and oddball setlist decisions that have plagued some of the fourth quarters this year, and to instead go the full arena-rock route with a heavy, psychedelic rendition of “No Quarter.” They followed this with an ocean-deep rendering of “2001,” coming back after the first chorus for some interplay—particularly between Page and Trey—that could only be described as telepathic. It was a highlight in a show that had no lowlights. They topped the set off to tremendous effect with “First Tube,” piling peak atop peak with an exuberant Trey jumping around like a little kid playing rock star in front of his bedroom mirror.
They finished the show with an encore of “Shine a Light” and “Tweezer Reprise.” The latter was the necessary exclamation point to send the crowd into the Manhattan night, but the former—in what was likely the “Sleeping Monkey” slot—felt like a telling choice. On a night in which the band burned the World’s Most Famous Arena to the ground, the decision to cover Talking Heads, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones all in one night suggested to the crowd: “these bands are our historic peers.” In closing “First Tube” with Trey triumphantly holding his guitar skyward by the base, now 54 and having outlasted most of his childhood heroes as a bandleader, there could be no doubt about this.
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