Back at SPAC for night two and the last show of the 2019 summer tour run in Saratoga Springs. Weather pretty much the same as the previous night, high 80ºs, hazy sun, if a bit more humid and less breezy than Tuesday. Unlike night one, we got into the venue about an hour or so earlier so we could check out SPAC’s continually improving food and beverage selections (the former cheerless fencedâ€‘in, dirtâ€‘grounded “beer garden” quarantine zone being thankfully but a bad memory) and hang out in the picnic area at the back of the lawn to sit down, eat, drink and hang a while with some other random newfound tour friends.
At the cocktail tent, our server, who works the many Live Nation touring shows at SPAC and hears the music pretty well from the concessions area at the back of the lawn, said she enjoyed Tuesday’s show and asked if we thought Phish would play the same songs today. We quickly disabused her of the notion that Phish is like other typical clickedâ€‘tracked, highly choreographed spectacles she is probably more familiar with: Phish’s never repeating a setlist, ~800 song rotation, Baker’s Dozen no repeats, etc. The bartender to her right who overheard our chat interjected that he wasn’t familiar with Phish but was intrigued enough about the band to do some online research after Tuesday’s show and mentioned the surprise “Cathy’s Clown” opener the previous night.
We always enjoy schmoozing with a venue’s concession workers, ushers and security who, after all, are involuntary attendees at a huge variety of music events for their jobs, about their impressions of Phish and its fans. And, almost always, we get an enthusiastic and positive response. Smiles on our faces and alcoholic beverages in hand (also a recent SPAC improvement), we took our seats in the shed’s balcony and chatted up our neighbors.
Like Tuesday, lights went out early-ish and the band took the stage at one minute before eight. After a minute or so of strumming buildup where the theme was teased, the band launched into “Fluffhead,” fairly standard version with a nice Page solo and organ riff fills, then a pause and into “Guyute,” another fairly standard non-improv song which featured some nice ensemble whistling after the first verse, with the composed parts well played and credibly grand restatements of the melody’s theme at the appropriate places.
The crowd is up and dancing through all of this and the balcony seems to be vibrating much earlier in the show than the previous night. Fairly short, standard versions of “Martian Monster,” “Llama,” and “Steam” followed. “Llama” featured a spirited but spare jam in the middle portion and seemed a bit more uptempo and frenetic than usual. “Steam” had some nice interweaved jamming and an unhurried wind down jam at the end back into the melody to bring it home.
“Poor Heart” and “Crazy Sometimes” came next with some boomy bass led jamming in the latter Mike Gordon Band derived song. Then more of a cooldown moment, with a typically unremarkable “The Horse” and “Silent in the Morning” combo taking up the next eight minutes or so of the set.
A pause followed, and Trey launches into an acoustic-y strumming song which we and those around us didn’t immediately recognize because it was a bustout of the seldomly played “Sleep” from Phish’s 2000 album Farmhouse, which has been played only four times since the reunion and not since 8/17/2011, a 289 show gap. (Thanks to whoever was doing the real time setlist updates on .net for the shazam song ID to @Jackl’s iPhone.) A pleasant song of the acoustic-y, contemplative Trey genre, this bustout was probably the most noteworthy feature of Wednesday’s first set.
Although “rock on” may have been the basic paradigm of Wednesday’s first set (and Tuesday’s show), perhaps the quiet musing on thoughts preceding sleep led the band to continue with the notion of repose for the first set closer, “Drift While You’re Sleeping,” another new song from Ghosts of the Forest, played for the fourth time this tour. Some reggaeish Trey guitar solo led to the anthemic choruses with “...love...carry[ing] us through...”, a soaring Trey guitar throwdown, then a key change and final repeat of the rousing chorus and big ending jam to close out the song and the first set.
After another shortish setbreak, the band returned to open set two with “No Men in No Man’s Land” with Page and Trey doing some nice solo riffing, long Type I buildup jamming and Fish doing some cool rhythm stuff with maybe brushes on a snare drum. Segue into “Dirt.” Then probably the highlight of the evening followed with “Dirt” segueing into Trey’s distinctive repeating descending arpeggio theme leading into another bustout, “Plasma” from Trey’s eponymous 2003 album, thusfar played at only nine Phish shows.
However, the stats for “Plasma” got an immediate two count boost, with the song being part of an unusual and unique medley of several totally unrelated songs, as only Phish can do. “Plasma” segued into “We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains” from last Halloween’s Kasvot Växt set, which then segued back into “Plasma” and finally, improbably, or perhaps not so improbably, into the second “Tweezer Reprise” in two nights to close the song.
We love “Tweezer Reprise”. It’s starting to remind us of that George Carlin comedy riff where he explains all the ways a certain bad four letter expletive can be used, as an allâ€‘purpose noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc. “Tweezer Reprise” is kind of the same versatile vehicle in Phish’s hands, it can be used to open or close a show or set, as part of a “Tweezer” or not, or referring to some other “Tweezer” in a recent show, as a standalone song, as cryptic reference, note of absurdity, or, as here, a totally improbable conclusion to a motley collection of songs.
Now well into the third quarter, following “PlasmaTweezerfest," the band segued into “The Wedge,” always something welcome to hear as most classic songs from the Rift era, which had some spirited Type I jamming and a tight finish. The rest of the second set reeled off in a more familiar manner with “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” into “Run Like an Antelope,” a pause and “More” from Big Boat, closing with “Slave to the Traffic Light”. It could be us, but the rest of the second set, following the "Plasma" to "Tweezer Reprise" section, seemed generally well played but kind of incoherent from a set flow perspective and somewhat of a throwdown of randomly placed fun, uptempo Phish classics.
The single encore, “Rock and Roll” from 1998 Halloween’s cover of the Velvet Underground closed out the show in what seemed an almost perfunctory manner, perhaps simply harkening back to the notional theme of “rock” to bookend the two night run. Those around me were cheering when the band left the stage but seemed surprised that while the applause was still going on, the lights went up and color t shirt coded stagehands swarmed the stage without the hoped for second encore. A look at our notes and the LivePhish.com timing seemed to confirm our impression that the Wednesday show, which ended at 11:09 p.m. vs. Tuesday’s 11:40 p.m. was roughly 25 minutes of music shorter overall.
So, verdict, another solid “above average” Phish show, some interesting bustouts and crazy stuff. We preferred Tuesday’s show, but talking to folks on the way out and friends later, we see opinion seems to swing both ways, and we’re good with that. Thanks for reading. Best wishes to all of you for a good rest of the tour. Maybe see you at MSG. In the meantime, please be safe, have fun and donate generously to the Mockingbird Foundation to pay it forward to the next generation of musicians.
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