Trey was smiling and hitting the words with playful pauses – “Did I forget to mention… Memphis?” – and grinning large, and the second jam was a thick clav/wah soupy affair under drenched pink and yellow lights. The band lingered a bit on the final rotations, letting the music pool for a moment before closing it down. It was one of a handful of moments when they were all there, present in the groove; the sort of the moment that five, six, ten years ago would have opened up into a meandering jam (Timber had one, and one was lurking somewhere in the If I could set closer too). But now, they seem to be willing to let a song take shape and show its colors, but are doing everything to avoid strolling too far out and falling into wanking. Undoubtedly those longer musings will come with time, with comfort; remember that the relationship that needs repair is Phish’s relationship with the music, not with the fans, and that now that quartet and its love are back together, they may not be ready to go at it deep and nasty all night–it’s worth noticing all the curves and turns again first, relishing the inherent beauty of the structures themselves first.
The heavy hitter of the set was a tight and crystal clear Reba, the complicated downward runs of guitar, piano and bass overlapping and tangling through the various passages, and popping up clean at every pivot. The finale jam was greeted with huge cheers and a lame effort at a glow stick war before the band took the music to a very low and quiet place. It had grown dark by this time, and Kuroda’s light show now took precedence over the oceanic views, as the music rose up to a satisfying peak, and then some whistling. Pairs seemed to be the way to think about the night, and Reba was followed an absolutely scorching Possum littered with B-3 and wailing guitar – it looked to be the closer, but was in fact followed by Farmhouse, which seemed a little off at first but filled out with a nice musical swelling at the end, and If I Could, which while pretty, never became a gut wrenching slayer.
The second set opened with Mike’s Song, Trey immediately playing raw and nasty, and Mike all thundery and aggressive, both just gunning through the song, building up a loud, loud mini mountain of sound on stage. Trey leaned over to his cohort for a brief second, and then leaned back as the music crashed into Simple. There was a little vocal flub, with Trey singing “Sky Scraper” instead of “Be-Bop”, and Mike clarifying everything; it was entirely good natured and Trey just kept laughing and laughing, and then set out on a really nice, pretty jam – it was classic, and felt so natural and good as it wound down to a deep, blue and green buzzy space from which sprang Wolfman’s Brother. But it was a very odd version, because the former A-list jam vehicle had no jam at all, instead finding Fishman driving the band into Weekapaug Groove, Mike playing massively on the intro, kicking up chunks of concrete and tossing ’em about. In the end, though the transitions were definitely wanting here, and jarred the progress of what looks like a nice suite on paper.
A hot Circus preceded another new cut Kill Devil Falls, Trey prefacing it with jokes about someone in front requesting it, “Because we take requests. We’re here for your pleasure.” The tune itself was a lyric heavy pop-rock piece – “This time will be different until I do it again” – that had a big hotdogging jam at the end, along the lines of Chalk Dust or Birds. But it was the final pair that really brought the house down, that gave me chills over and over, that left me a little speechless: Harry Hood > Loving Cup. Hood was of course greeted warmly at the outset, and greeted anew at the beginning of that long final stretch. Trey and Page were playing light, crystalline notes, feeling around the spaces under gorgeous blues and purples with green circles spilling off the stage. The song began to move a bit, but the lights switched to bursts of green, like cartoon pine boughs, and Trey was staring up into the rafters in that way he does, and the movement began to pulse and buzz and pool and collect.
For the first time in the five shows, they truly left the song, they headed for the mothership zone–it was absolutely breathtaking, Mike pulled it out with gentle grace, and they all brought it home. It felt good, like a beautiful buzz as the song trailed into a brilliant, ecstatic Loving Cup. With that taste in my mouth, I’m eagerly awaiting this weekend.