HT Review: Phish @ MSG Night Two

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The definite highlight of the set was a pitch-black Stash. Though it didn’t quite reach heights that Phish has previously shown the song to be capable of, a well-paced solo, along with some interesting rhythm work from Jon Fishman towards the end, kept things interesting. The band let the song weave through a number of different textures, Page McConnell cascading down his piano while Mike Gordon played around with grooves, just barely touching on atonality to keep things interesting. The “arrival” back at the song’s musical center came with a sense of release after the band had played around, but not in, Stash’s key for a good chunk of time.

From there, things settled down pretty quickly: McConnell came out from behind his keys to show off his voice in a soulful Lawn Boy. Page’s voice, in tandem with a Mike Gordon bass solo, is plenty to keep the tune in rotation, and offered a stark contrast to the sinister Stash that had preceded it. Phish followed the ballad up with Time Turns Elastic. While there hasn’t been much love for the tune, it does slowly seem to be working its way into the fanbase’s favor. The band has been opening it up some more here and there, and there’s really interesting things going on during the lengthy middle sections that have just needed some time to get used to before being listened to closely.

The set ended in fine fashion with Back On the Train, followed by a forceful closer in Julius, which the band stretched out to nearly nine minutes. All in all a solid set from Phish, but the real fire would come when the lights came back up for number two.

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Although certainly not approaching the web of improvisation that took place in Albany, the opening combo of Down With Disease into Piper did provide the audience with some lengthy bouts of group explorations. Disease did break away from its initial form a bit, though it was never too difficult to trace what you were hearing back to the original song. Towards the end, Fishman slowed things down to half-time as Gordon kept a harmonic base firmly in everyone’s ear. This allowed Page to break from his comping duties and layer dense soundscapes into the mix, on top of which Trey provided a repeating pattern.

Slowly the Disease jam disintegrated and bled into the opening chords of Piper, which brought with it the promise of more improvisation. Having gone through the vocals, Phish bumped up the tempo slightly. Anastasio took a fairly rhythmic solo, punctuated by Fishman’s own flourishes on the drums. Eventually the band hit a groove they seemed to like and the jam gave way to a double-time funk. Trey and Page played around each other, working with their own wah-wah effects, and soon Gordon jumped in with his own effects. The interplay between the members of the band at the end of Piper’s jam was fantastic – all four were very clearly listening to one another, and the last few minutes had no soloist one could point to. The space-y effects started to work their way into the mix, and the band began to fade out of Piper.

As Piper died down, the energy let up just long enough for the introduction of a perfectly-timed Fluffhead to sound through the arena. Even though the song is effectively in regular rotation since Phish’s return, it’s still got a really special feeling every time the band pulls it out. The band stretched out the song’s peak to a good three minutes, Trey continually pushing the energy higher and higher in a total bliss-out. Definitely one of the better peaks the song has seen this year.

A straightforward rendition of Cities followed, easing its way into Free, continuing the catharsis that Fluffhead had started. There was finally a bit of time to cool off, only to immediately jump back up as Halley’s Comet began. It didn’t go very far, musically, clocking in at about six minutes, but the song in its most basic form is still a treat to hear, and stands on its own quite well.

The band didn’t push any boundaries with Halley’s, nor with the 2001 that followed, but any form of 2001 can groove the hell out of an audience. Phish’s little descending tone loop make an appearance, and the band sounded really tight, clearly hearing one another and impeccably responding to each player’s actions. As the layers of loops faded away, Fishman’s hi-hat announced the closer of David Bowie. Trey’s solo in the middle worked through a number of different aesthetics, at first meandering through tone before exploding back into key. There was some great play between guitar and drums again, as Trey would play a lick that left a clear opening for a fill from Fishman.

The ending of Bowie was particularly well-executed this time around: Phish nailed the transition out of the solo, and the ending movement rose and fell perfectly each time. As an encore, the band dropped Character Zero, which was entirely appropriate, a nice, simple build to a thoroughly satisfying climax, just in case there was any extra energy to be expended.

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