Phish’s three-night Beacon Theatre run comes to an end tonight with a Friday night show in the Big Apple. The run has so far produced some great moments (especially the “Reba” and “David Bowie” from night 1), but it has been hard to shake the feeling the last few shows that the band has largely been playing it safe. Let’s see if that remains the case tonight! The show begins with a fiery and always-welcome “Llama” opener, which is followed by the lazy, pleasant stroll of “Guelah Papyrus.” (The last “Llama, Guelah” opener? 12/31/93.) “Paul and Silas” makes its first appearance of the year next, a song I find to almost always be a sign of good things to come. That certainly holds true tonight, for the band drops straight from the ending of that song into a very rare first-set “Harry Hood.”
The “Hood” jam begins at 5:30, and the band seems in no rush to begin the song’s build. Thanks in no small part to Trey’s patience, the band spends a good amount of time swimming in pleasant ambience. Trey plays some lovely ascending lines at 7:00 that sparks full-band interplay. From there the jam begins to dissipate, as if disappearing into thin air, and reaches near-silence by 7:45. The jam then starts to build for several minutes around impressive and blissful riffing from Trey. The band starts to zero in on a peak by 11:30 as Trey unleashes a thrilling flurry of Trey Trills™. He absolutely owns the end of the jam with some final rounds of shredding before smoothly bringing the band into the composed ending at 12:50. All said, a fantastic “Hood,” and even more so for appearing just 15 minutes into the show.
“Wilson” follows “Hood,” and reaches a huge milestone tonight. Yes, that’s right folks: this is the first version of the “WILSON” crowd chant (unless some pre-93 rendition is out there somewhere)! It begins about 30 seconds into the song on my recording, and only a few people do it at first. Quickly others catch on, however, and the chant becomes quite loud on my recording. Remarkably it sounds essentially the same as it does today, with the audience rhythm matching today’s chant. The band cuts this off at 0:55 to begin the song. As cool as it is to see the firm beginning of this long-running tradition the rest of the performance is standard, with the ending solo lasting only 15 seconds before slamming into “Chalk Dust Torture.”
“CDT” receives an extra workout from Trey tonight. Instead of jumping straight into high-energy shredding he settles into a more low-key rumble to begin his solo segment. He then leads the band through some dynamic ups and downs, distinguishing this “CDT” a bit from the typical performance. “Bouncing Around the Room” is a welcome breather at this point in the set, and is followed by a great “It’s Ice.” The underwater segment begins at 5:00, and Page quickly takes the reins and leads the segment, Trey contributes great, sly comping as well. Fishman’s work on the cymbals here deserves credit as well. A funky, full-band jam develops by 6:00 that quickly descends into jazzy, free-wheeling exploration. This disintegrates and Fishman returns to the “Ice” composition at 7:00. Page delivers an intense coda to the jam on his baby grand during the transition. This follows a somewhat-similar progression to recent “Ices,” but the band pulls it off very successfully tonight.
“Down with Disease” ends the set in a now-familiar fashion, with the “jam” lasting about 2-3 minutes and consisting almost entirely of a Trey solo. The vocal harmonies at the end do return after being almost-absent during last night’s show. Trey’s been hot all night so this is still a fun way to end the set, but this song seems nowhere close to breaking out at this point. Overall, this is an excellent first set with not a dull moment to be found start to end. Just about every song pops, the pace and flow of the set is superb, and the band delivers a standout jam with “Hood.” Needless to say, the bar has been raised for set 2.
“Maze” opens set 2. I often don’t comment much on “Maze,” because I feel like you generally know what you’re going to get with the song, but this one stands apart. Page’s solo is good but standard, but Trey’s solo goes places. He locks into a dark, two-note riff that leads the band into an intense, heavy metal build from 7:30-8:20. The full band commits to pushing this “Maze” peak further than usual, and Fishman in particular goes ape on drums for the final burst of excitement from 8:50-9:20. “Maze” fans should definitely find this one worth checking out, and it’s a great start to the second set.
Just as “Guelah Papyrus” provided a relaxing counterpart to the exciting “Llama” opener, “If I Could” works well here as a gentle comedown from the intensity of “Maze.” I continue to enjoy hearing this song, and the band’s playing is rock solid throughout. “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” is next, and serves as a prelude to the second Giant Country Horns set of the tour (the first being the tour opener in Burlington). There’s a lot of overlap between the songs in this set and that set in Burlington, but the horns are still a lot of fun and make for an energetic listen. “Suzy Greenberg” gets the party started, with the horns making their introduction right at the beginning of the first chorus. “The Landlady” follows, and the extended horn solo that I raved about on the 4th makes a reappearance.
The always high-energy “Julius” is a natural choice to keep the momentum of the set high, and is followed by Hoist companion “Wolfman’s Brother.” “Wolfman’s” and the sequence following it ends up being the highlight of the horn set. The jam begins at 3:45 and for the first minute consists of a slow, drawling Trey riff punctuated by bursts of horns. The tempo begins to quicken at 4:55, and similar to the performance on the fourth, the band then moves into an “Alumni Blues” jam. Except, this time, the jam turns into a partial performance of the song proper! Trey sings through the first verse and chorus of the song before the song returns to a horns jam. This jam quickens again, this time into the point of madness and anarchy. This wild peak brings the sequence to an end. The Henrietta segment begins immediately after, tonight consisting of another performance of “I Wan’na Be Like You.” The set ends with a horns-filled “Cavern.” There’s some flubs about halfway through the song, but for whatever reason I find flubs in a set-ending “Cavern” more amusing than anything else. A lovely “Magilla” featuring band introductions and an umamplified “Amazing Grace” brings the band’s one and only Beacon Theatre run to a close.
This show is simply fun from beginning to end. Both sets, while relatively short (clocking in at only an hour a piece), pack a lot of punch and never drag for a moment. The one knock I suppose you could level at the second set is that it reprises a lot of the second set in Burlington, but the horns arrangements are so fun and energetic that it didn’t bother me in the slightest. There’s a lot of energy both on stage and in the audience on this evening, and it comes across on the recording. A delightful listen.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Harry Hood,” “Wilson,” “It’s Ice,” “Maze,” “Wolfman’s Brother > Alumni Blues”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 60 mins.
- Second set length: 60 mins.
- Encore length: 9 mins.
- This is the third and last time Phish performed at the Beacon Theatre. Trey Anastasio Band will perform here in 2012 and 2014.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Alumni Blues,” returning after a three hundred and one show absence (7/18/91).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (6 songs).