CONCERT RECAP: Phish @ First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA – 6/23/12

EDITOR’S NOTE: Phish begins leg two of their summer 2012 tour on Wednesday in Long Beach – check out Billy Morgan’s review from one of the hotter shows of the first leg.

Night two of the run, we found ourselves in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania amped and ready after a great showing in Cincinnati. After about a two-and-a-half-mile hike from Bennett Acres Campground, we hit the expansive lot we had heard so much about. The parking lot at First Niagara Pavilion, formerly known as Star Lake, is absolutely huge and was quite the party. Once inside, we found our seats quickly, giddy with anticipation.

The show kicked off with a raucous “Funky Bitch,” which immediately had the Pennsylvania crowd up and rocking. This version featured some nice and focused playing from all four band members. Next, came only the 3rd 3.0 song of the run, “Backwards Down the Number Line.” Not one of my favorites and quite overplayed, this one actually worked quite well in the early set 1 slot. Though not featuring the improvisational prowess it occasionally begets, this rendition was tight and focused, featuring more clean, relaxed playing from Trey.

Next, the classic pairing of “Torn and Frayed,” one of a handful of songs from Festival 8’s Exile set that has made its way into the rotation. Just like everything from the run so far, this version was nailed with an exceptionally mellifluous and laid back solo from Trey.

After being aborted the night before, “Moma Dance” was due up next. A fairly standard, yet always funky run through set the table for the first shenanigans of the night in the form of “Scent of a Mule.” With a fun, playful “Mule Duel,” featuring comical dance moves and theremin antics, it was clear the band was in a good mood and having a blast on stage. This would bode well for the rest of the evening.

A raging “46 Days” filled the next slot. Without harping to the point of repetition, it must be noted that Trey’s playing is exceptionally on point right now, especially considering he has often been the weak link in recent tours, and he showed it off a bit in this one. To follow, the familiar opening arpeggios of “You Enjoy Myself” pleasantly greeted the ears of the audience. A solid version featuring a funky jam with Mike’s usual bass breakdown, a “Scent” tease, notable dance moves from Trey, and an especially whacky vocal jam brought a smile to the face of everyone lucky to be at Star Lake on this special evening. This quite rare, (as of late) set-closing “YEM” caught the crowd off guard, putting an exclamation point on another top-notch first set, highlighted by great song selection, flow, and super tight playing. However, no one could possibly prepare for what would unfold after the break.

Phish @ Starlake – 6/23/2012 || Photo by Billy Morgan

The second set kicked off with a relatively straight forward take on “Gotta Jiboo” that kept the trend of solid playing going strong. What transpired next seemed to be out of a perfect dream. This sequence that will be talked about for years and years to come changed the course of the show, tour, and this entire era of Phish music. Dropping “Mike’s Song” in the second slot of the set showed some balls and led me to believe they were going to give this one the full treatment unlike many “Mike’s Grooves” of 3.0. The band came out of the gates pushing the tune harder, and further than it has gone since the return, building the energy to a monstrous peak before treating the crowd to an old school segue into “Simple.”

With the roof ready to blow off the pavilion, Phish played an awe-inspiring jam that quickly veered into ambient territory. The beautiful soundscapes coming from the stage made it clear the band was in the mood to explore and the audience happily lapped it up, as we all know this doesn’t happen every night anymore. After the sublime “Simple” outro, the band leapt into one of their most reliable launchpads of late, “Light.” This version contained the jam of the tour delving deep into the cosmos with the band leading us on a one-way voyage to type II city. Out of the composed section, the beautiful full-band interplay moved quickly into a smooth, dark place highlighted by Mike’s interesting bass licks before settling into a deeper groove led by Trey’s patient playing. Page began dishing out some “plinko-esque” offerings, to which Trey responded with his own brand of plinko funk taking the jam in a new direction. Trey began to play a melodic solo over the funk creating some of the freshest jamming we’ve seen in a long time. They continued to push the jam along a similar plane until ripping into the intro of “Weekapaug Groove,” which featured a reprise of the jam they had just finished. They almost instantly veered back off the beaten path after the lyrical section picking up right where they left off at the end of “Light.” The jams were flowing like water, never getting stale before moving in new directions. Trey played beautiful solos over a super funky pocket that included a “Divided Sky” tease.

The band’s listening skills were on full display as they continued pushing the jam in new directions, moving into a brief, dark, “storage-y” segment before wrapping up undoubtedly the best 3.0 outing we have seen from “Weekapaug Groove.” The first notes of “Seven Below” began to emerge from an interesting Weekapaug outro, proving the band couldn’t stop jamming even if they wanted to. The band quickly moved back into another free-form jam that while somewhat short, continued the full band conversation. Next the band finally took a breather after over 50 minutes of continuous music, all the while basking in the crowd’s adoration.

Band and phans alike knew that something magical had just gone down. The classic tune “Bouncing Around the Room” came next, nestled in perfectly after the musical orgasm that preceded it and followed by an especially raging “Julius.” Phish then capped off the second set masterpiece with an absolutely jaw-dropping rendition of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” Everything felt perfect as the band played a “Slave” totally awash with emotion from start to finish. The audience was totally blown away, as evidenced by the massive ovations.

I couldn’t help but wonder what was left in the tank for the encore. Lizards! The band unveiled the rarity in the encore spot for only the second time since ’94, the other coming at the Greek Theater a couple years ago. Trey forgot a lyric, but owned his mistake and used it to build the energy even higher before destroying his famed “Lizards” solo. It was an ideal ending to a surreal evening at Star Lake.

It is shows like this that keep me coming back for more. The band turned a major corner with this show, that has to be considered one of, if not the best, efforts we have seen from Phish in this modern era. The excitement had reached an all time high as we headed into the 3rd night of the run at Blossom Music Center. They couldn’t keep this kind of momentum alive could they?

Set I: Funky Bitch, Backwards Down the Number Line, Gumbo, Maze, Torn & Frayed*, Moma Dance, Scent of A Mule$, 46 Days, You Enjoy Myself%

Set II: Gotta Jibboo > Mike’s Song > Simple > Light > Weekapaug Groove -> Seven Below, Bouncin’ Round The Room > Julius, Slave to the Traffic Light

Encore: The Lizards

*Mike Gordon on White Fender Jazz Bass
$ Mule Duel w/ Page on Theremin
% Scent of a Mule tease from Trey

Show Notes: The Lizards is unique song #139 of Summer 2012 per @bizarchive