I mentioned in the previous review that the crowd was definitely smaller than in years past, and night two at Alpine was noticeably less populated. I arrived kind of late, pulling into the lot at about 6:30. There was absolutely no traffic. Honestly, it was a bit disconcerting. I mentally prepare myself to sit in traffic for the last mile or so getting into Alpine, so not doing so was just weird.
I had AWESOME seats for the second show, center stage row JJ, great sight lines, right in front of the sound booth, so I could not have picked a better place. The folks around me were abuzz about the first night, one guy calling it the best show of the tour. I respectfully dissent. Night one was a good, solid show with bust outs and great playing (I’m listening to the DWD –>What’s the Use right now) but night two was an overall better show. Either way, the folks at Alpine got a great weekend’s worth of music.
What really made this show work for me was the almost playful aspect of the set selection. The band basically teased the crowd through the first set, and just brought the house down with the second set. The Tweezer opener was, pardon the pun, just the beginning. Starting out with such a potential blockbuster definitely got the crowd amped up, well at least me, but it never really took off. It was rather restrained, not like they were holding back, but more like they were just warming up. AC/DC Bag pushed the needle a little further along and for me it brought back memories of epic Bags that launched second sets, but again no take off, it was just a nice jam. The bluesy, southern-tinged On Your Way Down was a nice surprise. I doubt it will gain a spot in the heavy rotation, but a good Page feature and songs like that really show that Trey can do it all; hard rocking solos, improv craziness, and tight blues, good stuff all. Speaking of tight, well executed songs, The Divided Sky came next and as always its one of the few songs I literally enjoy watching more than anything. The skill involved in this song is just amazing. Having said that, I seem to see it at every show I attend so I could go a year or two without. While I enjoyed the balance of the set, especially the Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan, it felt rather disjointed all things being equal. I’m not a big fan of Water in the Sky, basically I think that song should have been retired after the 1999 Big Cypress show, perhaps the only time I cheered that song. Moma Dance is a nice little funky number, but when the rest of the set isn’t really funky, it’s as out of place as Water in the Sky is at most shows. Following up Moma with Farmhouse only highlighted the fact that Moma was conspicuously out of place. The set ended like it began with a potential jam vehicle being relegated to a sharp David Bowie set closer. I usually find my way out to the bathroom during the closer, but not this time. I haven’t seen a Bowie in a long time so I just had to stick around.
The little group around row JJ was going over what we had seen the past couple of nights and thinking back to setlists to other shows and consensus was that the jam of the set was going to be a Ghost. Like the first set, the supposed center piece started the set and we were correct, Ghost started up. It segued nicely into a Theme From the Bottom, but unlike night one’s DWD –>What’s the Use it wasn’t a performance for the ages. The rest of the set, however, was. Starting with Big Black Furry Creature From Mars really until the encore of Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ the set just went for broke. Trey was way out in front for all of it and I saw someone comment that playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a perfect fit for the night. Though they didn’t genuinely segue from YEM to Piper to 2001, the songs did work really well together, even if at times it felt like the Piper was going to go off the rails. In what is becoming a more common experience, the encores contain three or four songs and night two at Alpine saw four songs as the encore. Joy was kind of an odd choice, really bringing the high energy down from the second set, especially when we all knew that the Tweezer Reprise was coming to ramp things up at the finish. Reprise of course was the finish, and it felt like the kick at the end of a race, a strong sprint to the finish of a very, very good show.
Overall, it was a great weekend of Phish, with some genuine highlights of the tour. I even got to see the folks at the Phellowship for the first time in a while, definitely an added bonus. I’m so glad that the Phellowship is still going strong and its core really seems to be young. Of course, that’s part of the reason I don’t stop by as much anymore. Being the really old dude at the set break meeting just reminds me of how long I’ve been doing this. Even so, a sober break in the middle of a show is always nice, even if I feel a little ancient and out of place.