25 in 25 #2 07/03/2014 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY (Alex Grosby, @harryphood @phishsonian)
Selection: Bathtub Gin>Limb by Limb>Winterqueen
Ah, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. With it brings a sense of nostalgia for past events, personally and as a fanbase, which some other venues can only aspire for. I love that Saratoga becomes our town for the weekend. The bars and restaurants welcome us with open arms, even playing Phish over their sound system to try and entice us through the door. The hotels become hubs for friends whether it’s gathering around the pool at the Holiday Inn or drinking at the picnic tables by the Hilton Garden Inn. I love the long walk from downtown into the venue and back, the many wooded paths to get lost on before the show, and the fact that there’s the parking lot and then, over the bridge, THE LOT. There’s nothing like an ice cream cone from Stewart’s (Lawnmemo side note-I approve of this message) after raging hard. These are all important parts that set the tone for SPAC unlike a lot of venues.
Then there’s the history factor. Milestones such as 7/10/94, 6/26/95, and 6/19-20/04 build up the mystique of SPAC. In 3.0, Phish was slowly building the place back up. Flourishes of the 2012 run such as “Piper” and “Harry Hood” made strides. The 2013 run was a more solid effort with such big versions of “46 Days->Steam”, “Melt”, and “Carini” taking root. It was on this momentum, coupled with a very solid tour opener at Great Woods that fans descended on SPAC on July 3rd with high hopes.
Set 1 was played fairly safe with an odd choice of “Farmhouse” to open and the set remained very straight forward, even for 3.0. “Farmhouse” hadn’t opened a show since 12/7/99. Highlights were a danceable “Wolfman’s”, the usual high-energy of “Maze”, and a fun closing trio of “Mound>Roggae>Possum”, but it definitely left the crowd wanting more. I couldn’t help but feel that it was definitely a first set. And that sounds bad but it just couldn’t be anything else. It wasn’t terrible in fact my show notes just have “Holy Fuck” written down with nothing else. Clearly I enjoyed some aspect of the first set that night and it’s enjoyable on the replay.
So, there was excitement as Trey hit those first few chords of “Bathtub Gin” to open the second set. “Gin” hadn’t appeared in a 2nd set since 6/29/12 let alone opened a 2nd set since 11/20/98. Given 2nd set is where the jams usually happen; it immediately felt like this “Gin” could take off. This version actually feels a touch slower than usual and Trey’s scatting was rough around the edges. Not a great sign. When the jam starts at the 5-minute mark, it’s solid Type I but with a solid lead from Trey with nice coloring by Page. The 8:30 mark has really pretty descending arpeggios as the tension builds but still feels like it’s taking a long time to develop, more than usual. It’s still a very pretty Type I jam. At 10:30, the jam finally releases the tension and Trey sounds like he might even go back into the main riff to close the song but he holds off and Page builds into trying to force a Type II jam. Trey follows Page’s lead and begins to hit crunchy chords over the top. Nearly everyone goes type II except Fishman, who remains on the same rhythm. Page switches from the baby grand to the Rhodes but besides his movement, the jam kind of dissipates. It feels odd like they didn’t move on the same wavelength. Fishman just stops playing all together, leaving Trey, Page, and Mike for a moment. It builds into a very ambient swirling moment but is directionless, like somebody just pulled the rudder while going upwind. It’s an odd vortex as the result is enjoyable but makes you wish the transition had been stronger so that there was a movement to extended the jam. Page had an idea but somehow didn’t get the other three on board.
Out of this moment, Trey fires up the chords for “Limb by Limb”. The “head” of the tune sounds great with energy from the band. When the solo kicks off, you know it’s going to be a good one because Trey already has already deviated by playing the licks down instead of up, creating a great dissonance with the uplifting chord structure. Just before 5 minutes, Trey begins hitting minor chords and the jam shifts away from Limb by Limb’s structure slowly as if calling the others to follow. Fishman slowly shifts his rhythm as well, Mike gets little more free-form, and you can see “Limb by Limb” getting smaller in the rear view. Trey’s riffs get darker and darker, like he’s dragging us all down to another world. At 8:20, he hits a really cool theme briefly, like a call for EVIL.
At 9 minutes, “Limb by Limb” vanishes and we’re in Type II but a broken type II. Fishman rides the cowbell for dear life as Trey hits a swirling, repeating loop of dissonance and then wails chords over the top. Page joins with a disjointed piano riff. Mike plays an up and down bass riff underneath adding to the feeling of chaos. Where the “Bathtub Gin” jam ended in a swirling ball of confusion, it felt less united and had a more uplifting tone. This is yet another vortex but it’s an evil and cohesive one with a solid groove underneath. It’s dirty in the best way possible. At 11:30 it gets more deranged with other notes adding. The tornado of dissonance grows in power and even Fishman loses his safety of the cowbell and begins jamming along.
But who will save us from the darkness and fire? Only one person can in Trey’s mind and it’s the “Winterqueen” cutting through the heat to save us. Some people have said that this was a low point in the set but I feel it was an excellent mid-set point. I think some might feel that there wasn’t enough heat to warrant the cool down but I think it was a very good follow-up to how they ended the “Limb by Limb”. This version was the first since the song debuted at Atlantic City and had matured nicely. Trey clearly enjoys the song and plays a very strong lead for the solo. He plays the chorus a few times and almost feels that it’s not building. Trey finds the right ideas though and begins a beautiful solo at the 5-minute mark. His trills at 5:45 sound like a kinder, gentler Machine Gun Trey, fitting the delicate structure of the song but retaining that Trey signature. It’s pretty in the same way the best Phish ballads are, “If I Could” and “Billy Breathes” leading the charge there. Page plays dripping gorgeous counterpoints throughout. Mike lays down the low end in a manor that Phil Lesh would approve of, and Fishman has ample fills. It really is about showcasing the band on the new material and that comes through here. 7/3/14 may not be an immediate SPAC powerhouse but as the warmup for the weekend, it’s a solid Part 1, with Limb by Limb being a standout jam. We were now ready for anything. “Holy Fuck.”
From Alex Grosby:
Alex Grosby was introduced to Phish in the glorious summer of ’94 when a radio DJ gave him a copy of Hoist and then he bugged his dad into taking him to Sugarbush ’94 in his hometown. He has since followed them all over and now dedicates his life to documenting Phish’s history at Phishsonian.net. He also hosts “This Week in Phish” every Thursday at 2 PM Eastern on JEMPRadio.com. He hopes to work with Phish Inc. to build The Phishsonian Institute, a museum in downtown Burlington, VT. He splits time between Vermont and Ellensburg, WA currently. Say hi on Twitter @harryphood or @phishsonian.
His favorite Ghost is probably 7/1/2000.