With nights one and two now in the rear-view mirror, and with two drastically different shows in the books, which Phish would we get on night three: the playful, exploratory, clever band responsible for night one's incredible "Wolfman's" and joyous "Tweezer," or the band seemingly content to perform solid-yet-commonplace versions of their songs during night two's boisterous "party show" atmosphere? Or both? Either way we stood to win, although there's a difference between getting the Toys R' Us $500 gift card or the Heathcliff temporary tattoo in your Cracker Jacks, if ya catch my drift.
Of course, reducing how much fun one can have at a Phish show simply to how the band plays is foolish: I've seen many friends ruin their show (and, in some instances, mine) by preshow overindulgence over the past couple of years. Personally, I've become markedly better in that department since the all-around shitshow that was Coventry, with really only one notable blemish on my report card during 3.0. Spoiler alert!
In retrospect, I wish I hadn't started drinking so early on 12/30, but allow me to put forth an incredibly lame excuse nonetheless. See, The New York Football Giants still had their playoff hopes hanging by a very thin, fraying thread, and what better way to end the regular season than with a game against the hated Eagles, accompanied by bloodies and beers? We all met at 4th Down on North 4th shortly after noon, and began drinking - and sports-enjoying - in earnest. Things looked great for awhile, as the G-Men thoroughly dismantled their hated rival to the tune of a highly entertaining 42-7 thrashing. (Don't get me wrong, due to their own atrocious performances during the '12 season, Andy Reid and Michael Vick probably had already punched their own tickets out of Philly by this point, but it was nice to give those two scumbags a hearty boot up the ass on their way out the door.) Sadly, the Lions didn't hold up their end of the bargain, and, with the pressure off, we headed over to Spike Hill for more drinks simply because it was empty (except a couple random Hasids, if you can believe it).
After sitting, staring and drinking for about 4 hours, we had worked up a fearsome hunger, so we stumbled over to Fette Sau for some pork-tastic mealin'. With all the (justified) hoopla over Briskettown (combined with the fact that I rarely eat pork or beef anymore), it's easy to relegate Fette Sau to back burner status, but make no mistake, that place is still fuckin' great. And an A+ to the bartender who kindly put up with my friends obnoxiously pestering her with dumb questions / comments about Briskettown, as she chose to drown them out with a steady diet of Ramones.
By this point, we were all pretty sauced, and I was feeling pretty exhausted, worrying that I wouldn't be able to give the usual 115% at the evening's show. Fuckin' fuck, I don't think I've ever felt more elderly. We limped back to my place for a few beers, comfy couches, and some pre-show non-Phish tunez (mostly Cheeseburger, Oxford Collapse, White Denim and Parts and Labor) before getting a car service into the city.
For this show, we knew we had tickets behind the stage, but we were pleasantly shocked to find that when we got to our seats "ROW 10" actually meant "fifth row." (Not that I really care anyway, considering that I spend the vast majority of all Phish shows rockin' out with my eyes clamped shut.) Pleasant surprise number two was that the sound from our spot was crystal clear, and, let's face it, it's always cool to watch Fishman subtly run the entire show from behind his kit.
The first set started with standard-solid versions of "Jim" and "Cities." "Cities," had been one of the few bright spots during last year's New Year's Run at the 12/30/11 show exactly a year ago, and although tonight's version had none of of last year's extra mustard, it was well-played nonetheless. "Divided" was up next, and with "Reba" and "Bathtub" already off the table, there's literally nothing I'd rather hear as a classic "meat of the first set" song more than "Divided."
"Back on the Train" followed, providing the first light improv of the evening. Very nice version clocking in at nearly 10 minutes. "Ride Captain Ride" was up next. Works for me, since I, for one, was happy for a quick pissbreak. And wake me up when "Ocelot" becomes something better than the poor man's "46 Days." Over 11 minutes in length, none of them terribly interesting or inspired. The set rounded out with a peppy "Ya Mar," pissbreak #2 during the somnambulent "Horn," the oddly-placed but always welcome "My Friend," and the obligatory solid-standard first set-closing "Antelope."
So, three shows, three largely "averageish" first sets, with the lone exception being night one's "Wolfman's > LDB > Wolfman's" for the ages. Hopefully they'd pick shit up in the second set (they would), and hopefully I'd get my second wind at some point (I would not). Well, I guess one out of two ain't bad.
A stupendous 19+ minute "Disease" opened the second set - just what the doctor ordered (rimshot). This "Disease" played around with several gorgeous themes, resembling night one's "Tweezer" both in the pure quality of its uplifting improv and in the fact that the jam really picks up over its last few minutes (in this case, led by some funkalicious Page).
"Twenty Years Later"... I mean, at least it wasn't "Joy" or whatever, but it still signaled a mass bathroom exodus and one of the few legitimately troublesome urinal queues of the run. The "Carini" that came next easily made up for it, however, and after many relistens, I've come to the conclusion that it's probably 1.) the best jam of the run, and 2.) the best Carini I've ever seen (with the possible exception of 8/31/12 Dick's - OK, fine, twist the arm; 9/14/00 Darien was a great version too). Man, what a jam - cacophonous, noisy and borderline unpleasant like a good "Carini" should be, veering off into some serious Type II, with the finale sparked by some real assertiveness by Fishman as he dutifully pounded out the "Tusk" drumbeat while the rest of the boys experimented (successfully!) with a couple of different haunting grooves. I've made a fool out of myself more than once trying to explain to non-believers that what sets Phish apart from EVERY other band on the planet is their unmatched skill at "improvisational composition" - by the end of this jam, what the band is actually playing has as much to do with "Carini" as it does a Justin Bieber song. No, wait; that's a terrible comparison.
I have to say I've never been happier to have "Number Line"'s smarmy sentimentality jammed down my throat than at this moment - I needed a reason to sit and hydrate. And I'm just gonna come out and say it - fuck "Julius." It's this type of soulless, smug, quasi blues wankery that gives Phish a bad name amongst people who have decent taste in music. Anyway. Classic second set closer "Slave" came next, affording me the opportunity to bob my head and smile silently to an old favorite while resting my tender vittles. "Hood" in the encore mined similar emotive territory as "Slave", only moreso - always great to hear, and always a great soundtrack to quietly reflect on how many unforgettable and incredibly unique musical experiences this band has led me through since '96. Honestly, I would've cried my damn fool eyes out during this "Hood" if I hadn't been so dehydrated. By this point, even closing the encore with nobody's favorite, "Show of Life," couldn't knock the perma-grin off my ugly mug.
Post-show we again walked a few blocks east before hailing a cab back to Billyburg; again Luckydog was too packed for us to venture inside so we finished the evening at Rosamunde with tasty beer, sausages and fries. Word to the wise - I LOVE LOVE LOVE spicy stuff, but the chicken habanero sausage at Rosamunde is JUST TOO DAMNED SPICY, PEOPLE! I mean, really!
One night to go, beetchez. I'll finish these recaps up next week n' stuff. Tuddd out.