Day 2 at Merriweather began with us searching for some decent grub. After discovering that our first choice was closed on Sundays, we settled on a random place tucked away in one of Columbia, MD's 8,723,432 strip malls called Pub Dog, an establishment that seems to possess two distinguishing characteristics: 1.) all-day two-for-one drink specials, and 2.) a massive collection of identical Grand Marnier bottles displayed throughout the bar. (If you find yourself at Pub Dog, don't bother asking the waitresses "hey, what's the deal with all the Grand Marnier bottles?" because 1.) they don't know and 2.) they seem pretty justifiably weary of being constantly asked that question.) Fueled up on decent 'za and drove back to the hotel for some pool / ssf / sports action.
Preshow, we made our way to the phan-friendly Union Jack's once again, enjoying some decent sandwiches, fries, and cheap-ass beers. Our tickets for this show were in the pit, and this would be only the second time I'd ever had pit tickets at a Phish show (last summer at Jones Beach I being the first). We entered the pav area through the far Mike side, and after having heard wildly contradictory stories about how crowded the pit was during night one (every person we spoke to seemed to say it was either "totally packed" or "pretty chill"), we were pleased with the amount of room we were able to stake out down front.
First set began with a standard, awesome "First Tube," which got the party started on the high-energy tip. If this song doesn't get you hoppin' and a-stompin', check your pulse, Broman Polanski. "Moma" next, and, yes, I'd love if they took this one out for a real spin every now and then (or even if they'd surprise us dealing a "Black-Eyed Katy" every so often), but eff it, this is one song that I'm capable of appreciating in its standard form - 7 mins of ass-shaking goodness, nothing less. "NICU" and "Roses" came next, both well-played classic early Set I songs which kept the mood festive. "Chalkdust" next, hearkening back to the previous night's first set tension / release showcase.
At this point, the boys knew they needed to either deal us a pissbreak-friendly snoozer or do something totally spectacular. Right on cue, the subsequent "Stash" is the first hint that this would wind up being a truly special show. Easily the tour's finest "Stash," and also on the short list of the summer's best jams overall. This "Stash" jam atypically weaves in and out of some glorious major key segments, continuing the summer's precedent of Phish injecting uplifting improv in spaces normally inhabited by darker stuff (SPAC 2's "Melt" and "Carini," notably). It's welcome surprises like this that keep us coming back for more, and make intent listening so rewarding.
"Scent" comes next, with Mike (on "lead bass") trading licks with Trey in the "duel" segment, and also including Fishman's world premiere turn on his new marimba lumina. Heheheheheh, goofy stuff right there. "It's Ice" follows, another song that I have newfound apprecation for, mainly because of the increased attention they've been affording the jam section. This one seemed on the verge of breaking into "Manteca," which I'm of course a huge sucker for. (The version from Dick's later in the summer was equally great.) The Saga of The Incredible Shrinking "Tube" continues next, and although this one isn't quite as, uh, terse as the sub-4 minute versions at Toronto and Tahoe later in the summer, it reminds me what a rare treat the SPAC 2 version was. A standard-hot version of "Antelope" sends everyone to the pissers with big, toothy grins plastered to their faces.
This is a first set that truly deserves some recapping of its own - probably the summer's finest opening stanza overall, with all of the trimmings - nice jamming, great pacing, excellent song selection, and the best "Stash" I've seen since.... when... either 8/14/09 Hartford (need to relisten to that when I get a chance), or, before then, the monster 4/2/98 Island Tour version. STANDING AMONG GIANTS, WE ARE!!!
After we found a spot near our first set digs, set II started off with eleven minutes of "Golden Age" (including a couple bars of "Third Stone From the Sun") before segueing into "Twist." Bigtime ripcord in this "Twist," but truthfully the jam wasn't really going anywhere. The opening chords of "Number Line" can be considered the ultimate pissbreak signal, because if you hustle you can make it back just in time for a hot Trey solo.
"Light" came next, and... holy shitballs! Locks into a really nice groove around 7 mins or so, which leads to some legit Type 2 craziness - I have to say, with this show being 2+ weeks before the mammoth "Tahoeezer," it honestly seems at points as though the band is trying to goad the crowd into doing the "WOO!" thing, stopping and starting at will amongst walls of itchy atonal funk. Deservedly, this "Light" is widely accepted as one of the highlights of the whole tour, and the year's finest version of the song overall.
After 12 minutes, "Light" comes to a close with an extended, Mike-led segue into "Boogie On." Not to harp on this, but I still have no clue how SPAC 2 is so unfairly maligned - to me it was one of the three best shows I saw all summer. I think the SPAC 2 "Sand" > "Carini" includes some of the year's tightest jamming, but most folks don't seem to agree, for whatever reason. But, it's to my understanding that in general folks really don't care for "Boogie On" being played in Q4 / whatever. If Mike's Meatball doesn't turn your body into one a huge mass of *SPROING*ing rubber bands, then allow me to suggest that an armada of Q-Tips be dispatched to your ear area forthwith! Weird l'il tension-release thingy in here by Trey... but, yeah, at 5 mins, this "Boogie On" ends too soon, IMHO.
The high energy version of "Julius" that follows pretty much cements my newfound love of this song. (Anyone want a shirt??) I have nothing against straighforward, blues-rockin' Phish as long as they maintain a level of intensity that's, say, greater than your garden variety 3.0 "Possum," and this "Julius" does just that. "YEM" set closer simply can't be beat under any circumstances IMHO. Sure, there was a "Loving Cup" encore, but I'll always remember this "YEM" as the capper of a wonderful weekend of music.
Postshow we hightailed it back to Union Jack's one final time for some over-excited shop talk and many, many more cheap beers. (Am I remembering incorrectly, or were they doing $3 24 oz. mugs? Man....)
So, to recap one last time, this was the best show I'd see all summer on a docket that included SPAC, Holmdel, Merriweather, BGCA and Dick's, and I'm glad I got to share the experience with a bunch of my favorite humans. It seemed that literally everyone I met during this trip was kind and friendly, and excited about Phish's future as much as the band's storied past. Bring on Fall tour!!