Review | Phish | Jones Beach

Images by: Dave Vann

Words by: Chadbyrne Dickens

Phish :: 07.12.13 :: Jones Beach Ampitheathre :: Wantagh, NY

After flubbing the words to the encore, Trey Anastasio quipped, "What are the words of this song again, Page?" Page retorted, "It's a song about redemption." The juggernaut jam band, Phish, is rolling with such steam, hitting all the right chords these days, that it is hard to imagine they need to redeem themselves for anything. Far removed from the days Trey was beset with personal issues which put the band on extended "hiatus" with an uncertain future, now the biggest obstacles are how they would bounce back from a cancelled performance in Toronto and confront ominous weather. The world's most popular living jam band performed its sixth summer show and 4th tour stop at the 15,000 seat Jones Beach Amphitheater in sea-level, Wantagh, NY on July 12th, 2013. The band’s 14th appearance at the Long Island venue was the first to sell-out this summer run.

Phish 7/12/13 Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, NY
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2013. All rights reserved.
Although just 45 minutes east of NYC, on the south shore of Long Island, Jones Beach is a challenging destination location on a Friday evening. However, there are few outside venues in the metro area suitable for Phish to perform. Despite the endless comparisons to the Grateful Dead, Phish would be unable to fill a venue the size of Met Life Stadium, like their jam band hierarchal predecessors. The heavens opened up and poured on this night, which was very uncomfortable for fans. Whether one was tall or small, burly or bald, the wacky weather equally punished all in attendance, with only those persevering by confronting the elements rewarded with a stellar musical experience. Tepid temperatures and high winds left women water-logged and once mighty men mired in helpless shivering, as ripped rain ponchos littered the grounds and repetitive rain showered down for hours, leaving attendees feeling as if they were wading in a velvet sea, as Chris Kuroda's (lighting designer and unofficial 5th member of the band) kaleidoscope of lights cascaded reflections off the chilly liquid onslaught from the sky.

Celebrating their 30th anniversary year, this tour leaves an indelible mark as a notable feat attained by only a handful of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands including The Stones, The Who and The Grateful Dead. Another year, yet another infestation of schools of dedicated Phishheads continue to follow the seminal jam outfit. The boys from Burlington, VT have played over 1,500 shows, but Jones Beach may be the coldest outdoor show they have played since Redstone Campus at UVM in the 1980's. Ernest "Trey" Anastasio (vocals/guitar), Mike Gordon (vocals/bass), Page McConnell (vocals/keys) and Jon Fishman (vocals/drums) did not disappoint on this tumultuous night; rather, inspired fans to dance and sing by immersion through musical adventures.

The first set began very unevenly. "Chalk Dust Torture" provided an energetic spark, inciting the miserable audience to get down and groove. The band scrolled through a few tunes in a paint by numbers fashion before dusting off the old school ditty "My Sweet One" and a rare "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing." Naturally, "Water in the Sky" was dutifully performed for the occasion and Gamehendge fans were satiated by a feisty version of "Sloth." The band plodded through the Chairman of the Board's "Beauty of a Broken Heart" before tackling Cactus' "Sugar Shack." However, "46 Days" saw the first unbridled guitar work from Trey in a set otherwise so far devoid of heavy guitar jamming or improvisation. The beauty of Phish is that with so many songs in its catalog, one can go to four shows without catching a song twice. However, the band chose "Backwards Down the Number Line" to perform yet again - the third time played in six shows this tour! Somehow they didn't get the memo that despite some quality jamming, a majority of fans are very tired of the formulaic tune and it served for many as a disappointing surprise in a set that was gaining momentum. There has been much less set variance so far this tour, with more repeats, especially when compared to last year's 200 song shuffle. The loudest crowd adulation occurred at the unleashing of the first "Reba" of the tour, its tight groove serving as an impetus for heavy fan participation and band prowess reminiscent of The Front 1989 days. The song segued into "David Bowie" just as it had at Watkins Glen to end the set two years ago, with equal satisfaction. The first set clocked in at nearly 95 minutes and was incendiary enough to keep fans focused on music and not on Mother nature. Ironically, the Beach Boys were blasted out the loud speakers during set break.

Phish 7/12/13 Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, NY
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2013. All rights reserved.

The sodden weather didn't let up during set break. Jones Beach, fully renovated post- Sandy after an influx of $20 million, has a no alcohol policy unless you hold a VIP ticket. However, the band came out ready to provide a musical buzz. Kuroda's purple lights put a magical sheath of majesty over the royalty of jam music. Page yelled, "Are you staying dry? We aren't going to stop!!" A near twenty-minute "Rock and Roll", led by Page's fiery vocals, fueled the coals for a frenetic musical interlude that saw inspired interplay between Trey and Page before a clean transition blasted off the dance party of "2001", shaking the amphitheater to its core. At the conclusion of the driving danceathon of "2001", Trey stood holding his axe tightly upright and strongly stroked it from side to side, doing his usual Jedi impersonation, proving again he is more Master than Padawan. Critics point to his current shelving of "the Ocedoc" guitar in favor of wielding his older Koa Languedoc, for an improved tone.

A highlight of the night, "Tweezer" was an example of the band in exemplary form with Gordo, dressed to the nines with a fine black button up jacket, bobbing his head like Flea might on sedatives. Although not exactly 12/6/97, it contained stellar finger work by Trey. Inexplicably undervalued at #73 on Rolling Stones' Top 100 list of greatest guitarists, Big Red is a guitar God to his adoring legion of fans much in the way Garcia was to his loyal base. Trey continued to showcase his chops throughout the second set. After a bombastic take on Talking Head's "Cities", Trey seamlessly led the band by destroying a monster solo on "The Wedge" complete with a cascading crescendo. A raucous "Character Zero" closed the set with the thousands of wet and loyal fans screaming the stadium chorus, "the man Mulcahey!"

Phish 7/12/13 Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, NY
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2013. All rights reserved.

It is fair to say "Sleeping Monkey" is not on the top tier of favorite fan encores, but tonight's sloppy version was an interesting one. Page dedicated it to the victims of Sandy, the crowd screaming out the lyrics "take it down to the shore" after Trey started singing the lyrics to "Sample" before correcting himself. Henrietta changed a line to "my sleeping monkey is redeemed." The Jones Beach show proved not only that Phish fans are resilient and will go through most anything to see their favorite band live, but that Phish has nothing for which to redeem themselves - they continue to be doing it right.

Set 1: Chalk Dust Torture, Cars Trucks Buses, Ocelot, My Sweet One, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Water in the Sky, The Sloth, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Sugar Shack, 46 Days, Backwards Down the Number Line> Reba, David Bowie Set 2: Rock and Roll>2001>Tweezer>Cities>The Wedge, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Character Zero, Encore: Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise

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[Published on: 7/18/13]

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