Disclaimer: I go to shows to have fun. I don’t take notes. I dance, I drink, and I’m probably writing this hungover. I don’t use a thesaurus, I call em’ like I see em’. This is what I thought.

Holidays tend to bring out the best in Phish, whether it is a New Years prank or a Halloween cover set, fans tend to star these special shows on their tour calendars. This year, Phish celebrated our nation’s Independence Day at the Jones Beach Amphitheater on Long Island, New York, for a pair of midweek shows. I’ll go over both shows but first I just want to talk about the venue itself. Many fans share a lot of hate for Jones Beach as a venue, and they have every right to – state troopers monitor the parking lot strictly and generally aren’t too kind to Phans, the venue serves no alcohol inside which is unacceptable for a rock concert, and the sound tends to be inconsistent in certain areas. For these two shows, the stars were aligned and all the positive aspects of Nikon Theater at Jones Beach were allowed to shine. The weather was perfect, there was no wind to interfere with the sound, and the beauty of the venue and the backdrop of the water were on full display.

While both shows definitely contained some awesome jams and were generally solid all around, the reality is that this Jones Beach run will be remembered as s bust out show. Specifically, the first Skin It Back since 1988 and over 1,400 shows. The Little Feat cover was played sporadically in the 80′s when Phish had barely traveled outside of Vermont yet has solidified a reputation as a highly coveted bust out; People still bring signs to shows nearly 25 years later. A Skin it Back opener might be the mother of all bust outs, and once the fans recognized the song it got an extremely warm welcome back. For such an absence from the rotation, the song was played fantastically and got the proper jam it deserved. Just two songs later, the band busted out a cover of The Beatles’ Happiness Is a Warm Gun for the first time since the band covered The White Album at the ’94 Halloween shows. The rest of the set was fairly standard, save for a nasty Trey solo in what were an otherwise short and standard Weekapaug Groove, and the first Jesus Just Left Chicago of the year.

Set two started off with an interestingly placed Chalk Dust Torture that featured Skin It Back teases before we hit the real meat of the set. Two songs that have really stood out so far this tour, Sand and Golden Age, were played back to back each with their own extremely unique and interesting jams. Each song featured multiple segments and ideas that came together perfectly. Improvisation-wise, these two songs are the real keepers of the two night run. In what is becoming a standard procedure for 2012 Phish, the band failed to keep the momentum going with the following song and could never really get back to the same place until the closer. But what a closer that was, with one of the most buzzed about Run Like an Antelope’s in recently memory. This one had a jam that felt like it was shot of a cannon and is definitely one to re-listen to. A Character Zero encore took the crowd home as the phans awaited the real holiday show the next day.

Unfortunately, the July 4th show will be remembered more for what didn’t happen than for what did. Signs leading up to the venue promised that there were to be no fireworks display at the beach, and that promise held true to both Phish and the concert venue. For the buzz about which song would contain the night’s fireworks, there ended up being none besides some tiny ones off in the distance. However, what was there was a show full of fun songs, rarities, and a fan favorite bust out, creating a show that no one will probably complain about, but was definitely lacking for a true holiday show. An Alumni Blues opener got the show off rolling before we were hit with Head Held High from Velvet Underground’s Loaded – the first time it was played since the band covered the album in ’98 and the fifth song off that album to be played this tour. The band seems to be really open to playing some of those forgotten Halloween songs and it seems to be a nice little treat. The band completely nailed The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday>Avenu Malkenu>The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, hitting all the right notes in the intro and getting the vocals spot on. This rarely played segment was absolutely awesome. Kill Devil Falls was a return to more ‘standard’ Phish, only to be followed by Bittersweet Motel, yet another crowd pleasing rarity. The set’s highlight, however, belongs to Fishman, who came out running for the familiar Hold Your Head Up routine, only to break out into a cover of Prince’s Purple Rain. The iconic song was played for the first time since ’99 and was a much cleaner version than the prior – Fishman even referenced forgetting the lyrics during the last time he sang the song. The set closed with an a cappella ‘Star Spangled Banner’, which was as close to a holiday theme as we’d get.

The next set, while nothing to complain about, also had nothing really memorable. Thirteen songs, really no jam segments – this was not the same Phish that has been absolutely nailing second sets over the past month. Again, that’s not to say this wasn’t a fun set – the ball got rolling right off the bat with a fun Boogie On Reggae Woman that, while extremely funky, didn’t deviate from the norms we’re used to. Boogie On segued nicely into a Tweezer that, again, while fun, didn’t really have the jams or the improv that some of the other recent versions had. You could say the same for the following Twist – while a solid version; many in the crowd had just heard a near legendary rendition in Atlantic City that this one just couldn’t live up to. You could really say the same thing about all of the ‘big’ songs in this set; Taste, Rock and Roll, Harry Hood, and Slave to the Traffic Light. They were all in there, but there seemed to be absolutely no flow or improvisation. It felt like the band just wanted to play as many songs as possible. The encore was very fitting – Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise. Was it fun? Yes. References to the “tucking” inside jokes from a few weeks ago returned to the delight of the crowd. But to cap off a holiday show, I think many expected a little more.

These two shows brought out many memorable moments that will live on in Phishtory forever, and I think any fan that missed them would have been upset. The first night was the clear winner and followed the roadmap that all of the rest of the killer shows this year have followed. The first set featured some great songs and a killer bust out, the second set started off with some raging jams, slowed down a bit, only to close the show out strong with a rager or two. Night two was definitely a good time, and the fans got their money’s worth, but outside of Purple Rain and the other rarities, there was nothing to really write home about. The jams just never came. The night’s encore really summed up my feelings on the entire show – while everyone seemed to be really enjoying the closing Reprise, they were really just waiting for fireworks that never came.

-Chez Rolez

July 3rd
Set 1: Skin It Back, Possum[1], Tube, Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Halley’s Comet > Axilla > Ya Mar, Joy, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Backwards Down the Number Line > Golgi Apparatus

Set 2: Chalk Dust Torture[1], Sand[2] -> Golden Age, Wolfman’s Brother -> Walk Away, Bug > Fluffhead[3] > The Wedge, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Character Zero

[1] Skin It Back tease.
[2] Izabella tease.
[3] Dave’s Energy Guide tease.
Notes: Skin It Back was played for the first time since July 29,1988 (1,417 shows). Happiness is a Warm Gun was played for the first time since October 31, 1994 (658 shows). Possum and Chalk Dust Torture contained Skin It Back teases. Sand contained an Izabella tease. Fluffhead contained a Dave’s Energy Guide tease.

July 4th
Set 1: Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Head Held High, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Kill Devil Falls, Bittersweet Motel, The Moma Dance > Gumbo > David Bowie, Alaska, Susskind Hotel, Hold Your Head Up > Purple Rain[1] > Hold Your Head Up, The Star Spangled Banner

Set 2: Boogie On Reggae Woman > Tweezer > Twist > Taste > Quinn the Eskimo > Julius > Rock and Roll > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Harry Hood > Shine a Light > Show of Life > Slave to the Traffic Light

Encore: Sleeping Monkey[2] > Tweezer Reprise

[1] Lyrics changed to “tucking in the Purple Rain.”
[2] Lyrics changed to “Why’d you tuck my monkey on a train.”
Notes: Alumni Blues was preceded by a Dave’s Energy Guide tease. Head Held High was played for the first time since October 31, 1998 (356 shows). The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday and Avenu Malkenu were played for the first time since 6/21/09 (136 shows). Bittersweet Motel was played for the first time since 8/2/09 (132 shows). Purple Rain was played for the first time since 7/25/99 (314 shows) and included alternate lyrics “tucking in the Purple Rain” and “I am Friar Tuck!” Sleeping Monkey contained alternate lyrics “Why’d you tuck my monkey on a train.”