Magnaball Day 2: The Circus is the Place For Phans

With an absolutely mind blowing Day 1 under their belt, Phish carried the momentum in stride and coasted gracefully into what was the single best  day of the festival on Saturday. Delivering four sets, including one unannounced “secret set,” which included almost an hour of free-form jazz infused improv laced with a touch of funk that lasted well into the morning, Phish came out and laid down a more than memorable first set which included a diverse blend of both classic and revamped numbers.

As Phish took the stage for their first set of the second day of the festival the weather and the crowd could not have been better. It seemed as if the majority of the crowd was fairly responsible on Friday night and opted out of late night partying into the sunrise in order to be full force for the marathon day that was Saturday; however, this likely wasn’t the case for everyone. Nonetheless, from where the NYS Music crew was planted, the crowd was in full swing and the energy was at an all time high for the day set. As the band walked out and opened up with “Divided Sky”, the crowd was instantaneously locked into a dancing groove as the range of this song truly captivated the masses. One of the most beautiful live music experiences a fan can have is when they get so lost in their own dance moves – that when they do finally take a peek out of the corner of their eye, they’re embedded in a sea of dancing people locked into a developing wave of unison. That feeling of not being alone is invaluable and that energy is absolutely unparalleled. Take yourself back to some of the highest moments of your life; a sexual encounter, walking across the stage after graduating, landing that big job after a good interview, making a crowded room of people laugh at the same time, etc… None of it can be compared to that feeling of simply belonging as an individual in a crowd of thousands of people all enjoying the same music together.

After the band pushed through their classic staple “Divided Sky” they slammed into “Moma Dance” which whiplashed the crowd into another wave of dancing madness. Mike, Page and Trey each took their turn to step into the spotlight and lead the rest of the band through their own respected numbers as Phish went on to play “Mound”, “Army of One” and “Scabbard.” as well as the stellar “Sample in a Jar” and “Tube” before the band hit a cool down song with “Halfway to the Moon.” Page poured out an abundance of emotion and took his time to work through the core of the song with precision. As the band was feeling the energy, “Camel Walk” surfaced and a flowing wave of dancing emanated through the crowd; the good people were feeling this song and had the moves to prove it. The new Mike song, “How Many People Are You?” one of many new songs Phish has in their arsenal when they hit the road for their 2015 Summer Tour, made an appearance again after being debuted earlier this summer. The new songs were well received by the fan base as well as the next studio album is sure to be as well.

The sweet and tender cover of “When the Circus Comes” put the entire weekend into retrospect. The place, the people, the crew, the music and the community as a whole were part of this traveling circus and the circus was the place to be. The band stepped in and out of their solos beautifully and even the composed parts of this version spoke volumes. Closing their set with “Undermind” > “Run Like an Antelope” was full of raw energy simply foreshadowing what was yet to unfold throughout the rest of the day. This was just a small piece of the pie as a whole, but what was witnessed on the first day of Saturday was some top notch Phish and they set the stage for the brilliance of music that was planted firmly on the horizon. As the nightfall came the music only got better. When the lights are turning ‘round, the wheels were rolling on the ground.

How does one describe Saturday’s second set without gushing over the energetic jams? Phish came out for this first night set swinging. The set moved from rocking energy to extended inspired jamming. The audience was on their feet throughout the set, often kept on their toes, not knowing what to expect next.

A powerful “Wolfman’s Brother” kicked off this energetic set. It was followed quickly by the one-two punch of a short, but sweet, “Halley’s Comet” straight into a “46 Days” that starts out raging and morphs into a slower and darker than usual jam. As the jam picked back up, Anastasio patiently incorporated the opening chords of “Backwards Down the Number Line,” bringing about an incredibly smooth transition. The band gave this traditionally standard tune a bit more energy than usual, keeping up with the energy of the earlier songs. The set was capped by a perfectly combined “Tweezer” and “Prince Caspian.” The “Tweezer,” which seems to have a little more pep than most, goes into an intricate jam, out of which comes a near-perfect segue into “Prince Caspian.” There is little one can say about this “Caspian” other than “WOW!” What is usually a breather song for the set was anything but that this time around. It starts off with far more power than anyone expected and morphs into a nearly 17 minute excursion that almost returns to “Tweezer” before the band keeps the improvisation moving.

The entire set is must-hear Phish, an example of some of the finest playing the band has performed in their current era and one of the best sets of the tour. The “Tweezer” > “Prince Caspian” segment alone is some of the best Phish ever played, with “Caspian” being one of the all time versions of the song.

By the time Saturday night’s set started, mild weariness from a lack of sleep may have set in due to the immense overall fun of Magnaball. That quickly dissipated, thanks to a killer opening section of “Meatstick” > “Blaze On” -> “Possum” > “Cities” > “Light” > “555.” Fresh off that amazing second set closing “Tweezer” > “Prince Caspian,” which, admittedly got the crowd wildly worked up, Phish came out blazing for an incredibly diverse set that featured 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 song choices.

“Meatstick” got the juices flowing with a short and fun solo from Trey. Up next, however, is the jam of the entire festival. And that’s an incredibly tough statement to make amidst a weekend packed with some of the best Phish jamming since — wait for it — 2004.

“Blaze On” has risen quickly up the ranks as the best new song the band has debuted since 2009. It’s almost like Trey is saying, “Hey guys, check it out. Look where we are now, compared to where we were years ago.” The chorus ends with, “You’ve got one life, blaze on,” which seems like an omen to the past, present and future, telling us that these first 32 years were only the beginning. After some polite psychedelic rambling, the band kicked it into high gear around the 10-minute mark for a major key jam, paced initially by Page’s clavinet, before Trey ramped in with a somewhat haunting lick that takes the jam into a completely different direction. The final two minutes of “Blaze On” are so reminiscent of the Superball “Golden Age,” it’s actually a bit eerie. At times, it even dove into sounding like it was riddled with anxiety, which came right after a calm and uplifting segment. Either way, this jam is a total keeper.

Up next was a straightforward, but always fun take on “Possum.” where the real winner was the hypnotic segue into the decades-old song written by original band member Jeff Holdsworth. This is one hell of a segue and a must-hear for every fan. “Cities” was next, and for a minute, this was going to go the way of Philly’s jam on August 11, but it ended up sounding like a bit of a reprise of the “Blaze On” jam.

“Light” was fun for nearly 16 minutes, but it doesn’t stand out among the behemoths of Magnaball. A fun segue into the Mike Gordon-penned funk song “555” seemed a bit out of place coming out of the space “Light” left behind. “Wading in the Velvet Sea” slowed things down even more, but it was well played, especially for a Phish festival.  Closing out the set was a personal favorite, “Walls of the Cave.” While this version doesn’t stand out much on the radar, it was executed perfectly, with Trey building tension throughout the jam, before bringing the song to a raucous close. A “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Tweezer Reprise” encore put a cap to an almost perfect Phish set, the latter bringing the crowd into a swirling frenzy.

We all had no idea what was about to happen next…

Set 1 review by Stu Kelly, Set 2 review by Jim Rizzo, Set 3 review by Neil Benjamin, Jr.

Setlist via Phish.net

Set 1: Divided Sky, The Moma Dance > Mound, Army of One, Scabbard > Sample in a Jar, Tube, Halfway to the Moon, Camel Walk, How Many People Are You, When the Circus Comes, Undermind > Run Like an Antelope

Set 2: Wolfman’s Brother, Halley’s Comet > 46 Days -> Backwards Down the Number Line > Tweezer > Prince Caspian*

Set 3: Meatstick > Blaze On -> Possum > Cities > Light > 555, Wading in the Velvet Sea > Walls of the Cave

Encore: Boogie On Reggae Woman > Tweezer Reprise

*Unfinished.

Notes: Caspian included a Tweezer tease and was unfinished. Cities contained a Mind Left Body Jam tease.