“Ha Ha Ha”
“Cities” (Talking Heads)
“I Didn’t Know”
“My Friend, My Friend”
“Kill Devil Falls”
“Back on the Train”
“Theme from the Bottom”
“Golden Age” (TV on the Radio)
“Slave to the Traffic Light”
“Birds of a Feather”
“Good Times Bad Times” (Led Zeppelin)
“Shine A Light” (Rolling Stones)
Updated: July 22, 2013 11:11PM
The second of Phish’s three nights at Northerly Island ran more smoothly than the first. How could it not? The same severe weather that delayed Pearl Jam’s Wrigley Field concert and truncated Bjork’s headlining Pitchfork set had also forced an early conclusion to Phish’s show on Friday.
Although rain persisted throughout the band’s middle set on Saturday, it followed the “a little sprinkle never hurt anybody” model, rather than Friday’s “batten the hatches” example.
The quartet picked up where it had stopped the night before, beginning with the previously aborted “Prince Caspian.” Throughout the main bowl, in the stands and on the lawn, 30,000 people began dancing and singing. Until the show concluded over four hours later, the audience was in constant motion.
As unpredictable as Phish set lists can be, people were ready for anything. When bassist Mike Gordon launched into the rollicking “Possum,” sure enough, two oversized stuffed possums joined the many beach balls being batted through the air.
Jam-band aficionados have long embraced Phish, joining legions of “Phishheads” who treat concerts as joyful gatherings of the tribe. The evening at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion was no different. Despite countless bumps, scrapes and mashed toes as fans danced and cruised the crowded grounds, the vibe was compassionate and friendly. It must be added that opportunities to experience contact high were ample.
Guitarist Trey Anastasio displayed exceptional talent during many expanded song arrangements. Bucking the stereotype of aimless noodling amongst jam-band practitioners, Anastasio’s leads during the Little Feat-styled swing of “Ocelot” were effortlessly lyrical and eminently musical. His rapid-fire yet tuneful playing during the psychedelic hoedown of “Rift” would have made Chet Atkins smile.
Jon Fishman’s intricate snare and high-hat work combined with Gordon’s low funk and keyboardist Page McConnell’s gospel organ to spur a soulful rendition of “Birds of a Feather.” The entire group displayed a nearly psychic bond, careening through the demented twists of “My Friend, My Friend,” and sending the glorious energy of “Kill Devil Falls” into rapture.
Phish put its own spin on a pair of popular songs. During the first set, Talking Heads’ “Cities” was slowed to suit McConnell’s funk and jazz licks, played as though his fingers had just returned from New Orleans. A thundering version of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” closed the third set.
Phish’s run marked the first major shows at FirstMerit Pavilion since heavy rains created a muddy fiasco during Jimmy Buffett’s concert in June.
Fans had also complained about poor acoustics and inadequate access to essentials like toilets and cold beer.
Venue staff addressed all concerns. The lawn’s fresh landscaping withstood Friday’s lashing weather, draining overnight. Clint Davidson of Wheaton provided a firsthand report: “I sat on the grass, and my underwear isn’t soaked,” he announced with a laugh. Ice-cold beverages were in ready supply, including some at surprisingly reasonable prices. Most important, Phish brought its own multiple delay tower system, which delivered clear sound throughout the grounds.
Jeff Elbel is a Chicago area free-lance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org