Photography & Words by: Filip Zalewski of Essence Photography
Phish played on Long Island for the first time in over 16 years this past Sunday 12/1/19. They certainly cooled it down as fans had to trek through a bit of a snow, rain, and what’s that other one..it’s ice! Once everyone took the highway to the great divide in their cars, trucks, and buses, and then stepped into the freezer, the show of life could begin.
The last time Phish played at The Nassau Coliseum was 11/28/03. The venue reminded me a lot of MSG but smaller, with the massive amount of people, lines to the bathrooms, and crowded concession stands. The lines to the bar were unbearable for me, so I bought no drinks. $16 for a beer is steep and when one has to miss 15 minutes of the show just to buy it and then wait another 10 minutes to use the bathroom shortly after, it makes it really not worth it for me.
The band opened up with a monster of a “Ghost” for the first time in over three years, followed by “Rift.” A one, two opener combo seen here for the first time in Phish history which spanned 35 years exactly on 12/1/19. It’s been 35 years since Phish played their first show at Nectar’s in Burlington, Vermont. Decades later they are still doing things they’ve never done before, going places sonically they’ve never been and taking their audience higher.
What keeps Phish relevant and thriving after thirty-five years is their unmatched ability of improvisation and originality. As well as dedication, masterful musicianship, classical compositions, state of the line gear, and an incredible community of dedicated phans.
The idea of making up a show off the cuff with no set list seems like a wild one, but it works incredibly well for this group of talented musicians. The fact that these 4 men have been playing together for 35 years means that they not only play like one unit, they think and feel on the same level. So when improvising they work off each other, but with an understanding of one another that only time and experience could bring.
Yes, it’s been a long time but Phish is playing better than I’ve ever seen personally. The jams are going to new spacey, electronic, precisely groovy places. They’re seems to be a lot of intention and direction even in the improvisation. The new material from Trey & Ghosts Of The Forest provide a chance for a more serious tone while the Kasvot Vaxt provide joyous anthems that are going to new heights. I’ll never forget that “Mercury” > “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S” from the 2018 NYE show at MSG featuring Trey & Mike flying high above the crowd and an array multicolor aerialists bouncing around.
Alright, back at Nassau 12/1/19, following “Rift” was “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” followed by “Avenu Malkenu” & “The Wedge”. Things are in full swing now. “Martian Monster” was next, getting the crowd riled up for their blast off to space. “Timber” came next, then a nicely played “Cool It Down,” quite appropriate considering the weather outside. The rambunctious blue grassy “Poor Heart” was up next, then a well placed “Tube,” followed by a crowd favorite “Character Zero” to close up one hell of a first set.
The second set opened up with an incredible “Everything’s Right,” played for over 14 minutes with intricate jamming. This led to “Down with Disease” > “Cities” which was a powerful and well liked transition, followed by a monstrous classic “Carini” into the newer “Ruby Waves” which was like going from Hot Topic to a bubblegum store. I like both songs but having them next to each other was a drastic change. The jam in “Ruby Waves” was impressive and fresh.
Following was “Twenty Years Later” & “Backwards Down the Number Line.” Both slower songs starting off, played with great enthusiasm and musicianship. Again, placement of these songs was off for me. They closed it up with the Kasvot Vaxt banger “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S”. Everyone’s on their feet and Phish encores with Ween’s “Roses Are Free”, a song they played at the Nassau Coliseum in 1998, and “Slave to The Traffic Light”.
Phish leave their audience yearning for more, but luckily all these phans will have their chance to see Phish at MSG just a little over three weeks from now. They will also be playing at The Met in Philadelphia on 12/3/19, a show in Pittsburgh on 12/4/19 and a three day run in Charleston, South Carolina this coming weekend to finish up their fall tour. A short tour, but packed with eternal joy and never-ending splendor.
Full gallery from Filip Zalewski of Essence Photography below: