I’ve always said that my favorite bands don’t start really playing until the second set.
Not literally, of course — but in terms of spirit, volume, passion, sweat.
Phish’s concert Friday at the Times Union Center started out nicely enough with a perfectly fine first set.
In Set Two, everything changed.
Guitarist and front man Trey Anastasio and company returned to the stage and threw themselves into a seering set with “My Friend, My Friend” from 1993’s “Rift” album.
Minutes later, they launched into their all-time signature song, “Fluffhead,” a 21-year-old gem that remains the standard by which all post-Dead jam songs are judged. Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon drove “Fluff” higher and higher as the sold-out crowd danced and sang along in pure delight. Many fans not even born when the song was recorded basked in the glory of the jam band epic.
In “Prince Caspian,” Anastasio patiently and artfully demonstrated why he’s still the preeminent guitarist in the jam world — deftly leading the way while Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell handsomely brought up the rear.
“Harry Hood” further capped an already stellar second set, with Gordon’s funky bass lines adding a new wrinkle to another old chestnut from the band’s early years.
Set One was a perfect reminder that Phish isn’t out to win any popularity contests.
They started with a five- or six-song run of older, more obscure songs that weren’t bad — but they certainly weren’t anything for the greatest-moments reel.
Seven months into its third official incarnation, Phish is starting to dig deeper into the bag, not necessarily for old chestnuts, but more to mix it up for fans who see more than one show. In their summer tour, their first one in more than five years, the band was packing its set lists with hot tunes sure to snare the attention of fans old and new alike. But their M.O. seems to be changing as the fall tour pushes on.
In Friday’s first set, the boys didn’t play a single one of their “big” songs until mid-set, when they jumped into “Bouncing ’Round the Room,” a 20-year-old song that’s one of the band’s few to receive any kind of FM radio play.
From “Bouncing,” the band continued to build its momentum with a hot version of “It’s Ice” that featured a some heavy grooving guitar — and a full-on glowstick war among the crowd members. Some of sticks even were hurled onto the stage, landing inches away from Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon.
Anastasio finally took off in “Timber Ho,” employing his trademark stare into space as he drove the jam progressively higher throughout the song.
Set One closed with “Light,” a driving song off the band’s new album, but far from a show stopper. As Anastasio pushed higher and Gordon thrummed John Entwistle-like bass riffs, the crowd seemed mostly indifferent to it.
Phish caps its two-night Albany stand with another 7:30 p.m. show tonight at the Times Union Center.