Was it epic?
But was it fun?
Phish made its triumphant return to the Glens Falls Civic Center Wednesday night — the band’s first visit in 19 years and only its second show there ever — and delivered a three-plus-hour show that had Phans standing and spinning and sweating in delight.
Expectations going into the night were sky-high. For months leading up to the show, fans mused online about whether Phish might do something special, as it did on Halloween in 1994 in Glens Falls. On that night, the jam band started a tradition of Halloween-night album covers with a full-set rendition of the Beatles’ “White Album.” The gig looms large in Phish lore.
This time around, the band had a few treats in store but nothing that rivaled the “White Album” show.
Ebb and flow
They gave a heavy nod to 1994 by opening with a red-hot cover of the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” from “The White Album.” Fans’ euphoria quickly waned as Phish dropped the Beatles after one song and instead launched into a mix of mostly their own songs from over the years.
Things picked up a little when the boys reached back to the 1980s for “David Bowie” and “Golgi Apparatus” and really took off with a spicy “Gumbo” featuring keyboardist Page McConnell.
The first set’s musical high point came in “Limb By Limb” from 1998’s “The Story of the Ghost” album. Here, Phish frontman and guitarist Trey Anastasio, smiling all the while, hit his groove with some powerful singing and guitar work before the song came to a close with an a cappella ending by all four band members.
Next up was the night’s quirkiest moment when drummer Jon Fishman did one of his old-school vacuum solos — that’s right, a vacuum solo! — on “I Didn’t Know.” Anastasio even teased that Fishman might strip naked for his vacuum solo as he did in 1994 (“Will he do it again?” Anastasio teased) but the stout Fishman kept his trademark dress on.
The first set ended with rough-edged “Split Open and Melt” that only the most intense fans seemed to enjoy.
After a long intermission, Phish ripped into its second set with a cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll.”
But instead of steadily climbing higher and higher as the band is wont to do in second sets, momentum was lost with the newer and more plodding originals “Seven Below” and “Alaska” — both good songs, but nothing to text or tweet home about.
Master of his domain
Phish regained its footing with a stellar version of “Harry Hood” — one of Phish’s most anthematic tunes that features a fun call-and-response interplay with the crowd.
Other second-set highlights included a power-drill solo (really!) by bassist Mike Gordon on “Twist” and “Chalkdust Torture,” an oldie (1992) that featured Anastasio doing high knee-pumps at his rock-star best. At this moment, he was clearly the master of his domain and the full Civic Center crowd was locked on their hero.
After a brief departure from the stage, the band returned for a one-song encore and a thank you message from Anastasio. The Glens Falls Civic Center, he told the crowd, is special given its proximity to the band’s home base of Burlington, Vt. — a proximity that drew many of the band members’ friends and family to Wednesday’s concert.
Phish brought the night full circle with another grand reference to the 1994 “White Album” show — an encore of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It was a mellow, emotion-inducing cap to the show, but it dragged on a little as Anastasio struggled to sing some of the high notes and the slow tempo seemed to cast a pall over the tiring crowd.
In the exodus from the Civic Center, most fans seemed to have a similar assessment of the night.
Said one: “That was a decent show.”
“Yep,” replied another.