If ever there were a way to show how much Phish appreciates its fans, it'd be a set like this one. Longtime Phish fan Scott Nowak died in August, and the rumor among Phish fans was that this show was in memory of him. There has been no confirmation of this, and the "S" theme could be explained away given the date of the show. Still, just constructing a setlist in this way shows how the band likes to keep things interesting.
As for the set itself, it sounds tremendous in 24-bit. The instruments come through crystal clear. Stereo separation matches the stage layout with Page on the left side, Trey middle left, Mike middle right, and Fishman on the right side. As is customary, the drums are mixed to be centered a bit more than the keyboards, but as I listened I had a good sense of being in the room - aside from missing the screaming people who would have been surrounding me. The playing was very on the mark. The band was obviously into it and giving it their all. There weren't any real big exploratory jams, but while they never really strayed from the themes of the songs, there were some very cool solos throughout the night and I'd expect that it was a very fun show to have attended.
Sample in a Jar This can be a fun opener but in this case it could use some more energy. There were no major flubs, but no revelations either. Trey's solo was a bit awkward, though I'm inclined to cut them some slack since they're just warming up. Mike steps in at the end to help bring it to a close nicely and Page gives a solid showing throughout the song.
Sparkle Again the fire just isn't there yet. About midway through, as the accelerando starts, the band seems to find its footing and start to lock in.
Sloth Finally they feel like they're firing on all cylinders - a good combo of wacky and evil. Fishman does a good job of pushing the tempo while keeping it funky. Not a song that anyone would expect them to jam out, it's a great way to show that they're ready to play hard while easing out to something a little mellower.
Sweet Virginia Some light fare after finding their foothold. Fishman delivers his unique brand of quirky vocal stylings. Good honky-tonk fun.
Suskind Hotel Mike gets his showcase. Upbeat, and tight early on despite some shakiness coming out of the choruses - sounds like they've spent some time practicing this one. Trey doesn't seem to know what he wants to do once they get into the jamming, but the band keeps it rolling, and ends the show's first bits of jamming nicely.
Strange Design I'll never tire of this song. Well played, evoking smooth oceanic swells. Utterly appropriate given the dedication to Scottie: "Can I bring a few companions on this ride?"
Stash This song carries heavy expectations for serious fans these days. Tonight, some minor slips in Trey's intro guitar work, but once the "cohorts asleep in the trees" were cried out to, the band was playing cleanly, if not too remarkably. It's not the moody, dark and evil "Stash" that some people have been yearning for since the end of the '90's, rather evoking a feeling of floating in stasis, with some hints of plinko thrown in early in the jam. The last couple of minutes stray into what has become a kind of rote dissonant scale jumping - not completely unpleasing for me, but not outstanding either.
Sneaking Sally Through the Alley Good placement! This cover is a crowd favorite and keeps the energy moderately high. A solid rendition in the composed portion, leading to a succinct vocal jam and then an atmospheric entrance into a jam with a trill-filled (on Trey's part) interplay between Trey and Mike that eventually peters out, letting the energy fall way down before building up into . . .
Sparks An unexpected, but quite faithful cover of the Who classic. A short-lived burst of fun and energy.
Scent of a Mule Great way to keep this first set interesting while giving Page some room to show his stuff. Solid playing by all in the first section before Page and Trey bring it to a halt. It gets back up to speed, followed by Trey holding a long "Hey" before moving on to the end. Furious and spot on drumming by Fish. Overall a nice version that only gets tighter as it progresses.
Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan Proof that this set won't let up. Arguably one of the best songs off of Joy, the band practically attacks the song. Though there's nothing in the way of jamming, it's one of the better versions of this song I've heard and keeps the set rocking hard.
Shine a Light The second Stones cover in this set, but no complaining here. Again, wonderfully appropriate given the dedication to Scotty. I hope the good lord shines a light on you, Scotty. The band certainly shines here with lyrical playing by both Mike and Trey and awesome rhythms laid out by Page and Fish.
Split Open and Melt Always welcome late in the first set. People at the show must've been wondering if this would end the set or not. Like "Stash," this song sometimes suffers from high expectations. Since they returned in 2009, Phish just hasn't taken this song to the limits. In this case, the beginning is a tad loose, possibly because the first set has been so chock full of high-energy fun so far. But sometimes that looseness can lead to heavy experimentation. By the midpoint of the song, Trey is hanging on a few notes and it sounds like it could start going someplace special at any moment - but it doesn't go very far. Trey mostly plays with chords, while Mike meanders and Page skillfully fills out the sound pounding out his own chords and Fish holds the whole thing down rhythmically. It's not a bad example of a song that deconstructs itself before coming back together at the end, which this does very nicely. But, it's not the transcendent, build-its-own-theme, type II jamming that some of the more fervent fans are looking for.
Squirming Coil Now this has got to be the set closer. A solid rendition, relatively uptempo with an enjoyable lead into Page's solo, which I have always loved as a way to end a set. Though this solo doesn't see Page do anything we've never seen him do before, he grabs the wheel and slows things down while steering this set into its parking spot.