Phish Gear Up For Summer Tour At New York's Radio City

With big arena shows ahead for Farmhouse tour, Anastasio lets the band set the groove.

NEW YORK — Shaking off the dust from five months of

inactivity, Phish returned to New York's Radio City Music Hall on Monday night to close out a two-night stand in support of their new album, Farmhouse.

The band was greeted with a rousing ovation from the audience, and they responded with a revved-up, highly charged first set. In contrast to the Sunday-evening show, which relied heavily on the lead-guitar work of Trey Anastasio, Phish sounded like a well-oiled unit as they performed new songs from Farmhouse, notably, "Heavy Things" (RealAudio excerpt) and the country-funked "Get Back on the Train," as well as older fan favorites, such as "Bathtub Gin" and "Split Open and Melt."

Bassist Mike Gordon recently said Phish were viewing the Radio City run as a warm-up for a long tour of stadiums and other 20,000-plus venues. Monday's performance revealed a band in fine form, getting ready for their extended summer swing.

With nary a nod to their Frank Zappa-meets-the-Grateful Dead roots, Phish at times sounded trancelike and ambient. Making full use of lighting director Chris Kuroda's wizardry, the vibe in the crowd was closer to a rave than a latter-era Dead show, with spiraling bursts of orange light enhancing the band's hypnotic groove and illuminating the

ornate structures within the hall.

Phish reached their two-night peak during a well-played, 90-minute

second set. "David Bowie" and a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll" bookended the set, with the band bringing a solid funk flavor to the balls-to-the-wall rock songs.

Departing from Sunday's guitar-driven performance, Phish was led by Gordon in a 20-minute group improvisation emanating from "Ghost" (

HREF="">RealAudio excerpt). The bassist hit on a six-note motif that served as the centerpiece, while the others circled the jam with their instruments

before dropping into a raging cover of the Lou Reed classic.

On "Bathtub Gin," Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell locked into a tight groove that transfixed the crowd. Playing off repetitive loops, Anastasio created a dronelike effect with his guitar, allowing the others to improvise freely.

"Fishman is on his game tonight!" said fan Eric Tamarkian, 23, from

North Carolina. "He is bringing the thunder," referring to the lack of

the lengthy, meandering jams that are known to occur at Phish shows.

"I love the looping whale sounds, but sometimes I wish Trey would take that six-string and just play it straight, without the gadgets," said

an otherwise-pleased Denise Palumbo, 29, a fan from upstate New York.

Some audience members might have been nostalgic for the days when Phish shows were filled with 15-minute guitar solos, but the band's Radio City incarnation sounded more like a balanced unit, with Sunday's show offering only occasional glimpses of the band's deference to Anastasio's expertise as a soloist and musical visionary. Anastasio recently said the band is heading into a new, less cumbersome style of playing, which the New York shows seem to echo — and the results, so far, are great.