With a flourish of effects-laden guitar and swampy keyboards, Phish’s triumphant return to concerts comes to a close, thus capping one of the most consistent and entertaining tours in recent memory. The thirtieth show at famed Dick’s Sporting Goods Field was a raucous, but beautifully played, night of music that could satisfy jaded vets and casual fans alike.
I had the pleasure of being in attendance for the tour opener in AR. While a tremendous amount of fun, a little rust was obvious (although I think a number of songs from that show set the table for what would be so successful this summer). I was excited to track this tour, as I knew I would be there for the end, if we got there of course. The concerns that many had were justified, and as other touring acts rescheduled or downright cancelled, Phish kept it up and had no health-related cancellations. That in itself should be cause for celebration.
Getting back to Dick’s is always magic. The routine (I have sat in the same seat since Saturday night of 2014), the Shakedown, the vibe… It came back like riding a bicycle. The undeniable two show punch at Shoreline had expectations sky high, and while not reaching those stratospheric heights, the band delivered three fantastically executed (if a touch uneven in flow at times) shows, culminating in tonight’s closer.
“The Moma Dance” got things rolling with a nice and laid back start. A seemingly longer than normal intro was supported by a full tone that Trey has been relying on all year. The energy got rolling when Fish yelled “Watch out!” leading into a short but thoroughly enjoyable show opener.
“McGrupp and The Watchful Hosemasters” followed. I am not one to call a whole lot of songs (mostly because I never get them right), but all week I felt that this was going to be played. Hearing Trey attack these notes with both absolute confidence and absolute accuracy was a huge warning shot that this evening was going to be anything but sloppy.
“Sand” came in at number three and you could feel the audience willing the band to go deep. The momentum built nicely with Page taking the lead, leading to a spacey middle portion. Despite their efforts, this jam never really got rolling. “Sigma Oasis” followed. Again, Page was dropping spacey cues throughout. At this point in the show, I was really taken by how well Trey was playing. His consistency this tour has been remarkable, but on nights like this, it really is a master class. The entire jam was both beautiful and pleasant, with some smatterings of scary Phish scattered throughout.
“All Of These Dreams” was a quick cool down number. While not the song I would have put there (was pulling for a “Dog Faced Boy”), it was a good breather and Page’s twinkling is hard not to love. The energy in the room had dipped a bit (a complaint from some folks about the previous two night’s shows) and it was gonna take a jolt to get some folks back on their feet.
That jolt came with “Reba.” Trey dove into the complexities of this number with a gusto and delivered one of the better played versions I have heard him do in a long time. Crowd was right on board and appreciated both the accuracy of the composed section, and the verve at which they were playing it.
The second half of the set one closing 1-2 punch was “Bathtub Gin.” Starting off with a jaunty rhythm to get legs moving, this playing never deviated from Type I, but was a solid rocking version that closed out the set with a feeling of bliss and joy. CK5’s LED Rainbow Fish was a nice gift to those who had their eyes open. As mentioned, this entire set was immaculately performed, with missed notes or botched transitions nowhere to be seen. As a huge fan of Phish’s composed sections, I thoroughly enjoyed everything from this set.
After a wonderful setbreak, catching up with people I hadn’t seen all weekend or saying goodbye to those leaving after the show, everyone was primed for what this final set of the tour would bring. “Tweezer” was on everyone’s tongues. “Simple” was also floating around (that would come later), but when the lights went down we had a spirit family reunion with “Set Your Soul Free.” I admit this is a song that, while I will never complain about hearing it, is not a "go to" in my mind for tour-closing set openers. I had to check that impulse, think of the massacre they laid out with “Soul Planet,” and go with it. Page immediately dove into his space-themed synth sounds and paved the way for Trey, who laid out a patient groove, heavy with wah-wah effects. Multiple peaks throughout a fierce and driving jam that was kept alive by Page on a couple of occasions. This turned out to be a great opener and one that I look forward to listening to again.
“Lonely Trip” followed one of the only slightly clunky transitions of the night. As with the other nights of Dick’s, I was a little worried that the momentum might be thrown off with a ballad this early. It really is a beautiful song and hugs and tears abounded in my section. It’s been a long, long year and this album is firmly entrenched in my Phish memories. By the end of it, I was happy they played it.
An abrupt and slightly disjointed (tech issues?) intro to “Simple” brought back any propulsion that “Lonely Trip” may have siphoned off. Some staccato "Plinko" notes ushered in the Type II portion and Trey quickly hopped on a Page-led riff into a dank and dark jam---something that Phans are associating so much with this tour---followed and it was joyous. Murky and grimy, this funk party opened up and “Catapult” greeted us. While staying in the bass-led portion, this wasn’t the most atonal version I have heard of this tune (my first since Alpine ‘99). It slid right in and was comfortable immediately. When reaching the line about “Hooked up to a machine…” they stayed on it, repeating it over and over. This is something that they would return to. It was hard not to make the leap from this innocuous line to the national situation and what we have been living for 15 months. Whether it was a statement or dark humor, it was yet another reminder of why I love this band.
A driving jam followed this with a pronounced “Cool Amber and Mercury” tease. After a really satisfying close to “Simple,” Page brought in “Meatstick” with some very high synth effects. I heard more people say they wanted this than any other all weekend. Given the namesake of the venue and pure fun of this truly Phish song, I couldn’t argue. With some immediate mustard on the jam, the band slipped back into a “Hooked up to a machine…” They would go back into this a number of times, interspersing it with the Japanese lyrics of “Meatstick.” More "Plinko" notes as the overlapping vocal sections of the two songs merged and became a silly, slightly scary, and groovy, tune that the audience obviously relished.
It’s hard to still not think of the monster that Alpine ‘19 gave us when they played “Ruby Waves.” While not expecting an equal version, I was excited to see where they would take this song. While the transition in was a touch clunky, the song quickly went into a Trey-led jam that was both beautiful and ambient. Again, I am struck with how confident and aggressive Trey is playing. The jam had force, and while not on the level with so many others from this milestone tour, it joins that list of jams that can rightfully be called overlooked. Now, let’s keep it going…
What followed is one of the more surprising moments of the weekend. A song I had never considered hearing, the beautiful “Bliss” was the landing pad. I dismissed my initial thought of the title, but was so incredibly glad to have had it confirmed back at the hotel. A beautiful mid-'90's Trey guitar number with a tragic-but- loving backstory, these 60 seconds of music have a firm spot in “potent Phish memories.” It was followed by a welcome “Billy Breathes,” a song I haven’t heard since 1996. As with so many fans I know, this album is a cornerstone in college and graduate school life, and I will never complain about hearing it, especially when it’s well played and sung.
“Most Events Aren’t Planned” brought back the dance party. This, coupled with IAWITW, make my 15-year-old New Wave fan so incredibly happy. I absolutely adore it when Page takes over and gives us an effect-laden keyboard fest, so to get this at this point of the show/tour was incredibly satisfying. So much has been made about Trey’s improved vocal chops, but Page has been accenting them beautifully, and should get a lot of credit for the quality of sound this tour.
The audience knew that the time was near and that the end of the set was nigh. To hear the opening beats of “Harry Hood,” and the crescendos it would bring, brought everyone to their feet and into the groove. Full stop. The playing was light and gentle, but filled with a (admittedly self-imposed?) feeling of success and joy that WE DID IT. Despite everything that we have gone through, this tour happened. And what a glorious tour it was. Trey seemed especially forceful, attacking the notes at the start of phrases as opposed to letting them come to him. And to hear one of those famous “sustain” notes in person was such a privilege. SUCH A HUGE NOTE.
Encore break was brief but needed. Trey started the encore with some genuine words of love and appreciation before going into “More.” My initial reaction to “Set Your Soul Free” is similar to my reaction here, but I checked myself, reminded myself that it wasn’t Zero and got down to the groove of it. After the gifts they gave us this summer, they can play whatever the hell they want. An absolutely rocking “Say It To Me SANTOS” brought Summer ‘21 to a close with a bang. And just like that, it was done.
I love going to Phish and being reminded of why I love Phish. It doesn’t always happen for whatever reason. This weekend was 72 hours of constant reminders. The friends, the surprises, the hugs, the joy, and most importantly the music. And this weekend had GREAT music. Where does it stand all time? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I know that after 15 of the most painful months that any of us have ever lived through, we all got to experience this band and this community together again. Phish gave us one of the finest tours in decades and hopefully we all gave them back something as well.
As I was leaving and listening to the post-show music, the theme song to one of my favorite James Bond films reminded us that, indeed, “Nobody does it better…”
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