Sunday 01/17/2016 by phishnet


[Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome one of our longstanding .net users, Robert Fisher, for this recap of 1/16/16 Phish @ Riviera Maya. -PZ]

Bienvenidos from Mexico!! I have bruises running up and down my arm reflecting the number of times I’ve pinched myself to assure that I’m not dreaming. Phish. In Mexico. On the beach. Surrounded by close friends. This is literally a dream come true. Either that or I’ve died and gone to Phish Heaven. Last year my wife and I came down for Strings & Sol, which was at the time one of the best musical experiences of my life. One of the first things I said to my wife after we settled in was, “Can you imagine what it would be like if Phish did this?!?” In my wildest imagination, I never thought it would happen. But we’re here. It’s not everyday that one can frolic in the turquoise waves in the shadow of Mayan ruins and a few hours later, walk down the beach to see a Phish show.

Typically the purpose of these recaps is to provide an immediate post-show view of the music, both its highlights and low points, allowing those not in attendance a chance to read about what they missed. 95% of the recaps focus on the music alone, with the occasional commentary reserved for the set and setting, or the crowd energy, or the vibe. But these shows are different in that respect. I was asked to recap this show, not because of the number of shows I’ve seen, or my musical background, or my extensive experience reviewing musical performances. No, it’s largely because I’m here, on the ground, in a position to share with people what it’s like to be here, on the beach seeing Phish in Mexico. These Riviera Maya resort shows account for a mere .0016% of all Phish shows, and the setting and vibe take on far more importance than usual.

Photo © @Phish_FTR

That vibe, stronger than I’ve felt it since the heady days of Arrowhead Ranch, is everywhere down here. That vibe is what’s putting an ear-to-ear, cheshire cat grin on every face I encounter. It’s what’s causing every single conversation I either participate in or overhear to start with, “I can’t believe that we’re here.” The vibe is nearly palpable, universal, it’s percolating and oozing through this crowd. It is one of gratitude and the recognition of just how lucky we are to be here. For so many people here, getting here required the confluence of so many major life factors. It’s not just the money in the bank. Personally it took a combo of friends and family to watch our kids, a cool boss who helped me carve out the time off, and above all else the coolest wife in the world. She gets IT and me enough that we were able to make this trip a reality.

That said, at the end of the day, however, we’re not here just to celebrate our collective good fortune, or shower gratitude upon our friends and family. We are here for the music. We are here for three shows with our favorite band. As we walk down the beach, waves slapping on our feet, the questions grow louder in my head. What do they have in store for us tonight? After last night’s triumphant opener, complete with ocean/beach theme, the return of covers from their short hibernation, and of course a rousing tip of the hat to David Bowie, would tonight be the Saturday Night Special? The Show where set and setting were to rule the day while we were treated to average-great Phish? Or would it be something uniquely special, the kind of icing on the proverbial cake, that allows people to throw superlatives around like they’re going out of style?

Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road

It’s 7:33 local time, and the band takes the stage. In keeping with a sand motif, they open up with a languid rendition of “Camel Walk,” only the second time (2/26/97) in their storied history this song opened a show. Of course camels walk on sand, and it’s clear the band is not done with yesterday’s beach theme. I begin to think how cool it would be, if this weekend becomes an evolution in how Phish chooses to weave different themes through a show. We’ve been treated to the “S” show, and all of the Dick’s spelling shows. We’ve had GuyUtica where they simultaneously wove three song threads together. Could this be the beginning of the Thematic Run? My mind is drifting and the laid back flow of the song fits perfectly here, but the slow funk of this “Camel Walk” soon comes to a halt.

Next up is “555” followed by “Rift.” Both versions stay pretty close to the box, and neither one really connects to the central theme. So, almost reflexively, I begin to think that maybe this will turn out to be some average-great Phish after all, and I can always fall back on the vibe, set and setting.

Those thoughts were promptly dismissed with the opening notes of “Cities.” Continuing the previous night’s roll out of classic covers, “Cities” came out to strong approval. A first set highlight of Mann2 on 8/12/15, that “Cities” went dark and dirty quickly, and stayed there for its entirety. Tonight’s strayed ever so briefly into the dark, Page taking the lead on keys. But they hit the major change quickly, and Trey leads a slow but steady build up to the first legitimate peak of the evening. This “Cities” is absolutely beautiful, and will likely be joining the conversation with the Greek “Cities” as being one of the more solid versions in this era. The crowd roars with delight as this one slowly comes back to Earth. As they re-enter the atmosphere, it is easy to recognize the smooth segue directly into “Light.”

"46 Days" - Photo © Noah Cole

Appearing as a first set song for only the third time in 74 appearances, this “Light” dovetails perfectly with the close of “Cities.” On the heels of an excellent appearance on 1/1/16 at MSG, the second “Light” of the year had a lot to live up to. Tonight’s more quickly dissolves from its structure, and finds an interesting groove with Page leading the way. There’s almost a start-stop feel to the riff, and for a moment I hold my breath, wondering if we’re straying into “woo” country. Following the lead of the savvy 1/2/16 “Tweezer” crowd, there were to be no woos tonight. Woo! The “Light” finds its course has run, and gives way to the opening riff of “Simple.”

The winds began to pick up ever so slightly from the ocean, and lent a decidedly breezy flavor to tonight’s rendition. A thoroughly beautiful outro touches on the darkness, but gently fades and brings on Timber. Another cover for the weekend, and a relatively rare appearance by Jerry the mule. This gets deep and funky quickly, but Jerry’s trip is short , and this Timber is done.

Out of the ether comes the familiar piano from Page, and “Wading in the Velvet Sea” is on deck. This is the point in the show where they may be a significant departure in the reviews of people who were there and those who weren’t. “Velvet Sea” tends not to be on too many people’s wish list of songs to see. It doesn’t often create that energy in the crowd that elevates the vibe to the stratosphere. However, most shows aren’t performed on the beach. I joined several hundred other fans in the ocean as Page entered the song proper, and IT began. With every delicate peak that Trey hit during the solo, the water folk were howling in unison, and splashing the water higher and higher in the air. We are literally wading in the sea. There is nothing else by which this “Velvet Sea” can be measured. It’s one of the instant classic Phish moments of my life. This is why we do this. This is why we chase this band wherever they are, for the hope that these IT moments will occur. Because when they do, there is simply nothing else like it in the world.

"Cities" - Photo © @tweeprise

“Reba” is up next, and this is always a welcome treat, no matter where it pops up in the show. After nailing the composed section, Trey leads us through a delicate jam, Mike bombs in the backdrop, that finishes on a rousing peak. While already a fantastic set as is, there’s room for one more, and “Chalk Dust” is up next. Trey chose to conclude “Reba” without the whistle, but Trey decided to offer the whistle verse after “Chalk Dust” was underway. For this largely 30- and 40-something crowd, there’s some extra salsa in the refrain of “Can’t this wait til I’m old, Can’t I live while I’m young?!” Clearly many of us started our Phish journeys when youth was still on our side. Now firmly in the midst of middle age, we can rest assured that we have all had our share of living while we’re young, and making every effort to stay young at heart. It’s a strong, high energy finish to a fantastic set of Phish.

After the obligatory 30 minutes or so, set two takes off with “Golden Age.” Our third cover of the evening, the message here is undeniable. Clap your hands if you think you’re in the right place. Yes, I think we’re all in the right place. We have truly entered a “Golden Age” with Phish. 30+ years, and they still find new and creative ways to make IT happen for us. Now on the plate is a run in paradise. Fishman drives an upbeat tempo as the jam begins. They explore some novel territory before allowing the jam to devolve into spacey ambience.

Out of the ambience comes “Prince Caspian,” and once again I’m running into the ocean so I can float upon the waves. There seems to be significantly more people in the ocean this song. It’s become a thing. The water fans are ecstatic, singing, dancing and splashing in the surf. This “Caspian” hints at the darkness, and begins to stretch its legs. It won’t prove a match for the Magnaball version, but it does harken back to Dick’s pairing of “Golden Age” and “Caspian” in 2012.

Photo © Mike Gordon

From the couch, again it might be more difficult to appreciate the next choice, “Halfway to the Moon,” with the perfect half moon illuminated directly above our heads. This interesting third slot in the second set is exactly where we last saw this song, on 1/1/16, and it has certainly led to some head scratching among this persnickety base of ours. But this show, these shows so far, are clearly more than an acknowledgement of our setting. We are splashing in the sea, dancing in the sand, and we have a half moon in the sky. It’s a solid if not groundbreaking version, and now it’s on to “Joy.”

Though some might find it an unusual slot for a ballad, coming off a mellow and energy preserving “HTTM” it’s again about the simple message to the fans on the beach. We want you to be happy. Well, Phish, I think we are. We are happy. So, thank you CID, thank you Phish, our reality has surpassed expectations. This experience is simply ridiculous. There is vibe in the air, and Trey’s solo is filled with heart and pure Joy.

It’s time for the 4th quarter, and the energy gets pumped up quickly with a strong version of “46 Days.” Though not as meandering as MPP1 2015, and lacking its soaring peaks, tonight’s “46 Days” does an brief exploration of space, and leads to a beautiful segue into “Twenty Years Later.” More references to the sea, and waves, and solid version if not as powerful or exploratory as Reading 2013.

Julius” begins the safe march to the end, with its predictable energy, and as I’ve heard many people say before, there are no bad versions of “Julius.” It does exactly what’s intended: gets the crowd pumped back up, and we begin the “Hood.”

Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road

While on its own musical merits, this “Hood” is strong, if not stretched out like Hollywood Bowl 2013, or unique like the plinko jam from Worcester 2010, tonight’s version has a slow build to straightforward but beautiful peak. We can indeed feel good about Hood. But as a final snapshot of what makes tonight so special to those on the ground, it’s important to remind everyone that there are no glow sticks down here. Instead, tonight, I witnessed the most incredible ‘glow stick war’ I’ve ever seen. The water fans, which had to be a significant percent of the concert goers, was now splashing in unison, creating the perfect effect as Kuroda’s lights backlit the ocean and captured the dazzling display of water droplets acting like glow sticks. “Character Zero” triumphantly brings us home, and it’s time to head back up the beach.

Tonight’s show is already among the most unique and special shows I’ve seen. Set and setting can be incredibly powerful influences on a show, and this exemplifies that to a tee. But one can’t use those superlatives unless the music is there to match. The “Cities” > “Light” > “Simple” is top shelf Phish, especially for the first set. “Golden Age” > “Caspian” is very strong. Add in the unexpected power of “Velvet Sea,” and this becomes an outstanding Phish show. We’ve got one more night, and a few notable beach songs on the shelf, I’m looking at you “Waves” and “Sea and Sand.” One thing for sure is that we will all wake up again in paradise, pumped beyond compare, knowing that this has been the run of a lifetime.

Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish From the Road

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, comment by smonkey
smonkey Great review by one of my phavorite Phans. You captured the magical setting for those of us who couldn't make it this year. If your current employer doesn't stay cool you can always stick with the writing thing- enjoy tonight's show and look out for those waves!!!!
, comment by Brandy1
Brandy1 Thanks for posting these comments...Such a beautiful community ..only wish my sister and i were there..But we're "there" with you and so happy you are "there" too.
, comment by relax_
relax_ Great review! As usual, the setlist appears to be more focused on what's happening in the moment -- an awesome soundtrack to the experiences taking place.
, comment by warring_mouflon
warring_mouflon My Friend, My Friend, he's got a pen. I felt like I was right on the beach. And I was. Great to catch up. Beautiful review of a great nite.
, comment by SimpleMike
SimpleMike I'm going to make a setlist prediction for tonight (1/17/2016):

Set 1
1. Kill Devil Falls
2. Bathtub Gin
3. Yarmouth Road
4. Fee
5. Energy
6. The Mango Song
7. Maze
8. Walls of the Cave
9. Ocelot
10. The Squirming Coil

Set 2
1. Crosseyed and Painless
2. Twist
3. Piper
4. Waves
5. Back on the Train
6. Bug
7. The Horse
8. Silent In the Morning
9. Run Like an Antelope

Suzy Greenberg
, comment by FrictionSlide
FrictionSlide What a terrific piece of writing to describe what must legitimately be an indescribable experience. I'm posting this from the cold North of Burlington VT, but for the few minutes it took to read this I nearly felt as if I was hanging out on the beach right along side you.

To everyone in Mexico: Have a great time tonight and safe travels back to the homestead!
, comment by ColForbin
ColForbin Great recap, thanks so much @wrinkledraisin
, comment by makisupamikey
makisupamikey Great recap!

Fyi Jefferson Waful is lighting the waves, not Kuroda.
, comment by The_Soup_Maker
The_Soup_Maker Admittedly, as I listened to the stream from the couch last night, I was scratching my head more than a bit at the song selection. HTTM> Joy mid second set?? What are they thinking?? After reading your review, it puts it all perfectly in perspective, and now it all makes sense! So thank you for that. You reminded us that Phish plays in and to the moment, and that's why the vast majority of us always leave a Phish show grinning ear to ear when those on the couch may not be so satisfied. The eternal debate of whether someone at the show can objectively review the music will continue, but maybe the real question should be can someone who ISN'T at the show objectively review the music?
, comment by dipped
dipped I would say that reviews, by nature, are subjective.
Here's my subjective couch review.
He first set was fantastic. The second set was flat - reminiscent of 1/1/16.
There was an impulse, a desire, to explore the dark.
They had difficulty doing it collectively in the second set.
The Caspian had promise, but gave way to what, for me, is a complete vibe grinder.
I love a well-placed Joy in set 2. That wasn't one.
46 days was a perfunctory attempt to crank the vibe out of the humdrum.
First set Cities-Light was exceptional. The Hood felt triumphant. I enjoyed the whistled-CDT.
That's all I have right now.
, comment by PhamilyPhun
PhamilyPhun @frictionslide

I'm also commenting on this review from the frigid mountains of Vermont...

In my humble opinion, this review encapsulates exactly what it would feel like to be at an amazing Phish show in Mexico.

I know that all I've learned is always wrong, but I think tonight was truly great.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Small quibble

The more solid versions of Cities from this era are just the most solid versions period!
, comment by SteakSauce
SteakSauce The eternal debate of whether someone at the show can objectively review the music will continue, but maybe the real question should be can someone who ISN'T at the show objectively review the music?[/quote]

I liked reading this review and it confirms a lot of what i was seeing on the webcast (including a quick pan to the half moon hanging during the HTTM). Obviously the whole experience, including frolicking in the warm waters while during a rocking CDT, must have been amazing but this review and the above comment fly in the face of what this forum has always preached: that the ONLY thing that matters is the music, no matter whether you listen from home or are at the show. There are always incredible aspects to being at a Phish show that do not translate to a day-after download or even the webcast (i.e. a Festival, Vegas, the Gorge, etc.) but we've all been constantly told that the purpose for a review is to address the question of will the music stand up over time? With the exception of the Cities> Light is any of this show actually worth listening to again? I can understand how if you were there you'll have an emotional attachment to the moments when it happened and will hence want to re-listen, but not so much for the rest of us. The first set was more interesting than most, but the second set felt a little "Saturday night special", in my opinion.
, comment by 1seethecityseethezoo1
1seethecityseethezoo1 Thank you for this thoughtful recap. I was also there (in fact, I spotted myself in the water in the Noah Cole photo above). After spending the first set about 10 rows back, Mike side, my friends and I went into the water for the second set. Your comments about being in the water for Caspian and Harry Hood deeply resonated with me.
Again, thanks for a review that truly captured the magic of this show!
, comment by oldphart
oldphart Great write up, and yes, the splashing water instead of the glowsticks stuck out for me as well. Great improvisation by the fans, and I'm proud the crowd for respecting the "no glowsticks" rule because thousands of plastic glowsticks on the beach and in the ocean would have been a disaster. I don't see how customs or seguridad could have confiscated them, so it seems like people just didn't bring them because I saw virtually none.
, comment by Your_Trip_Is_Short
Your_Trip_Is_Short Excellent review, man. I was there as well and you did a fantastic job of capturing the moment, both for a reminder to those of us that were there and to give those who weren't a descriptive picture of what it was like. It was surreal. It was a complete dreamland, whether you partook in psychedelics or not. Will the music stand the test of time? That remains to be seen. I know I'll go back and listen to these shows for years to come. It was a solid effort by the boys and I tip my hat to CID, the Phish Crew, and all who put this together. Top notch, man. Top notch.
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, comment by jujus
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