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
If you liked this blog post, one way you could "like" it is to make a donation to The Mockingbird Foundation, the sponsor of Phish.net. Support music education for children, and you just might change the world.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Phish.net is a non-commercial project run by Phish fans and for Phish fans under the auspices of the all-volunteer, non-profit Mockingbird Foundation.
This project serves to compile, preserve, and protect encyclopedic information about Phish and their music.
The Mockingbird Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Phish fans in 1996 to generate charitable proceeds from the Phish community.
And since we're entirely volunteer – with no office, salaries, or paid staff – administrative costs are less than 2% of revenues! So far, we've distributed just about $1,500,000 to support music education for children – hundreds of grants in all 50 states, with more on the way.