As Phish fans, we are creatures of habit. We’ve got our pre-show routines, our standard spots on the floor, our myriad of ways we choose to gamble on the setlist. Despite the mystery of every night being different, we’ve become accustomed to certain elements of a Phish show that give it familiarity. But while we appreciate that familiarity, it is the rare and unique that we truly seek.
Aside from weather fiascos (Northerly 2013, Fenway 2019), Phish has only played one-set shows at special performances (Sessions At West 54th), festivals (Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, HORDE Tour, Doctor) and as an opening act for Santana (’92, ’96). That means this is the first “regular” planned one-set Phish show. But there’s nothing regular about seeing Phish on the beach next to the Caribbean in the heart of winter.
With the late start time, folks had ample time to take advantage of the endless free drinks. And by the time we started heading for the venue, it showed. General sloppiness aside, spirits were high and the energy was palpable. We ran into fellow .netters @slinky and @slambomartinez and shared some speculation. What unexpected treats were we in for tonight? A 90 minute “Party Time”? A sit-in from a local mariachi band? Or would it just be a standard set of Phish?
The band took the stage at 9:35pm, a measly 5 minutes after ticket time. That’s rare! They opened with “Torn & Frayed," which hadn’t been played since 7/7/12 (285 show gap). When Trey admitted, “On stage the band has got problems, a bag of nerves on first night” it got quite a roar out of the crowd. For the Exile on Main Street costume set at Indio, “Torn & Frayed” was the only song they had really jammed-out, and I would’ve been happy to see it enter the regular rotation. Alas, it was not to be, and while it got played a half-dozen times in the years following Festival 8, it sat shelved for 7.5 years. But it was clearly worth dusting-off, as this version contains a nice little jam with some guitar mastery from Big Red.
Next came “Story of the Ghost," and this version wasted no time getting to the good stuff. The song quickly devolved into a dank, swampy jam, with Mike and Fish driving the groove before Trey rode in on his golden stallion to lift us out of the abyss. And his playing was absolutely inspired; his effects dialed in, his tone gorgeous, and he brimmed with confidence as well, surely rejuvenated by the stellar Oysterhead reunion shows that began last weekend.
“Ghost” segued seamlessly into “Free," a nod to the many fans “splashing in the sea.” And this “Free” quickly veered off the traditional course, easily becoming the best version in years. The standard bass vamp in the middle was quickly hijacked by Trey and an absolutely ripping guitar solo, which melted away into a beautifully haunting jam with “Shipwreck” and “Rescue Squad” quotes. A dark Pink-Floydian groove grew and great, providing a perfect segue back into the end of “Free." At nearly 15 minutes, this is the longest version in twenty (20) years, and it’s chock-full-of-choiceness.
My first “Shake Your Coconuts” followed (that’s rare!) much to the delight of fellow .netter @billsbabes, who not only predicted they’d play it, but even had shirts made! Great call, Babes. Great call. Trey changed the lyrics to “It’s Phish in Mexico time” which elicited great cheers. Next up was “Victim," a newish song by Mike Gordon's band, and also a personal first. It seemed to be going somewhere before it sadly got cut-off rather suddenly. A victim of circumstance? No, another victim of “Moma Dance” (RIP Greek “Cities”).
After struggling slightly through the composed section of “Moma” (and Fishman forgetting the lyrics), the groove got going. Trey sat back and let Page take the melodic lead while Mike dug deep and Fishman held steady. “Gotta Jibboo” followed and was somewhat standard fare but with some glorious interplay from Trey and Page.
The first breather song of the night came in the form of “Shade," nearly an hour into the set, and it’s fitting, as we’re all South of the border and over the moon. “The Landlady” followed, and while it was noticeably slower than it once was, this version was played quite well, and I’d much rather hear it played correctly than flubbed at full speed. Also, it was yet another first for me! Three firsts in one show? That’s hella rare!
The -> into “Destiny Unbound” that followed was so smooth it sounded composed, but unfortunately that was all the smoothness this “Destiny” had to offer. After Trey butchered the composed section, a nice little groove emerged, but it never really went anywhere.
Next came “Steam”, and the inspired shredding from Trey continued. This is the dark side. This is my favorite Phish. At 90 minutes into the set, our legs started to liquefy, but the drop into “Crosseyed & Painless” showed that the band would not let up. A short (sub 10-min) but ripping version, Trey soared along over Mike’s thumping bass, and Page was yet again the unsung hero, playing magnificent fills and trills to complement Trey’s guitar mastery.
The jam was somewhat ripcorded as Trey attempted to segue into “Run Like An Antelope." The rest of the band trickled out and joined him in a pretty sloppy jaunt through the tune, with a surprise tempo shift right in the middle. I was sure that this would be the set closer, but I’ve never seen a one-set Phish show, so what do I know?
A standard “Cavern” followed and led us into “Beneath The Sea of Stars Pt. 1," the first Ghosts of the Forest tune of the evening, and a delightful reminder that “we’re all here together and the weather’s fine." This is my favorite of the GOTF tunes and this version is exquisite, as it created an ethereal soundscape latent with psychedelic bliss.
“Say it to Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” came next as the first Kasvot Vaxt tune of the evening, and the set closer for our “Welcome to Mexico” show. After nearly 2.5 hours of Phish, you realize the utility of setbreak, and our legs are ready to rest. But not before a quick little “You Enjoy Myself” encore! Not without flubs (how do you forget Shit?), this version is still well-played and a fantastic encore selection.
And as we walk back along the beach toward the rooms, the steady slap of the waves on our bare feet, the elation is conspicuous on our tired faces. Was it a perfect show? Absolutely not. Were there flubs? Plenty. They even told us, they’re a bag of nerves on first night. But the band seemed to really be gelling in the jams, and Trey’s playing is brimming with creativity and confidence. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the weekend has in store!
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