When Phish rolls into town for a multi-night run, it’s a losing person’s game to try and guess which show will be better. Historically, the conventional wisdom has been that the second (or last) show of a run will be the strongest. But in recent years, we’ve seen some night ones be the best of a run—for example, Rosemont, IL, 10/26/18. Going into Tuesday night’s show, given the strength of the past several shows, expectations were sky high.
I think Ascend Amphitheater is one of the best venues for a Phish show. The size is perfect, the sightlines are great from anywhere in the venue, the staff is friendly, there’s ample room to dance everywhere, and the sound is great. Being in the middle of downtown Nashville, it’s an awesome spot. You should really go if you haven’t been.
On Tuesday, they came out swinging with Punch You in the Eye, which was an ambitious way to start a show given the complexity of the song. The band is more well practiced than any tour I can remember in the recent past, and with songs like this, it really shows. A mid-set Backwards Down the Number Line was perfect for me (again, I’m sorry if you have to listen to your favorite guitarist play a very meaningful song, I hope you survive!).
The new Mike song, Mull, was a really cool song to hear, and I think there’s a lot of promise with that tune. About to Run was the highlight of the set. It perfectly featured Trey’s new tone and gear, and was highlighted by a shredding solo.
In the second set, it felt like they were searching for a sound, but never quite got to that point of transcendence, like we saw in the previous several shows. Why? No way to know. If you really think about it, there are hundreds of things that need to come together for a show to even happen, let alone be a magical experience with top-notch improv.
But there were some great moments, even if they didn’t quite sync in the set like we all wanted them to. The No Men In No Man’s Land spotlighted Page’s enhanced synth sounds, and this was the first of many moments over the past two nights that went into a sonic space where Trey and Page were both contributing their insane space sounds (that’s a scientific term). You can see more about Trey’s new setup in our recent HF Pod on Tour segment with Ryan of Trey’s Guitar Rig.
The Light featured similar jamming, and the You Enjoy Myself was a welcome closer. This was my first show back since the pandemic started, and this YEM felt like a cathartic release. Back with friends. Back home.
Night two was a completely different story. I’ve been waiting to hear Evolve, and was so happy to have it open the show. Many in the crowd didn’t know the song, adding to my belief that the Lonely Trip material has been a bit overlooked. Once we heard Free, we knew that repeats were back on the table, which added to this show tremendously. I thought that Cool Amber and Mercury was when they really got cooking, even though there was a little confusion about how the song started. I like the ambition and fearlessness that Phish is showing this tour, with the song choices and not avoiding songs that haven’t been played in a while or that might not have been as well practiced. This is a band that’s so happy to be back, happy to be playing for us, and you can see and hear that in these shows. I loved hearing Halfway to the Moon, and thought this was another strong version.
Ok, set two. Wow. This is hard to put into words. This is the kind of set where you walk out of the venue high fiving (or fist or elbow bumping) everyone you can. This is the kind of set where you can’t go to sleep for a long time afterwards. The energy after the show was palpable among the group I was with. We were part of this energy exchange with the band where everything worked perfectly. The bets paid off, and everyone won.
The set opener, Mr. Completely, set the table for the rest of the show. This 19 minute journey featured aliens, robots, space travel, and more. I heard Fishman bringing the main beat back far before they finished the song. At that point, they could have easily transitioned into the next song, but it seemed like Trey wanted to keep pushing it.
When they finally did wind down and land into Birds of a Feather, we were ready. I don’t think Fishman ever lost that Mr. Completely beat, throughout the rest of the show. The Ghost -> Bathtub Gin (please note that silky segue, one of many amazing segues this tour) was just amazing, bringing us back into this psychedelic soup that really felt like one long jam throughout the entire set.
The 2001 was a welcome and expected song, and allowed for more cathartic release with the peaks. The Split Open and Melt set closer represented this whole show perfectly—everyone stopped dancing, staring into the sky or at the stage, trying to figure out what’s going on, while the band kept pushing us into the dissonance. Kuroda’s rig was moving in wild ways during this song, and added to the madness. And the Character Zero allowed for some last minute karate chops and dancing before we all filed out into downtown Nashville, not wanting the show to end and not wanting to leave this beautiful venue.
The lesson of the tale of these two Nashvilles, to me at least, is that there were a lot of risks taken last night, and they paid off. Bringing back repeated songs (Ghost, Bathtub Gin) was a great call, as these allowed for this thematic set of jamming to continue unabated. I think it’s about the fearlessness and comfort with the music and the crowd. They’re happy that we’re here. We’re home. They’re home. Welcome back.
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