[Thank you to Phish.net contributor Landon (@nomidwestlove) for this recap. -Ed.]
On Tuesday, October 26th, 2021 The Phish from Vermont brought their own unique brand of trans-dimensional, intergalactic space funk to the quaint central coastal community of Santa Barbara. The bowl itself, with its dramatic backdrop of the Santa Ynez mountains to the east and a view of the pacific ocean from our seats to the west, seemed to serve as a beacon, perhaps attracting unexplained aerial phenomenon and other sentient extra-terrestrial beings to use their state-of-the-art propulsion systems to hover in the void between the sea and stars.
This band has had plenty of peaks and valleys in their triple decade plus career, but I think they’ve proved with these past few shows, that the ceiling expands far higher into the stratosphere than one could have ever guessed. Yes, way up out there in the cosmos, Phish is providing the soundtrack for this donut-shaped universe.
I’m just floored. After attending my ninth show this fall, I found myself speechless walking out of the venue last evening. I’m sure people are already making comparisons to fall ’13 and creating graphs, charts, and spreadsheets to support their statements. All I can say is that after twenty-something years of seeing this band—I’m still upside down. It’s not just the music that moves me. It’s the community, the collective effervescence, and the synchronicity, that continues to boggle my little mind. I’m filled with gratitude to have had the chance to do this whole tour, and a huge thanks to the friends old and new for facilitating my good time. I’m humbled beyond belief knowing that when I return, I’ll be a better version of myself than before I left home.
On to the show….
We strolled from our beachside bungalow past the iconic Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with their red-tiled roofs toward the venue in the central part of town. The circus had certainly preceded our arrival. Lots of fingers in the air and looks of desperation as we neared the venue. People were cashing in their crypto currencies for a shot to make it inside, I heard someone was offered $1000 cash on their way in….
Upon entry, you immediately felt the special intimacy emanating from the cobblestones and staircases. We quickly found our seats in Section E, straight back, towards the top. I had a feeling the entire night that we were floating above the stage, peering down at the band as if we were sitting in the middle of my temporarily expanded living room. It felt warm and cozy, as if Phish were playing a house party with a few thousand of my closest friends.
Start time was early, approximately 6:23 by my watch. I shot my buddy Mike an apology text when I heard the opening notes of “Pebbles and Marbles”. The poor guy has been chasing a P&M, and he always seems to just miss it. We will get you one someday Mike, I promise. Apparently one of the new norms these days is opening the show with an epic jam and this recapper is A-OK with that. Clocking in at almost twenty minutes, this “Pebbles” was the longest jam of the evening. It was spacey and patient and made an interesting segue into “Makisupa Policeman”.
Some swampy-clav infused reggae ensued before shit got weird. Hello. How are you? I hope you have a good time. Thanks! These guys are clearly having fun messing with us with these little audience participation interludes. I was later told that this segment, which became the theme of the evening was called “Little Squirrel”, a tune from Trey, Tom Marshall, and Marc Daubert's 1983 pre-Phish band Bivouac Jaun. I’m so happy when they hit us with these hilarious antics, and love to see Trey unearthing these old audio memories all tour long (And so to bed, End of Session, Dave’s Energy Guide, and super fun teases galore). They’ve really gifted us with an embarrassment of riches, of the extra nerdy variety that I’m so fond of.
They started into the first “Sample in A Jar” of the tour when my friend leaned over and said: “I hope they jam this”. I admittedly gave him a bit of an eye-roll. I mean, what was he thinking? This isn’t jam-filled night! I love being wrong sometimes. Trey seemed to have a renewed gusto vocally and this “Sample” had an unexpected extra bit of spicy seasoning sprinkled on top.
The debut of the Trey-penned pandemic era “The Silver Light” came next. Like “I Never Left Home” last week in Eugene, these slightly dark and funky lockdown tunes seem to immediately transport me to Trey’s New York City Apartment where he drummed on toilet paper rolls and made trippy homemade music videos.
“Halley’s Comet” seemed like an obvious choice in the next slot. I leaned over to my friend, “I hope they jam this”, was coming from my mouth this time. I confess my undying affection for meatballs and strawberry goo. The jam started spooky before evolving into some funky and danceable rock and roll. By the time they started in with “Oye Como Va” teases, the entire crowd was locked-in and you could feel the electricity in the air.
“Mountains in the Mist” is perhaps one of my favorite “cool down” songs in the rotation and it felt well placed here. My head was definitely in the clouds during this one. Slow and deliberate, the strangest thoughts flowing through my dome. Pull me down, indeed.
I was a little caught off-guard with the opening notes of “Mull”. I falsely and perhaps wishfully blurted out “Skin it Back”. I was shot some “who is this spun wook?” looks from my neighbors. Oh well, you can’t be perfect all the time. The other band members seemed to indulge Mike with a rousing rendition of his new song. I myself generally have low expectations for weird new Mike songs, but I found myself dancing like an idiot by its end, and I might go as far as to call it one of the highlights of the first set. Don’t tell anybody. Some of that “hooked up to machine” sounding stuff (Dave’s Energy Guide?) worked its way into the outro jam before segueing into “Set your Soul Free”
I really liked “Set Your Soul Free” in the closing position of this fun set. Can I just point out that first sets have been kicking some serious ass both this fall and last summer, as idiosyncratic as they may have been. Smiles all around heading into the set break.
Set break at a Phish show might just be my favorite place in the whole universe. I had such a great time chatting with my neighbors, reviewing the chicken-scratches in my notebook, and watching the spunions climb Mt Icculus in search of the bathroom. I myself, held it.
The feel good “Blaze On” opened the second set. We were all dancing at the bowl. I had my nice shades on, secretly a little apprehensive that Kuroda’s light rig might induce an epileptic seizure. Insane is an appropriate one-word summation.
“Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1” came next. I don’t know where ya’ll fall on with this one, but in this recappers humble opinion, I think it could be the single greatest new song in the band’s catalogue. The Ghosts of the Forest material carries special weight with me for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Perhaps it has something to do with being forty years old and contemplating my own mortality. BBS’s spacious, patient, and quietly psychedelic noodling provides a lovely space in my brain for self-introspection. The lights went down and I could see the stars. I thought about my life, the people I love, and other deep shit in the recesses of my brain. We were all there together, the weather was fine (no bomb-cyclone here), and for a few minutes, we were all free of time. The greatest gift this band can give me are moments like these, with an opportunity to transcend our temporal dimension and truly just be there, untethered to both the past and future. Only the present exists in this very special place. My most heartfelt thank you to Phish for this one.
“46 Days” got the party started again and quickly got weird. The jam started with some Trey loops before devolving into some alien sounding shit. My notes read: music from another dimension. I think that sums it up fairly succinctly. I’m also pretty sure I heard a “Manteca” tease.
Great call with Robert Palmer’s “Sneaking Sally through the Alley”. I appreciate when this band gives us a straight-forward, hose-style dance music. Not everything needs to go “type 2”, and Mike’s thick baselines vibrated in my chest when they landed in a funky little pocket. The kind of music that makes you want to do aerobics.
Then came a Mike’s-less “Weekapaug Groove”. Why? Because shit just doesn’t make sense anymore, and why should it? What is the central theme to this everlasting spoof? Stop making sense. What a time to be alive! I got some piper jam feels from this oddly placed "Paug" and soaked in the long-sustained note from Trey that he seems to be so fond of this tour.
I can’t get enough of “About to Run”. The song has some serious Neil Young vibes and I just love shouting “LIAR!” in its middle verse. Master shredder’s guitar work ain’t too shabby either…
“If I Could” had lovely placement in the show’s fourth quarter. Is it just me, or does everyone else think that Trey’s vocals on these older songs have aged like a fine wine? I don’t know how this band seems to make all these songs so personal, as if they were playing it just for me. I hope Trey saw me shoot him a wink from the upper level.
I felt like I heard some audible groans at the start of “Sigma Oasis”, the first three-peat of the tour, but hey, they crushed it, and if you weren’t having fun by its conclusion, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this—but you’re doing Phish wrong!
I would have thought the bust-out of ”Fuck Your Face” and “Meatstick” would have been the most perfect encore I could have hoped for, but they decided to add a “Lizards” for good measure. Smiles all around. They hit the crowd with the white lights during the songs anthemic coda and I took a moment to look around. I locked eyes with a stranger a few rows back, and with just a glance, he telepathically said to me “Fuckin’ A right!” I hear you clucking big chicken, this show was bonkers. Par for the course at this point. They filled the last few minutes before the curfew with “A Life Beyond the Dream”, because why not milk this beautiful venue for all it’s worth?
Well it’s official-- spooky season is in full effect. My favorite meme pages are posting their fake Phishbills, and speculation about what’s in our future is nearing a frenzied peak. All I can say is that whatever they end up doing in Vegas, my cupeth runeth over after this stellar west coast run. I’m ecstatic to have spent so much time with the people I love, from my familiar Phish fam to all the rest of you I have yet to meet. Much love and see you in Vegas!
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