[We thank user @SaintAndrew Denny Kinlaw, of Greenville, SC, not GA, for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
A cursory list of things that stood out to a first timer at Alpharetta in 2023:
For all the shared fan reverence for places like Nectars, Mansfield, MSG, and Hampton, there needs to be a collective reckoning with the fact that Atlanta has always been and remains a crown-jewel in Phish’s ascent to the throne of live music. As a regular stop from the early 1990s through today, Georgia has produced some of the most memorable and career defining moments in Phish history. The stats are revelatory: outside New York City (101 shows to date) and Burlington (100)—numbers bloated by non-tour-based legacies and traditions—the Atlanta/Alpharetta dyad is the band’s most visited locale at 36 shows. One could quite literally be borne, raised, and never have left the state of Georgia and still experience the best material across every era of Phish’s career.
The epitome of antic segue-fests remains 2-20-1993 at the Roxy, the rise to arena-caliber rock can just as easily be captured in the 3-night run at the Fox Theater in 1995 as the more widely celebrated NYE MSG, the funk that would “destroy America” by Fall 1997 was actually conceived on Halloween in 1996 at the Omni and borne the following summer on the lawn of Lakewood during a Ghost jam (the math checks out: 9 months later), and for the sake of brevity I’ll just say Atlanta and its suburban counterpart Alpharetta have summoned many of the high-water marks of 3.0. This weekend run in Alpharetta bears out the trend mapped above: Phish feels as inspired and at home in the suburbs of Alpharetta as in the rock-god trappings of Madison Square Garden.
For the fans who came to any of this weekend’s shows, the above thesis doesn’t need to be stated: it was evident in the fact that Phish basically took the lid off every tune on their first night in search of fresh territory, or in the fact that they opened night two with a "Runaway Jim-Foam" pairing lifted straight out of 1994 (with execution taboot), and made plain as day across a Sunday show that featured every song every fan was hoping to hear them play and then some.
Sunday’s conclusion to the weekend’s overwhelmingly impressive musical forays did not disappoint. In the place of a play-by-play (kind of pointless considering you can stream the show before anyone has time to write about it), I’ll just highlight how those fans within my proximity in the pit on Sunday night responded to Phish on 7/16/2023.
Songs people in my vicinity were eager to hear prior to lights down: “Buried Alive,” “Wilson,”Mike’s Groove, “Bathtub Gin,” “Split Open and Melt,” “Carini,” “Reba,” “Sand,” “Punch You in the Eye.”
That every one of these tunes aside from “Punch” was played captures how syncopated the mysterious fan-band vibe was by night three in Alpharetta. That “Gumbo,” “Limb x Limb,” “Mountains in the Mist,” “NICU,” and some new heavy metal tune about getting stuck in a well were played around the above heavy-hitters makes this show nearly the Platonic ideal of a summer tour show in any era of Phish (“Ya Mar” required for Platonic perfection).
Things overheard during or after the Split Open and Melt: “I think I need to go to the lawn,”; “Who’s making that screaming sound?“; “Where did you go during that 'Split Open and Melt'?”; “I don’t think I can handle a 'Carini' after that 'Split.'”
“Split Open in Melt,” for some time now and perhaps definitely since Phish came back from hiatus, is the most reliable vehicle for the type of avant-garde playing one would only ever hear Phish play if they were at a late-night festival set in the days of yore. The Alpharetta “Split” approaches musical improvisation as a form of reconstructive surgery—sonic disorientation with visible facial impact. Even Kuroda seemed to get the gist—large chunks of metal started rotating with surgical precision into shapes both ghastly and awe-inspiring. This jam confirms that Phish has no interest in simply chasing the peaks of its past-—which the jaded amongst us continually cling to (“Trey used to shred Split….”)—or merely appeasing more milquetoast summer-time fans (sense the fear & trembling in quotes above), but that in 2023 Phish are playing for themselves as musicians still in search of unreached areas of improvisational brilliance.
Consider set II: By the time they start playing a late-set “Reba” to the delight of basically every type of fan out there, the whole crowd has basically forgotten they even played a "Mike’s Groove" due to the jams within “Carini” and “Sand”—jams whose musical variety morph across essentially every considerable style of playing Phish has really ever explored in their 40 years together. I don’t know the length or recollect the structure of these jams in detail (use the internet), but you can’t make it through a 3-night run in Atlanta with jams like these coming night-after-night and not recognize that Phish is absolutely aiming to play the best improvisatory music they are capable of playing at this moment in time. If the flubbed transitions or missed notes keep you from hearing this larger truth, or your reverence for the halcyon days of 1998 makes everything else pale in comparison (actually love Mitchum’s project), the gig’s up for you. Tend to your bootlegs and message boards, there’s nothing out here for you to see.
For the rest of us, even those of us who can’t quite make it through the chorus of “More” without wondering if the band is actually taunting us to recognize the band’s own mediocrity at a kind of meta-level, Phish is trying to destroy America as much today as it did 25 years ago. The success of that destructive campaign (how about a “You Enjoy Myself” encore, too?) has always been easy to hear, I suspect, in Georgia.
“Tell your grandkids you paid money for that,” Fishman advises after performing the worst guitar solo in American history during last night’s encore. It’s a throwaway line that shows the band as comfortable in their skin today as in the Georgia Theater in 1990.
In addition to reconfirming their regional devotion to the Georgia faithful, Phish made it very apparent this weekend that for all the fan fervor for some type of 40th-Anniversary mass-spectacle, be that in the form of themed approach to their upcoming MSG residency, or a yet-to-be-announced run where the New England faithful can commiserate over their losses this summer and early fall, the most impressive (and thus difficult) feat for Phish to pull off in their 40th year might just be playing the best shows they can at the same venues they’ve been playing for their entire career. Forget the festivals, relax the tea-leave fervor for hidden meanings in every set-list construction. What if the shows themselves were the thing and not just some ordinary run up to another more “special” thing you hope emerges alongside some commemorative merchandise campaign (sorry poster people) and the production of more podcasts searching for something new to say about the state of Phish today. Just play a good show. Then another. And another. Last night’s show was great.
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 over $2 million to support music education for children – hundreds of grants in all 50 states, with more on the way.