Sunday 09/03/2023 by phishnet


[We'd like to thank Matt (@scissortail) for recapping last night's show. -Ed]

“Phish is church.”

I’ve been seeing Phish for a long time, and I’ve heard many people say some version of this over the years. I’ve said it plenty of times myself. It’s slightly difficult to articulate exactly what we mean by this phrase. We just feel it. We know it. The strange and mysterious alchemy of the music, the fellowship, the collective joy, the freedom, the release—it lifts up our hearts and enriches our souls. For many of us, it is nothing short of necessary.

The first time I saw Phish with my friend Byron was at the Woodlands Pavilion near Houston in 1999. I saw Phish with Byron dozens of times after that.

On Saturday morning I attended Byron’s funeral in our hometown of Edmond, Oklahoma. On Saturday evening I attended a Phish concert in Commerce City, Colorado. My wife and I, and many of our longtime Phish friends, decided that our Saturday should unfold this way for two reasons:

Because Byron would insist on it. And because Phish is church.

© 2023 Phish (Jesse Faatz)
© 2023 Phish (Jesse Faatz)

So, with heavy hearts and puffy eyes—to the show we go. Throughout the day I had been thinking about, and sometimes saying out loud, things I wanted Phish to do. Or not do. (e.g. I hope it’s not a “Saturday Night Special” type, rock-forward show—I hope it’s chiller than that. I hope they play this or that song that has special significance to our many years seeing shows with Byron, etc.)

But as soon as I would say any of that, I’d remind myself: Putting specific expectations on a Phish show is a rookie mistake. How many times has Phish given me exactly what I needed, even if I didn’t know that’s what I needed? Enough times to believe that Phish is magic. Enough times that, late in the show as Trey shouted “Do you dare doubt me?!” I couldn’t help but laugh.

I have to ask the reader to bear with me here. This might get a little digressive. If you’d rather just read about the music then skip down a couple of paragraphs. I won’t mind.

When Phish announced in 2008 that their reunion was to be on March 6-9, 2009, in Hampton—and I, somehow, miraculously pulled two three-day passes on Ticketmaster, I immediately called Byron. March 6 was his birthday. We would see the long-awaited return of Phish, together, to celebrate his 30th year on earth. It couldn’t be more perfect. Sadly, because of what we’ve long suspected was nefarious pickpocketing in the line to get in, when we got to the ticket taker, Byron didn’t have his. And if you were there, you know: there was no finding another ticket in that lot. He simply got shut out, on his birthday, and it was heartbreaking to walk into that show without him.

Cut to tonight, our whole group is talking all day about how we can feel Byron’s presence, he’s sending us little messages everywhere, we keep seeing his face out of the corner of our eyes all over the place at Dicks. In other words, Byron is with us.

And buddy—you finally got your “Fluffhead” opener.

I’m no “Fluffhead” historian, but if anyone would like to point me to a better version than this I would be most excited to hear it. After the song proper, and the triumphant victory lap, Trey drops into a minor riff that signals: let us now jam. But in one of many cosmically perfect twists this evening, he quickly pulls out of the minor space into a beautiful major-key bed of blissful clouds. I would now ask the Bliss haters to exit through the Gate D metal detectors, because I am not interested. This was a piece of pure beauty and power. As it resolves back into the "Fluffhead" chords, Trey decides that another peaking victory lap is in order, and we’ve begun 9.2.23 in the finest way imaginable.

My Soul” is not normally anything I want to hear. But this version is spirited, the band is clearly feeling it, it’s already becoming apparent tonight might be one of “those nights,” so I shall not quibble. No, Trey, I do not doubt you. A standard “Cavern” follows, then drops into “Reba.”

It’s a masterful selection, especially given what they had just done with “Fluffhead.” When your sonic palette is naturally leaning into “gorgeous,” then let’s get gorgeous, motherfuckers. Trey struggles with the middle section—because younger Trey is a sadistic madman and wrote a too-intricate guitar part that lags behind the piano part in such a way that no human should be able able to play it, and it’s a wonder Trey ever could, even in 1993. But if you’re mad that Trey gets a little tripped up by the composed part of “Reba,” I don’t know how to help you.

This “Reba” is—unsurprisingly—gorgeous. What else is there to say?

And then, “Mound.” A perfectly fine “Mound,” and I will never, ever complain about getting “Mound.” But when I look back on this show for many years to come, I will not be thinking of “Mound.”

One thing I will be thinking of is the closing trio of “A Wave of Hope,” “Taste,” and “Ghost.”

“This too shall pass,” says Trey, and our group trades backslaps and shoulder squeezes. “WOPE” brings the energetic and rhythmic vibe that, to my ears, was the dominant factor on Thursday night. It’s welcome any time. But we don’t dwell long. “Taste” emerges and we step into space, through fog that surrounds.

Someone more familiar with music theory than me may be able to identify the scale Trey jams on in “Taste.” It has flavors of “What’s the Use?” But it also sounds like he’s charming a snake in a dusty bazaar tent. The band doesn’t really paint outside the lines here, but there’s no need to. “Taste” is beautiful and powerful. You’ve chosen a lane, Phish, and you’re cruising full speed ahead. Don’t detour.

This “Ghost,” as a set closing bookend to “Fluffhead,” is a fitting encapsulation of Phish’s powers at this particular moment. As the band transitions from song to jam, Trey’s guitar begins to scream—with burst after burst of wailing, aching, soaring power. Like I said about Thursday night (I missed Friday's show, naturally), some of the jamming this weekend seems more rhythmic than melodic, which I think has been wonderful. But this one combines the best of both worlds. Trey is “teasing” the “Ghost” melody during the “Ghost” jam. I know that sounds ridiculous, and it probably is, but that’s the way it felt to me. As this barrage winds down, and all of us are basking in the glow of its otherworldly glory, Trey brings the band back into the “Ghost” riff, and into the wall-of-sound bombardment that indicates the end of set one.

Nothing of note happens at setbreak. And the lights go down again.

To anyone who thought “Let’s get this show on the road” was an odd sentiment for a show that was half over, please do not doubt Trey. There is plenty more show on this road.

To say “AC/DC Bag” is a welcome call to open set two is an understatement. Long relegated to early set one, then barely played at all for reasons passing understanding, we could all use more “Bag” in our lives. Especially one that jams, which this one quickly proceeds to do. My only complaint with the jam is that I want it to last longer. The band is locked in, again with big flavors of the rhythmic interplay. But it dissolves into “Chalk Dust Torture,” and who’s going to complain?

I will say, the crowd at this point is electric. We have fully bought in to what Phish is serving us tonight. Confetti and glow sticks fly with abandon. The jam portion chugs along for a bit and then sinks down into a quiet, contemplative place. Imagine one of those pictures taken from underwater in the ocean, with rays of sunlight sporadically stabbing down through the surface. If that image had a sound, it would be this. And that’s even before Trey deploys that watery effect (not the Leslie, the other one) and we’re truly swimming. Mike and Trey are weaving musical phrases together like waves dancing.

Too soon we transition to “Ether Edge.” (Seriously, when I saw that “Chalk Dust” was less than 9 minutes I was aghast. Length does not equal quality, but it certainly seemed like I lived in that underwater space for longer than that.)

Look, “Ether Edge” isn’t a bad song. It did not kill the vibe. It would’ve taken a LOT to kill the vibe tonight, and “Ether Edge” didn’t even come close. But why am I still writing words about “Ether Edge” when we’re about to come to one of the finest segments of music Dicks has ever seen?

Tonight’s “46 Days,” followed by “The Howling,” followed by “Piper” might as well be considered one continuous suite of music.

I keep mentioning the rhythmic jamming, especially from Thursday night. I saw some people describing Fishman’s vibe that night as “tribal.” I think that’s quite apt, and, as we leave the song portion of “46 Days,” here comes the raw, primal, tribal power of Fishman. I always say, Trey is why Phish is Phish. Fishman is why Phish is great. He’s all over his toms and cowbell here, and Trey eventually asserts an authoritative groove, layering in sounds from that wobbly, low-end filter he uses when he wants to leave the atmosphere of Earth.

But suddenly, on a dime, Fishman just picks up another beat entirely, and of course, everyone is locked into him within a millisecond because they share one mind on nights like this. Fishman and Mike are bouncing together, Trey is building himself another groove and Page is complementing, switching masterfully between electric piano and organ.

This eventually builds to a more traditional, ascending, major-key bliss type thing, goes back into “46 Days,” and inserts us directly into “The Howling.”

I don’t even know what words of mine could properly describe what happens here. Oh, you need some kind of cathartic release, do you? How about you move your body in unison with 30,000 beautiful maniacs while we all literally howl at the moon?


“The Howling” is a spiritual cousin to “2001,” and I never would’ve thought that’s something I’d want on this particular night. Of course, I would’ve been wrong. Yes, we get the funk dance party. Yes, we get to howl together at a bright and beautiful Colorado moon. But then we get something strange and spectacular. The band, as one flowing organism, somehow creates a spaceship of sound that is rhythmic, but blissful, but still funky, but also beautiful, but also kind of dark. What is happening? How is this possible?

The crowd howls its approval at random. Trey suddenly picks out a major-key riff, we’re rolling along, Trey starts singing “the Howling” again, but now it’s in this new major key and it is oddly delightful. Still as a single flowing organism, the beauty and power continues and slowly descends, soon those “Piper” notes creep in, and there are very few opening notes more welcome to my ears. I fucking love “Piper.”

Phish played a blistering “Piper” last year at Dicks. I remember it as one of the highlights of the weekend. I don’t have time for a listening comparison this morning, and who cares what’s “better” anyway, but I can’t imagine a more powerful “Piper” has ever been played in this particular stadium.

The jam begins to establish itself, and then it descends, as so many of these jams have tonight, into a smaller, quieter place—before steadily, patiently building to magnificent waves of energy. I feel shades of the monumental “Dick’s Disease” here, in that Trey seems to pull a fully formed melodic composition out of the spirit in the sky, down through his body, and out through his guitar. When a show flows as well as this one does, set two inevitably ends in moutaintop peaks and crowd ecstasy. This one ended like that. Trey thanks us, we thank Phish, and we expect one or two tunes will be tacked onto our evening, and all will be well.

An encore to a show like this is gravy. They could’ve come out and played the most standard “encore rocker” you could imagine—say, “Loving Cup,” and we all would’ve left extremely happy. But they did not. Not tonight. Tonight we get a set three.

The statisticians and historians among us have proclaimed this the longest encore Phish has ever played. I’ll take their word for it. And, forgive me, but there is not a ton to say about the progression of songs. “Theme” is beautiful, with Trey even dropping little major-key riffs into the empty spaces, like he can’t help but make everything beautiful tonight. “The Mango Song” is great. “Don’t Doubt Me,” as mentioned, gives me a wry grin, a lesson learned. “Evolve” is lovely. “Golgi Apparatus” is rousing.

And then Phish does something magical. One more mind-blower for the road.

Excuse my digression again. About seven or eight years ago, our friends Jill and Davy made our group some pink tank tops with iron-on graphics. The tanks have a Phish logo on the front, and on the back, each of us were given a punny, Phish-inspired nickname. The shirt they gave Byron had his nickname as “By-run Like an Antelope.” Naturally, from then on, “Antelope” has been the “Byron song.” We always think of him when Phish plays it. (And we always will.)

When we got the news of Byron’s passing, a lovely woman who is a friend of our friend Kate, made all of us some bracelets. We’ve been wearing them all weekend. We all wore them to the funeral. Earlier in the day when I was wishing and hoping for Phish to do certain things (even though I know I shouldn’t have been) what I was most wishing and hoping for was an “Antelope” to honor our friend.

Photo by Matt Cauthron
Photo by Matt Cauthron

And what happens? Phish plays the longest encore in history. Why? I don’t know. And they close that encore with the one song every single one of my friends needs to hear. We are all stunned this is actually happening. The word I kept saying after the show was “miraculous.” And tonight it is true. Phish is a fucking miracle.

I can say with the utmost confidence that I will never forget 9.2.23 for as long as I live. I’ve seen lots and lots of Phish shows. I’ve seen some that, like tonight, I would call transcendent—ones that made me wonder how on earth this band can do what they do and how it could touch my heart so deeply. Tonight was definitely that, but it was different. It was more. It was something akin to a religious experience.

When people say “Phish is church,” what happened to my friends and I this evening is the epitome of everything that phrase can mean.

In closing, I want to send my deepest feelings of love and sympathy to Byron’s wife and two stepsons, his sister and two brothers, his mother and father, and the countless friends who adored him and cherished the light he brought to this world. I encourage anyone reading this—whether you are a prayers person or a vibes person or whatever kind of person—to send your love as well. Imagine where you are in relation to the very center of Oklahoma, and beam waves of love in that direction. I also implore you to think about a friend or family member that you haven’t spoken to in a while, to whom you haven’t recently expressed your love and appreciation. Call them. Text them. Say it now.

To everyone reading this, to everyone at Dicks tonight, to the band, the crew, and the entire Phish organization: I can’t possibly express the depth of my gratitude for this beautiful community. Tonight, some of us needed you a great deal. As always, you were there for us. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you.

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, comment by mgolia6
mgolia6 Wow!! First, what a tribute to your dear friend. You nailed it. And, I can tell you (what you already know) that last night unequivocally was a masterpiece of a show. You were meant to recap that show, clearly. You had the grace and mastery of words to somehow encapsulate what transpired and to do it with the command of a master wordsmith (yeah there were a few masters in there).

I alluded in a comment earlier to the collective consciousness of a peak experience. The body begins to produce dopamine, seratonin, oxytocin, etc…and when this happens you have what some call a religious experience. When these chemicals stack themselves one upon the other a mystical thing happens, the body recognizes the birth of these neurochemicals in those around us and we get enveloped in a collective “hug!”

Put another way, it feels like your friend Byron was reaching down to hug us all last night. He spoke through the music, through the emotion, through the energy to fill our cups, collectively. Thanks for getting vulnerable here as well as putting together a kick ass recap and taking us to Church.
, comment by Misterie
Misterie I’m so freaking happy you got a show like this to honor your friend Byron, and great review, all the feels. Love and light to Oklahoma!!
, comment by Henrietta11
Henrietta11 Well Matt, I too have seen many shows with many friends and many siblings. Each moments seems to be more special than the next throughout the decades. But then there are a few like your friend Byron and your show tonight. It is these moments that stay with us forever and, in my opinion, could only be created with a band of this stature. I began reading and writing reviews about 20 years ago to just take in a show with a different perspective and also a reflection. It’s always amazing to me how the thoughts and impressions of an evening begin to flow freely when the writing begins. So continue to howl at the many moons surrounded by loved ones and know that the next time “Antelope” is heard, there’ll be one additional dude thinking of Byrun.
Mike C
, comment by Leodoc
Leodoc Great review!
All Hail Dick's mighty Red Worm!
, comment by AirGordo
AirGordo Thank you for this thoroughly engaging, well written and touching recap. You said it all and said it well. There will never be an explanation for, or even a perfect word to describe the way Phish is able to give us exactly what we need when we need it most, but magical and miraculous are both apt. I wasn’t there last night, but thanks to your words I definitely felt the cosmic hug alluded to by a previous commenter. Any minute now the very center of Oklahoma should be receiving the waves of love I recently beamed to them but I’ll send some more that way, and to you as well, just in case.
, comment by grannyhellyeah
grannyhellyeah Never thought a concert review would make me tear up, but, here we are. Thank you for your beautiful words and what seems to me like a very fitting tribute to Bryan. All the love you to you and yours and his family. Set your gearshift for the high gear of your soul.
, comment by Lemming
Lemming Hallelujah Brother! Death has no sting and life has no end, and if you know you know.
, comment by Slewfoot
Slewfoot Lovely, lovely words…so sorry to hear about Byron…you and the band honored him the right way. He is undoubtedly smiling right now.
, comment by surferscot
surferscot Beautiful words, recap, and most importantly, tribute! I loved Byron’s show!
, comment by tubz23
tubz23 Phish, the Divine Gathering! I have encountered comparable transcendental moments during the concerts I've attended. On that unforgettable summer night at Bethel on July 23, 2022, little did we know that our dear friend, (Rest Easy Chris Kent)- the one who actually Introduced me to our Gurus, had departed from this earthly realm. It was only after the show, amidst the buzzing atmosphere of the parking lot, and post show vibe that we learned of his passing. However, as we cried & reminisced about the mesmerizing set list, we realized that he had been subtly communicating with us all along. A Buffalo Bill and Fire certainly sealed it for our faith. It's astonishing to think that we had all congregated at Bethel previously in 2011, where Phish's spiritual force permeated the very fabric of the temple-like grounds. Thank you for this review. I can not wait to hear this show on playback.
, comment by lookstoomuchlike
lookstoomuchlike As warm ecstatic tears escape my eyes and roll over my temples ro be received by my pillow as I wake this morning, all I can say is thank you for your homily, your reading from “The Book of By-Run” and your Communion. I get it. Pheesh be with you.
, comment by Kayla_Muck
Kayla_Muck I throughly enjoyed reading your review, very touching. Glad you and your buddies, and Phish, could honor Byron in such a glorious way! I really was a great show! Love and light to all!
, comment by PhanFromWI
PhanFromWI Thank You for sharing Your Experience. I use that line often with those that don't understand why I travel the Country to see a Band that I've now seen 60 times after Thursday and Friday's Dick's Shows.

"Phish is My Church". Almost every Year since I first stepped onto the Alpine Valley Lawn in July of 2000, I've been fortunate enough to attend Church multiple times a Year. Some Years the Band decided there would be No Church, some Years Life decided there would be No Church for Me. But I can say, that those Years without Church, were not the Best, because well, there was No Church for Me.

While I was attending My 1st Dick's Shows this Weekend, I felt so DAMN Grateful to still be having these Experiences. You just stated how important our Phriends are to these Experiences. I could not agree further. This Year for Me was a Solo Journey. This is not entirely New, but it certainly is not common. Because as much Joy as I get from Phishing with My Phriends, it is usually is NOT about My Personal Experience but rather our collective Experiences. But this Trip was..

I had wants and desires from My 1st Dick's Lot, the Band, and even from those that I know that I might have run into. But instead, I "Surrendered to the Phlow" and immersed Myself into EVERYTHING! And even though I did not see those Phriends this Trip, I had the Trip and Experience I was supposed to and that I needed.

And as I read your review Today, I realized You did too. As did sooooo many others too. And for this, I am too Grateful. Because that is the "Why" behind this Band and these Experiences.

Phish is IT! Phish is Church! Phish is exactly What We Need, even when We think We need it a certain way..

Thank you again for sharing. I hope that Byron was Shining on You and Your Phriends this Weekend.

The Band reminded Me again this Weekend to "Shine A Light" in this "Show of Life", and I vow to continue to do so as long as Phish lets Me..
, comment by MatsMats
MatsMats Maybe my favorite recap of any show ever. Beautiful words, extremely touching backstory (Byron was fortunate to have you all as friends), and you 100% nailed that show. An all-timer for all of us, just like your love for Byron is for all time. Rock on.
, comment by pokeythebear
pokeythebear Wow, just wow. I also never thought I would be moved to tears from a Phish show review. A beautiful tribute to your friend Byron, and spectacularly magical evening from Fluffhead to Antelope. Before reading this I had considered this one of my favorite nights of Phish ever, and now even more so. Thank you for sharing.
, comment by eggsalad
eggsalad Beautifully written, and an amazing recap and tribute to Byron! May he rest in peace and his family be lifted up by the beams of love sent by the community to central Oklahoma. What a touching tribute you've written and I'm so happy you and yours got to enjoy the show he put on for you. I too, like many others I'm sure, have been blessed to experience transcendental moments at Phish that will stick with me forever. The most recent one was at Merriweather last year, when I took a good friend of mine to his first show. It was a couple of days after his 96-year-old Japanese grandmother had passed away (my friend is half Japanese). I thought it'd be both a fun experience and something to take his mind off his grandmother, whom he was very close to and helped take care of day in and day out, until the very end. Well wouldn't you know it, Phish busts out a mid-2nd set, super funky Meatstick, complete with Japanese lyrics and dancing! I told my friend what was happening during the dancing part and he honestly couldn't believe it. Neither could I. Thank you for sharing about Byron.
, comment by CountryFriedCletus
CountryFriedCletus What a wonderful tribute to your friend and what a wonderful recap.

Phish means so much to so many people and thank you for sharing your experience with Byron in this recap.

I'm listening to the show in my ear bugs right night thinking of yall and your special connection with this show.

Prayers for Byron and his family and friends!
, comment by Jenks77
Jenks77 It ceases to amaze me how often I, you, we all have had a most needed cathartic experience at shows. But, that's why we go! That's what makes it so special for the fan base, and so hard to describe to those who haven't been. It's never expected, always welcomed, and what make our collective energy at a show so F'n infectious. If you're ever struggling to "get into" a particular show, there is always someone around you who is deeply rooted. Latch on and surrender to their flow.
, comment by LINDERAMA65
LINDERAMA65 Absolutely beautiful tribute. Sending out extra love to all who loved Byron ????????. Music heals. And Phish has a profound way of doing that.
, comment by RobesPierre
RobesPierre “Phish is church” pretty accurately pinpoints the problem I have with the phish crowd lately. Much like Jesus, phish can do no wrong in the eyes of a phanatic. You’re either a believer or you’re not… Any negative opinion about the state of the band or music they are making is seen as blasphemy.
, comment by Lee_Fordham
Lee_Fordham I finally listened to this show - a few days after reading this beautiful review, and I got choked up during the beginning of Antelope. A miracle indeed. Sorry for the loss of your friend, but thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story with all of us.
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