Last night IT was in the building.
Late Fall. A gradually ramping tour that has dropped multiple highlights each night. An indoor arena in the middle of the country not sold out. Is there a better recipe out there for mind-blowing Phish?
Coming out of the gates…technical difficulties? I was in the pit with the other photographers wondering why Trey was not pleased with some part of his setup. As he kept shaking his head, Paul Languedoc to the rescue! The notes Trey had been plucking prior to Paul’s visit were exciting to the trained ear. When he started the same cadence up again after Paul fixed the problem it was like the energy in the building was on a dial that was slowly being turned up.
The release equated to arguably one of the most beloved Phish tunes to open a show with “Punch You in the Eye.” It wasn’t necessarily the crispiest version, but there were a few extra notes thrown in near the beginning, and it certainly positioned the set well with the entire venue swirling and grooving early. “Martian Monster” and “Axilla I” kept the momentum going until a brilliant landing pad was found in “Reba”.
Patient, searching, and peaking, this “Reba” jam found space to explore and took the audience on a wild ride. To many, like the opener, this is apex Phish material when played well, and Friday’s version in Rosemont was a beautiful take. By the time drummer Jon Fishman was circling his signature end beats to punctuate Trey’s soaring guitar at the end of the jam, we were about halfway through the first set wondering if the flow would maintain. The feeling in the room was palpable.
A quick run through “My Sweet One” left the vibe to the old school, before the modern tune “Mercury”, surprisingly slotted at the end of the first set, took center stage. I don’t want to jump too far here as there was some stellar music played in the second set last night, but to these ears “Mercury” was the heat. Drippy space funk paired with intense exploration, this version found the pocket, stayed there for a while, and brought the whole venue in as deeply as can be. It was indoor Fall Phish magic. The super smooth segue into “Moonage Daydream” was just that, ultra smooth and without any effort once Trey found the chord and Page followed.
The venue was feeling IT set one, and while “Walls of the Cave” had its moments as it tends too near the crescendo of the song, you should download “Mercury”->”Moonage Daydream” asap. With the “Punch” opener and top-notch “Reba” in there, Friday’s show has a first set on par with or arguably beyond any celebrated set played this year.
Set two blasted off right where “Mercury” let off. “Tweezer” flowed smoothly into “Golden Age.” The space explored between both songs over almost 40 minutes was transcending. “Tweezer” rounded the bases from energetic funk, to bouncy and blissful. The “Golden Age” countered, ending with more happy notes than not, but it was the nitty-gritty dark, evil beats going on that together places this opening pairing in top-tier status. It’s not the first time these two songs have been used as a one-two punch in a modern second set, and the coupling was once again special.
The rest of the set was fun. Nothing out of this world with “Frost” as the breath catcher coming off extended cosmic jams during the first two tunes, “Limb by Limb”, “A Day in the Life” not in the encore slot, and “Possum” to close. “Sand” brought a dance-party feel back to the venue after “Frost” and “Limb”. But make no mistake, “Mercury”-> Moonage, and “Tweezer”-> “Golden Age” are what’s up. Go listen and get fired up. Especially if you’re headed back tonight or Sunday, or frothing for Vegas next week. Fall tour keeps sprinkling gems every show, and last night upped the ante big time. Six more shows of tour and everything’s right for Phish to string it all together one of these next few nights.
Photos by Brennan Lagasse