Let’s just call it like it is. Phish’s doubleheader at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT have been the two most anticipated shows since the band’s Summer 2019 tour dates were announced. And it makes sense. A random New England locale, with an indoor venue holding less than 10k people, in the middle of a summer tour when most venues are outdoors and much bigger. This is the type of recipe that pulls on long-time fans to be there as all the right ingredients are present for something special. That said, the everlasting truth comes during showtime as inevitably one never knows what’s going to happen at a Phish show.
The return of “Energy”. I had the fortune of catching the last version played back in 2013 and remember thinking this was a cover that fit the band’s playing style well. Lead vocalist/guitarist Trey Anastasio walked out to the stage last night and almost immediately after picking up his guitar went over to vocalist/bassist Mike Gordon for a chat. Trey joke afterward that he was asking Mike if he remembered the tune before launching into the first rendition in over 200 shows.
That initial decision seemed to frame a very loose feeling, comfortable set where it didn’t feel like the band was forcing anything. “Energy” saw some improvisational playing that quickly built to a rhythm that bled fluidly into a “Weekapaug Groove” theme. The 20ish minute pairing was a super cool way to open the show and once again underscored the unlimited ways Phish can go about crafting a set especially when so many similar songs have shown up in the setlist this summer.
The rest of set one had a diverse feel to it. Not necessarily flowing in all directions, but again this loose feel of a relaxed, no pressure type situation was pronounced. This was evident when/vocalist/drummer Jon Fishman offered his original “Lengthwise” intro with a big smile before a blistering “Maze” drew show goers attention to the merits of the arena. There were several times last evening where the arena shined in terms of being a standout venue to host Phish. The peak in “Maze” was deafening in the best way possible, fostering that feeling at a show when thousands of people are linked in unison with the band. It was a moment, for sure.
“Petrichor” and “Things People Do” brought back the new Phish feel to the show, while “Sample” went back to the old school before the set-closing”Bathtub Gin” brought the first deeper cut of the night. This “Bathtub” was a scorcher for the patient build up through the improvised section of the song, ultimately exploding in another pronounced peak that rattled the venue from wall-to-wall. The hour and twenty minute set in sum was an engaged set of new and old, some jams, some tight Type I, and enough of that Phishy feel to think set two would likely take it deeper.
And it most certainly did. Not in the way things started, but in the way that the whole 80+ minute set unfolded with seamless segues, dark twinges, and euphoric interludes. “Soul Planet” is what many of us will call a springboard song, meaning the hope and set up is that this tune can break its written form easily, thus lending itself to a better chance for improvisation. While that did take place last evening, highlighted with some nasty licks from vocalist/keyboardist Page McConnell, the segue into “Wider” was undeniably fluid. A debut tune from the band, they spent little time here before building back into unique musical space and segueing into “Undermind”. The smooth factor here over the first 20 minutes of the set was palpable. “The Final Hurrah” came on a little quickly, but still it fit the space of the set as it was happening before the drop into the second live version of “Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1”.
It felt a bit early to be taking a breath at this point, honestly, but just when one could be thinking the flow might get lost from this completely modern, nuanced Phish set, the band went full ambient mode and dropped a drippingly psychedelic mixture of music that went as deep as the band has gone in those spaces for quite some time. It was not a funky, groovy, highly danceable theme as many love from this band. It was dark, audibly ferocious, and to the tuned listener, super interesting enthralled music. The music-scapes traveled through this jam was an adventurous ride that took a hold of the venue in a firm way. Everyone seemed locked in, so much so that at the end-or really just when the band felt the time to stop playing, the crowd cheered not as if the show was over, but in a very real way to acknowledge that what was just performed was both unique and heard.
With a glow beaming throughout the venue “Ghost” was the next choice, which kicked in a last 20+ minute pairing that saw short, but intensely jammed out notes from the band before a surprise “Birds of a Feather” that was straight fire. Again, like “Ghost” the improvisational music wasn’t necessarily very long in terms of time between these two, but the quality factor from both offerings were strong, and segues between the too were butter smooth. “Waste” initially felt a bit awkward in placement, but with the energy that had just been built by the previous two songs and jams it made sense. And let me once again stress that Trey hit a peak at the end of “Waste” that electrified the entire venue in an undeniable way. It was Trey and his guitar yes, but it was also the acoustics of the venue. It was another moment that felt like this arena was made for Phish.
A loud “Golgi Apparatus” brought things to a close before a smile filled encore. A nice old school pairing song selection in “Foam” and “Contact” before “More” pulled at that old and new space one more time as they did all evening long. It was a memorable show for Phish and their fans as it truly was a unique show from start to finish. The New England energy combined with an indoor setting was undeniable, and when the band is so clearly having fun it’s hard to deny the fun factor. You could say the stoke is primed pretty high right now thinking about night two, with only three upcoming shows on the horizon at Alpine Valley this weekend before the annual Labor Day weekend run at Dick’s brings the tour to a close.
Photos by Brennan Lagasse