Phish Ventures Backwards Down The Number Line in Vegas Night 1 (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Night after night, throughout the whole of Fall tour 21’, Phish has been on fire. If you chat with anyone who’s attended shows or been listening in on streams, they will most certainly agree. Reaching yet another new high watermark, the band that has been playing live music together for over 30 years has longtime fans scratching their heads in disbelief, locked into shows from the first to last notes, collectively in awe that each night has really been that good. Every show of Fall tour has brought something fresh to the night in terms of dynamically played improvisational music, and last night’s burner in Las Vegas (October 28) only served to the stoke the fire even more for more for what’s to come over the next three nights in Las Vegas as we inch closer to the cherished Halloween show on Sunday evening.

But before we start speculating about Halloween, last night’s show wasted zero time (no number pun intended) by kicking into a loose, patient psychedelic “2001” that took the MGM Garden Area right into what felt like a deep second set grove. The venue was dripping in delight after a slow, old school cosmic start, and the nod to keep the jam going until a dramatic pause and subsequent drop into “1999”. Are you serious? Granted this pairing was a highlight of the show, and took a solid half-hour of the first set, but the real vibe here was the band was so locked in together immediately from the start. They basically walked to the stage and just started fluidly playing as if they had already been playing for hours previously, seamlessly aligned in a way that most fans hope they get to experience at any show, for any period of time, never mind in the first thirty minutes of a first set.

The next move into “555” was as smooth as can be, and even though the total time of the song played wasn’t necessarily that long, the key here is it did get stretched out a bit. “555” like most of the songs played on Thursday saw some piece of improvisation, something a little extra on the song that distilled it to a new place. A ferocious “46 Days” followed before the one breath in the set, “Strawberry Letter 23”. Do you notice the theme yet? All songs with numbers, yes, but truthfully, in the moment, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one more enthralled by the flow going on in the first set, a section of music that ended with “Twenty Years Later” that was yet another highlight of the night. The Type II adventures here started with bliss, and then moved to an opaque dark space that was downright filthy. By the time the lights came up most of our greater section was like, wow, what a show, very much in the spirit that we just witnessed a stellar second set that flowed like water with a band so linked up once again boasting in the most humble of ways, no one does what they do-not even close.

The setbreak glow after the first frame was abundant in the MGM. It was clear that the set was special, and that some Phishy number phun was being played out by the band. As Phish took the stage for set two, they and dropped into “Seven Below” and started up yet another dive into unchartered territory exploring new spaces in their music and taking the fans right back to where they left off at the end of set one. Here we are in awe-inspiring territory once again and then Phish decides to play their first ever “If 6 was 9”. In the spirit of how the show opened with 30+minutes of why we see Phish shows, the same thing happened with set two in a unique way that once again, only Phish can do. Not only did they take the Jimi Hendrix tune deep, not only was the MGM Grand shaking, but the heavy riffs lead by guitarist Trey Anastasio, even heavier drumming at times by Jon Fishman only got bigger and more impactful by the layered keys being played by Page McConnell and the grounding grove by bassist Mike Gordon. It was a sonic soundscape that continued the psychedelia that started with “2001”, and blew minds at the show last night.

By now, the number theme of the night was apparent, and “Five Years” served as a nice breath-catcher before “Two Versions Me”, which hadn’t been played in well over 400 shows. After the Hendrix monster, set two took a more songy structure with seven tunes being played before its close. But there was still improvisation going on in most of the offerings (listen back to the end of “Fist Tube”), and the space explored in the segue from “Two Versions of Me” into “N02” is the definition of the aliens have landed in the venue, there’s a spaceship on stage, and these four guys are taking us all with them somewhere special. The set felt different from where the show had been from a longer, freer jamming perspective, but the vibe adapted and flowed with the overall number theme while still retaining the vivid psychedelic energy that started in set one.

By the encore, many were calling the “Backwards Down the Numberline”. Hats off to them, what a band. To keep you on your toes like this, never a dull moment, always fresh and outside of the box thinking-last night in Vegas was a special, unique show from a band known to be capable of pulling off the atypical. To craft such a number theme, but then play it like that with such fluidity and openness is quite simply again, something purely uniquw to this band. And to close it out, why not go acapella, and change up the words to “Grind” with a final offering that all the number-themed songs played last night added up to 4,680. Who know what will happen over the next three nights? More themes? Is there a pattern here? Does anything point to what the Halloween costume or concept might be? We’ll just have to buckle up and get back to the MGM to see, but one things for sure, after such an incredible Fall tour, and with the band playing at such a high level, these next three shows are going to be a treat even if there’s a few tricks thrown in there. 

Phish Setlist MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV, USA, Fall Tour 2021


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