Opening the holiday weekend with another two-set showcase, Phish bombarded Atlanta’s northern suburbs with a multi-faceted gala on the penultimate night of a triumphant opening leg of summer. With well-placed bust-outs, first set jams, and a tour-defining moment in the second set’s “Tweezer > Slave,” Alpharetta’s opening night hit all the right spots, setting up a sure-fire July 4th blowout.
Sculpting an uber-engaging first set, the band lit the weekend’s fuse with the first-ever “Character Zero” opener, as the set immediately reached out and grabbed the audience. The smooth and dancy bust-out of “Destiny Unbound” kept the energy elevated as the band revved up “Rift.” Though stumbling through the mid-90s anthem, Trey continued his summer trend of interaction, taking a “McGrupp” sign onstage and playing the request. The summer debut of the song brought a refreshing feel to the setlist with the second Gamehendge-based song in as many nights.
The improvisational highlight of the first set came next, as Phish capped off a summer of standout “Bathtub Gins” with a culminating version that, arguably, topped them all. Between bass-led candy grooves and an all-out guitar assault, this ride on the purple humpback whale showcased the band’s current prowess and connection. A melodic and ever-changing rhythmic pocket anchored the song for Page and Trey to paint the jam’s outer layer with inter-woven leads. Coming down from the mid-set jam, the band took “Mountains in the Mist” off the shelf, giving the song the gentle treatment of a summer breeze. Trey’s introspective ballad provided a mid-set moment of reflection before the old-school threesome of “NICU,” “Gumbo,” and “My Sweet One,” continued the first half avalanche.
“Stealing Time” seemed it would end the set, but Phish was hardly done in marathon stanza. “Strange Design” set the table for the set closing combo of “Sanity,” “Antelope,” completing one of the strongest opening frames of tour, and two eventful halves of Phish show are so much better than one. Locking in on the final version of a tour filled with Pronghorn, Phish grew last night’s “Antelope” into, perhaps, the most engaging of tour. Carrying cascading momentum, the band began in a laid back whale-groove as they patiently built the jam instead of pushing it too fast. With dynamic drum work from Johnny B. Fishman, this explosive “Antelope” blew the roof off the over-crowded GA pavilion, placing an exclamation mark at the end of Alpharetta’s first paragraph.
Regardless of what was played before or after, last night’s unquestionable centerpiece came via the crunching turned majestic journey of “Tweezer > Slave.” Beginning with a captivating “Caspian” outro that resembled some amalgam of a digital delay jam and “Dave’s Energy Guide,” the speckled and sparse groove provided a dainty place mat for a filthy “Tweezer” to overtake Atlanta like General Sherman in the Civil War. Jumping off a cosmic trampoline, the band cranked out some of the most infectious dance music of the summer. Trey settled into a signature pattern that took the band out into a belligerent musical trek, diving head first into addictive Phish crack. Spelunking through caverns of groove, the band emerged in a soul-cleansing, guitar-led build that turned blissfully melodic at the top of the mountain. Expounding on these ideas, the band sustained the peak before descending into a mellower rhythmic palette that patiently transformed into “Slave,” immediately evoking memories of Atlanta’s monumental July 4th transition of ’99.
Though seemingly incomprehensible, this represented the first-ever outright combination of “Tweezer” and “Slave,” despite the fact that some “Tweezers” have contained “Slave” jams (such a s 12.9.94 and 12.16.99.) And this “Slave” was simply magnificent. Featuring an extended section of serenity before the any beat truly began, when the band finally set sail into calm waters, Trey hit a note and held it….and continued to hold it. The band progressed like magic beneath him, as Page’s piano filled in the lead melody in a frozen moment of euphoria. Trey came off his sustain with a spine-tingling lick, and the entire band listened to each other impeccably, knitting an exalting quilt of majesty. This sequence represented a quintessential Phish odyssey, moving from dark groove to a spiritual peak, and anything the band chose to play afterwards was mere gravy.
The three-song run of “Bouncin,” Possum,” and “Number Line” combined some old Phish anthems with a new one, as the band chose, once again, to leave their modern jam vehicle at bay. Inexplicably playing their second, second-set “Number Line” of the weekend, and doing little creative with either, Phish seems to have backed off the song’s potential after Blossom’s best-ever version. The upbeat vibe of the second half of the set continued with leg one’s final rendition of “Hood” in a month that has contained more than a few outstanding versions. Led by Mike and Trey’s cohesive guitar interplay, and accented by Page’s piano lines, the band moved through a mellower, more noodly build before Trey peaked the song relatively quickly after shifting tones. Another solid outing capped a month that rejuvenated the band’s classic piece. As Page carried out his piano lines through “Hood’s” peak, a “Loving Cup” encore became imminent. Closing the show with a shot of high-energy that now brings sunny memories of Festival 8 each time out, Phish played to the Saturday night crowd with a feel-good recital in the second half of the set.
In a move that is now like clockwork, Phish opened their Saturday night second set with “Rock and Roll” for the fourth consecutive time this tour. Only breaking form momentarily, there was no “Alpharetta Jam,” as the band awkwardly cut the song for an out-of-place “Prince Caspian.” Without any real improv to lead into the fictitious anthem, “Caspian,” though played quite-well, felt completely premature in a set that had yet to go anywhere. But when the band took up its aforementioned outro, the story of the second set really got started.
With only one stone left unturned in the path of summer’s opening road, everyone can wholeheartedly agree that the band is eons ahead of where they were just one year ago. As we embark on the band’s third-ever July 4th party, and the first in ten years, there is so much to celebrate in present state of Phish. And as the band prepares to combine a tour-closer with a holiday show, tonight is shaping up to be another in the long line of iconic Phish shows.
Happy 4th of July to all!
I: Character Zero, Destiny Unbound, Rift, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Bathtub Gin, Mountains in the Mist, NICU, Gumbo, My Sweet One, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Strange Design, Sanity, Run Like an Antelope
II: Rock and Roll > Prince Caspian, Tweezer > Slave to the Traffic Light, Bouncing Around the Room, Possum, Backwards Down the Number Line, Harry Hood > Loving Cup
E: Sleeping Monkey, Tweezer Reprise