On Friday night in Atlantic City, Phish was at it again. Playing a scalding hot show to follow up Halloween, the band laid it all on the table with a performance defined by a thirty-year confidence and improvisational swagger. On Fall Tour of their 30th Anniversary year, the guys have synced up like never before, playing jams that are plucked from our dreams, and on this night, they dropped a “Twist” for the ages that we will be listening to for the rest of our lives. While the second set opener was certainly the centerpiece of the night, the show was rock solid through both sets, only suffering a minor song-based lull deep in the second. But even these late-set songs popped in a show where Phish slayed every single piece they touched from the first note through the encore—another precious night of music on a Fall Tour that is quickly making history.
One might have understood if the guys had come out with a mellow set after their marathon holiday show, but in fact the opposite happened—they came out en fuego. Kicking off a night with “Cavern,” an unsuspectingly great show opener, Phish sounded like they had never left the stage. The band picked up just where they had left off the night before, and laid into a second-song “Runaway Jim,” in which the guys got funky early on. In the bridge of the song, the band broke down the typically quiet section into a filthy groove, and Trey stepped to the mic with the lyrics from the theme of “Shaft!” Shit was getting dirty and it was only the show’s second song. It was at this juncture that we all knew we were in for another quintessential night of Phish. The band then confirmed this notion by dropping a third-song “Sand!”
Usually when Phish plays “Sand” in the first set, it remains fairly succinct and to the point, but this one would be an aberration from the norm. Stretching out the piece into a scintillating groove fiesta that—momentarily—sounded like it might pop out of form, the band was letting loose on this opening frame with playing that sounded like it belonged after setbreak. Both “Halfway to the Moon” and “Halley’s Comet” were performed with authority, as Trey explained that the former would likely be a track on next year’s album. The band moved into their second consecutive throwdown out of “Halley’s Comet” (the last being Hartford’s “2001”), with a ferocious “Tube” that kept the energy of the room sky high.
The band nodded to its hot first set by playing Los Lobos’ “When the Circus Comes,” a song generally reserved for cooling down after particularly smoking interplay. Bustouts of “Sugar Shack” and “Jesus Left Chicago” preceded a superb “David Bowie” that served at the opening course’s final touch—and what a start it was!
But—Jesus Christ in the foothills—the “Twist” that opened the second set was simply out of this universe. The level of connection and communication displayed by Trey, Mike, Page and Fish was pushed to another dimension as they wove a majestic tale that leapt—immediately (as in before the set ended)—into the annals of Phish history. Like Jordan or LeBron, Phish has routinely transformed their weaknesses into strengths, and after “Twist” had fallen off the improvisational radar in the modern era, the band has brought the song back with a fury on this fall tour. On this night, they wove a quasi-medley of teases in “Twist,” as the band hit on “Banana Pudding” and Trey quoted The Beatles’ “Get Back” early in the jam, while landing in full blown jam on Queen’s “Under Pressure” late in the excursion. But holy shit, what came in between! Reaching a triumphant stride, the band converged on one of the most cathartic passages of music they have ever played. No fucking joke. Weaving magic out of thin air, Phish blasted into a majestic passage that needs to be heard by all to be believed. This was pure hose to the nth degree, and this segment elevated the room to dizzying—literally unbelievable—heights. The band came out of this magnificent section into the “Under Pressure” jam, and once they saw that through, they moved into music that sounded like the spiritual fallout of the explosive jaunt. Allowing the music to take its course, the band meandered in this milieu for some time, almost sounding like they might build back into “Twist’s” ending, but instead came to rest to a monumental ovation.
The band released from “Twist’s” phenomenal excursion by unveiling the first “Jibboo” of Fall Tour, and playing the living daylights out of it. Allowing their audience to get loose to far less cerebral music, everyone appreciated the groovy interlude in order to gather their marbles. Trey must be boning up on his strains, because his pun about smoking OG Kush “under his bush” in “Makisupa” became a running joke for the rest of the show. But first and foremost, the rhyme became the source of a tripped out and layered vocal jam in a heavily improvised version of the song. One could sense another jam vehicle lurking behind this bush, and when the song ended, the guys dropped into “Light.”
Spending a large portion of time juicing the composed jam, the band finally opened things up into some intricate grooves that saw Trey do work on rhythm guitar. This “Light” also featured a third segment that blossomed when the band seeped out of their groove into something more abstract. Patiently building this final segment, they wound their way—kind of abruptly—into “Chalk Dust.” And here’s where things got a tad songy. Trey next called for “Meatstick,” “Boogie On,” and “Wedge,” though the first two selections contained extra improvisational mustard.
Phish closed things out with a gorgeous “Slave to the Traffic Light” that fell somewhere stylistically between Hampton’s refined and delicate version and Hartford’s old-school shredder. And just when everyone was catching their breath and beginning to consider their first post-show move, the guys dropped a jammed out “Sneakin’ Sally” encore—with a reprise of the “Shaft” jam—on our exhausted domes! What a freakin’ treat—and a highlight, taboot.
These nights of Phish that we’ve been experiencing since Glens Falls has brought be back—in feeling—to my youngest days as a fan, teeming with excitement and bursting with enthusiasm. But now that we—as a community—are older and more evolved, these jaw-dropping nights of Phish take on such a greater poignancy. Special would be the understatement of the century; sacred is far more appropriate. And with one night left a Fall Tour that will go down in history, let’s all have a night to remember.
I: Cavern, Runaway Jim*, Sand, Halfway to the Moon, Halley’s Comet, Tube, When the Circus Comes, Sugar Shack, Jesus Just Left Chicago, David Bowie
II: Twist > Gotta Jibboo, Makisupa Policeman, Light -> Chalk Dust Torture, Meatstick, Boogie On Reggae Woman, The Wedge, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley*
*w/ “Shaft” jam