A Hershey’s Kiss

Hersheypark Stadium [Rene Huemer via Phish]

It was one of those nights. As if lifted from a fantasy, Phish played an impeccable show from start to finish dropping two sets drenched with improv that were each experiences unto themselves. It is very rare that the band comes out from note one and never lets up for the duration of an entire concert, but that is exactly what happened in Hershey tonight. Perfection is elusive in any human endeavor, especially one with so many variables as live improvisational music, but dare I say, that show was perfect.

It did not take long to realize that Phish meant business tonight. The opener of “You Sexy Thing” set the tone, but what delivered the message loud and clear was the astounding run of jams that followed. Significant takes on “Wombat,” “Free,” and “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” set up the unquestionable highlight of the first half in “Halley’s Comet.” “Halley’s” jams have become the white whale of the modern era, and tonight Phish dropped an all-timer, easily the most significant version in over two decades. The jam did not take long to launch into uncharted waters, as the entire band cohered in an incredible groove session that smoothly modulated into a blissful plane and absolutely took off in some of the most gorgeous and spiritually uplifting music of the summer.

The band followed up this extraordinary excursion with the debut of Trey’s “Lonley Trip,” a song I immediately fell in love with when it was released during the pandemic. I couldn’t wait for Phish to incorporate it into their repertoire and it, frankly, it was amazing. The delicate and introspective ballad worked especially well juxtaposed with the uptempo improv that surrounded it. The non-stop set concluded with on point versions of “Jibboo,” “Meat,” and “Maze,” which bled into a brief reprise of “You Sexy Thing.” When the band finally came up for air, the set was over and the crowd was left astonished at what had just gone down. And the story of the night had only half been told.

A colossal version of “Birds of a Feather” anchored the first half of set two in which Trey put on a jaw-dropping clinic in guitar tone. As if Merlin paging through an endless tome of guitar sorcery, Trey led this jam with playing that progressed through a myriad of mesmerizing sounds. Page complimented Trey’s outstanding work by weaving in his own arsenal of sonic color while Mike simultaneously synced up with both of them offering dynamic, shape-shifting bass lines. Fishman’s intricate rhythms gave the jam a breakbeat vibe which kept the intensity cranked up for its duration, completing the equation of a thoroughly experimental Phish jam.

Following an interlude of “Bug,” the second half of the set ignited with a fully locked “Light” jam that saw the band playing off each other subconsciously, moving as a single entity through a passage that seemed bound for big things. Instead, however, Trey opted to layer the “Party Time” lyrics over the groove in what has become a common segue over the past several years. The vibe stayed high as the band concluded this sequence and dropped into “Ruby Waves.”

Phish capped the night’s improv with a patiently building, emotionally reflective and rhythmically shimmering version of the “Ghosts of the Forest” crossover. Trey brought this piece to a climactic and rolling peak with emotive guitar theatrics that tied a bow on an astounding night of Phish jamming. “Chalkdust” would provide the cherry on top of a spectacular set of music.

During the encore of “Show of Life,” I was flooded with awe, surrounded by an extended crew of friends filling the spacious dance floor. It is peak nights like these, in which every aspect of the experience falls into place, that makes me step back and truly appreciate the the path we have traveled over so many years. I am eternally grateful that we have all found each other in this time, place and dimension and have been able to share in something so special for so long. It is like nothing else I know, and I can’t imagine life without it.

I. You Sexy Thing, Wombat, Free, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Halley’s Comet > Lonely Trip, Gotta Jibboo, Meat, Maze

II. Theme From the Bottom, Birds of a Feather, Bug, Light -> Party Time > Ruby Waves > Chalk Dust Torture

E. Show of Life, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

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