That was a complete fucking blowout. Phish dropped the gauntlet on Sunday night in AC, staging a two-set musical showcase that put a indelible exclamation point on their first tour since Fall 2019. Carrying serious momentum from note one and strewn with improv from start to finish, Sunday night’s show was truly a night to remember. Played with purpose with two beautifully flowing sets of music, the tour closer on the beach illustrated what can happen when all the elements of a show fall into place. This night brought a crescendo to the weekend in in the beach, as Phish appears to be in a superb place as they look towards a brief leg two of summer and a longer fall tour down the road.
The centerpiece of Sunday’s show was the exquisitely flowing fifty-minute suite that kicked off the second set—“Carini > Set Your Soul Free > Beneath a Sea of Stars > Piper -> Carini.” The improv within these jams naturally moved from one to another, covering a vast amount of diverse musical ground. “Carini’s” jam ignited this run with a soaring trajectory, quickly modulating into an uplifting and celebratory plane. The interplay of Trey’s clean, sky-scraping melodies and Page’s triumphant grand piano work led Phish through this promised land. Following its peak, Trey smoothly switched guitar tones, and the rest of the band seamlessly followed him into a more modern section of music characterized by their Summer ’21 sound.
“Set Your Soul Free” featured shreddy, atonal guitar leads laid over a swing beat from Fishman, that created a musical juxtaposition with the mellifluous “Carini” jam. Phish deconstructed the second piece of this improvisational puzzle towards its end, blending its quiet conclusion into “Beneath a Sea of Stars.” Throughout their career, Phish has always been masters at playing to their environment and this selection provided a lustrous example of this phenomenon. The delicate centerpiece of Trey’s “Ghosts of the Forest” project fit perfectly on the beach, and even its lyrics, “The lights are flashing and the waves are crashing” depicted the boardwalk and the ocean that lined the two sides of the venue. This gentle passage provided a mellow interlude in the larger musical statement while keeping the improvisational vibes flowing.
However, the most forward-looking highlight of this extended combination began as Phish melted from “Sea of Stars” into “Piper.” Quickly building out of the song’s lyrical opening, the band crafted a high-intensity excursion into a dark, avant-garde frontier. This piece represents experimental Phish at its finest. Peppered with modern tones from Trey, Mike and Page, the jam was driven by Fishman’s uptempo, crash-cymbal-heavy rhythms. But when he subtly slipped into a groove adding a backbeat to his work, the music transformed into some abstract, psychotic Phish grooves—inject this stuff into my veins! The band wrapped up this musical package when Trey smoothly offered the “Carini” lick into this menacing mixture, and the band smoothly segued back into the set opener, completing a spectacular run of a multi-stage musical drama.
Phish continued with “Waves,” the third ocean-themed song in a row, but arguably added one too many songs to the end of the set, wedging “Simple” and “About to Run” in before “First Tube” closed the frame with vibes on high. Perhaps they could have eliminated “About to Run” and jammed “Waves” into “Simple,” adding a bit more cohesion to the back end of the set, but even as it stood, it was all but perfect.
And nothing could be finer than a “Fluffhead” encore, a choice that encapsulated the feeling of the entire evening.
Once again, the band absolutely crushed the opening set of the show, a trend of which I just can’t get enough. It seemed as though Trey wanted a d0-over for Saturday night’s botched version as he started the intro to “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” but as the song hit a point of transition, he faked everyone out by splashing into “Moma Dance,” immediately electrifying the show. Extending the funk number into an earnest, out-of-structure improvisation, Phish had clearly come to play in their concluding show of tour. “Moma’s” jam segued into “The Final Hurrah, before a nasty, mid-set “Mike’s Song” brought the second legitimate highlight of the night. This trio of songs comprised almost 35 minutes of standout, dance-based Phish‚ and the show had just started. And to close out this monster opening frame—”You Enjoy Myself.” A dead mint first set through and through.
I really hope that this Atlantic City beach party becomes a bi-annual affair, as the set up is just perfect and very hassle free. The sound is great throughout the massive venue and it seems that everyone found a spot that they liked. It really worked out great from all aspects.
And thus concludes leg one of Summer 2021. What a run it has been! When Phish announced this summer tour, I really hoped they would come out with a new sound to their improvisation. I had felt that 2019 had grown somewhat stagnant and they needed some sort of sonic shift to keep things moving forward—and, boy, did they bring one! The band sounds refreshed and rejuvenated from their forced time off and the rest of the year—pandemic provided—looks to contain quite a lot of musical adventure. Phish is back to pushing the envelope with fresh-sounding jams and breaking ground with experimental interplay—and this, my friends, is how we like IT.
I. The Landlady, Scents and Subtle Sounds > The Moma Dance > The Final Hurrah, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, The Sloth, Roggae, Back on the Train, You Enjoy Myself
II. Carini > Set Your Soul Free > Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 > Piper -> Carini, Waves > Simple > About to Run, First Tube
E. Fluffhead, Backwards Down the Number Line