Tonight is Phish’s sixth show in as many nights, and the third of those to be given the special treatment with an official Live Phish release. The first “Axilla” of the month starts off the show in high-energy fashion, and is followed by an early “Possum.” I’ve been generally impressed with the band’s playing in “Possum” throughout this entire year, but tonight’s may be one of the best of the bunch. Trey’s solo starts at 2:55 and is initially quiet and jazzy. Trey takes the opportunity to stretch out and builds the energy patiently. The band goes sideways through a couple of increasingly intense tension/release builds starting at 6:40, leading into an an anarchic breakdown about a minute later. Trey comes roaring back at 8:00 with a celebratory solo before the band breaks the jam down again a minute later for a stop/start sequence. The band starts to wrap up the song at 11:00, but adds a weird outro jam to the end of the song after the composed ending. This dissonant outro jam, complete with whistling, gradually disintegrates into “Horn.” The band largely stays within the “Possum” structure during this jam, but they certainly bend that structure about as far as they can. This is an exciting and improvisational “Possum” that is encouraging sign of what the rest of the evening may have in store.
“Horn” is song three, and works well here as a relaxing, through-composed landing pad from the musical workout of “Possum.” The band keeps rolling after “Horn,” moving straight into a near-20-minute “Reba” (the longest “Reba” of the year so far). The “Reba” jam begins at 6:10, and instead of typical “Reba” pleasantness, the band adds some dissonance with chromatic runs from Page, Trey, and Mike. This leads into a downright menacing, chordal build at 8:00. The band starts to coalesce around a swaggering, upbeat rock groove by 8:30 that finally dissipates into a mellow, “Reba”-esque jam a minute later. This quickly builds into a blissful Trey solo, which becomes pure ‘hose’ by 11:30. After riding out this incredible peak, the band breaks the jam back down into a pleasant “Reba” groove at 13:00. Some more typical “Reba”-style soloing leads into another euphoric peak at 15:00, punctuated by ferocious trilling from Trey. The jam segment comes to an end at 16:15. As with “Possum,” the band adds an outro jam to “Reba,” as Page leads the band through a transition from the end of “Reba” into the beginning of “Sparkle.” This is a wonderful “Reba”; the jam begins with more experimentation than one would usually find in a “Reba” jam, and it then proceeds to build to several, incredible peaks.
“Sparkle” serves as a mid-set breather, before the band jumps into “Foam.” “Foam” is a bit extended tonight; both Page and Trey take their time with their solos. The band also adds some extra dynamism, breaking the song down to near-silence by 9:00 before building back up to the song’s ending. “I Didn’t Know” provides a brief moment of levity before “Split Open and Melt” starts up as the penultimate song of the set. The “Melt” jam is underway by 4:15 with standard “Melt” riffing from Trey. An intense and dissonant chordal build begins at 5:00, before the jam starts to air out at 7:00. The band is searching for where to take the jam next at this point, and as in “Reba,” the start to coalesce around a swaggering, somewhat upbeat groove. The band sticks with this somewhat funky groove for the next couple minutes, going through a couple rounds of ‘Hey Hole’ jamming. Trey starts to introduce the “Melt” progression back into the jam at about 9:30, and the band slowly and smoothly transitions back into the song’s ending.
“Melt” has been having a very hot month, and while I found this “Melt” enjoyable, it didn’t wow me as much as some of the other monster August “Melts,” like the wooly Toronto “Melt” or the unexpectedly-blissful performance from a couple nights ago. That said, this is a fun and gooey “Melt” that does a good job anchoring the end of the set. A pleasant “Squirming Coil” ends a long, almost-90-minute first set.
Tonight’s first set continues the trend of the band including substantial improvisation in set one. The first set “Stash” from last night was the longest jam of the night, and the same goes for tonight’s revelatory “Reba.” “Reba” is the must-listen, take-away moment of the set, but both the beginning and end of the set feature highlights as well, with “Possum” and “Melt” both making fine showings tonight. These improvisational highlights aside, this set also features a good setlist flow and great playing from everyone in the band. A very good first set, all said.
“Mike’s Song” opens the second set. Over the course of this month, Phish has started to explore and improvise as much in “Mike’s” as they usually do in “Weekapaug,” and tonight’s “Mike’s” continues that trend. It takes the band about a minute to gel during the song’s intro, but once the first verse starts they sound locked in. The jam begins at 3:05. After the initial bass groove, Trey jumps in at 3:55 with a melodic solo. Trey’s quick solo leads into the first round of ending chords at 5:20 and a second jam at 5:40. Trey initially leads this second jam with melodic, upbeat riffing, which the rest of the band picks up on. This evolves into moves into major-key chording at 7:00 that reaches for the light. The jam begins to air out, and Trey begins playing blissful, descending lines. There’s great interplay between Mike and Trey here as the energy begins to build back up. The jam crashes back into darker, more familiar “Mike’s” territory at 10:00, and is firmly within the song’s progression by 11:20. A final, thrilling solo from Trey brings the band back into the final set of end chords at 12:20. Feedback after the song’s end serves as an ambient bridge into the Mike’s Groove-anchoring “Faht.”
“Faht” did not do much for me during its other appearances this tour, but the song’s placement here works as a relaxing and psychedelic interlude between big jams in both “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug Groove” (as the band continues to ignore “I Am Hydrogen”). The band jumps right back into the improvisational deep-end with the “Weekapaug” jam, which starts at 1:05. Trey leads the jam initially with typical-“Weekapaug” soloing, and Mike throws a particularly funky filter on his bass at 2:30. Trey’s fretwork throughout this set so far has been fantastic, which makes this initial, Trey-led segment of the “Weekapaug” jam a delight to listen to. Trey starts to settle on a rocking chord progression, and starts trading fours with Fishman at 3:55. Fishman takes complete advantage of this solo opportunity to deliver some very impressive fills. Fish’s solo sequence ends with Trey launching back into soloing at 5:00.
The jam begins to break down about a minute after Trey began his second solo, and the band begins to search for new ideas. The band lands on a bar-room rag sound at 8:45, which gradually evolves into an upbeat, rocking groove. An intense build at 11:00 darkens the mood of the jam, before the band starts to disperse and the jam begins to air out. There’s extensive “Possum” quoting at 11:55, and I thought for a moment the band might go into a full reprise of that earlier-played song. Instead, a blissful, chordal build led by Trey brings the band back into “Weekapaug” territory. The band is firmly back into the groove of “Weekapaug” by 14:30, and ends the song a minute later.
This is another excellent, highly improvisational Mike’s Groove with lots of quality jamming spread across the 30+ minute sequence. I prefer the “Mike’s Song” slightly, as the jam felt more focused and had a greater sense of direction, while the “Weekapaug” felt a little more haphazard in its evolution. The segment as a whole, however, is very satisfying. “Mound” is a welcome compositional reprieve from the non-stop improv of the Mike’s Groove, and carries the momentum of the set well. “It’s Ice” is next, and sounds very well-played tonight. Page dominates the ‘underwater’ segment of “Ice” again tonight, and delivers an awesome solo right in the middle of the song. This sequence is only about a minute long, but it elevates this “Ice” above a standard performance.
Trey picks up his acoustic for the intro to a mid-set “My Friend, My Friend,” which rounds out the duo of largely through-composed Rift songs. The furious tempo that characterized some of the early summer tour shows reappears at the end of this set, as the band blazes through both “Poor Heart” and “Big Ball Jam.” “Take the ‘A’ Train” makes its first appearance of tour and only third of the year as the penultimate song of the set. Despite the absence, the band sounds tight in this song. “‘A’ Train” works well as a mellow bridge between the high-energy of “Poor Heart”/”BBJ” and the set-ending “Good Times Bad Times.” Trey’s playing has been impressive all night, so “GT,BT” is a great choice as a set-closer to give him one more opportunity to shred. Shred he does, as he leads the band through a surprisingly dissonant passage at the beginning of his solo before building the song to a strong peak. A snappy encore pairing of “Amazing Grace” (performed without microphones) and “Rocky Top” sends the crowd home for the night.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the first time I award consecutive shows a 5/5 rating comes right in the middle of this vaunted month in Phish history. But I feel the praise is deserved: it’s hard to find any flaw with either set of this show. The band’s playing is rock-solid throughout (except perhaps the first minute of “Mike’s Song”), the improvisation in both sets (particularly in “Reba” and “Mike’s”) is adventurous and contains big pay-offs for the listener, and even songs that are typically more standard, like “Possum” and “It’s Ice,” shine tonight. This “Reba” deserves to be on everyone’s must-listen list, but this show as a whole is also absolutely worth a listen. It’s truly wild that the band sounds this great on the sixth night in a row of playing. The endurance and stamina the band must have developed during the intense touring schedule of the winter/spring tour is clearly paying off.
- Show rating: 5/5
- Highlights: “Possum,” “Reba,” “Split Open and Melt,” “Mike’s Song > Faht > Weekapaug Groove“
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 86 mins.
- Second set length: 70 mins.
- Encore length: 5 mins.
- This is the second and last time Phish performed at the American Theater. They last performed here on 4/14/93. Trey Anastasio Band performed here on 5/7/99.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Take the ‘A’ Train,” returning after a thirty-one show absence (5/5/93).
- The best represented studio album is Rift (5 songs).