“You’re going to Atlantic City again? To see that same band you saw two nights ago?” It’s a fair point, and without getting into hours of philosophical lectures with this person, as a fan, sometimes you have to ask yourself that same question. Why do I have to go see this band again?
But then you get to the venue, you see the people you intended to see, and some you didn’t, and the collective energy ripples through the entire crowd, and to the empty stage, and back again. By the time the lights go down, maybe you are seeing the show with a new friend. This happened to me on Friday night, I met two new people who I spent the whole show with. And they were back on Sunday, same spot, same donut-themed fan to keep everyone cool, same enthusiasm and energy. And I got to introduce them to my wife and other friends. Here we are, again.
You could say that there’s a “thing” with Phish and Sunday shows, to put it mildly. With the end of the first leg of the tour, there was an “anything can happen” feel in the air. Opening with The Landlady (sixth time played since the beginning of 3.0) reinforced this tone. I thought that the song hadn’t been played in forever, but it turns out I saw the last one in Mexico in 2020. Does anyone even remember February 2020?
The playing of only the Scents and Subtle Sounds intro shows, to me, that they’re paying attention to the setlists, and possibly to what people are hearing and not hearing. Dropping into an unfinished, truly jammed out Moma Dance set the tone for the rest of the show. They were in no hurry, and the Jedi switch was turned to “on.” I was surprised how groovy The Final Hurrah got, maybe this is the best jam vehicle of that whole group of songs?
With Mike's Song going almost ten minutes, this first set was starting to feel like a second set. A pure “Mike’s Groove” was the perfect set of tunes. (Side note: My wife loves Divided Sky and I told her it was somewhat to very likely that they’d play it, and at every song break in the first set I was hoping for it, including being sandwiched between Mike’s Song and Weekapaug Groove. Damn.) The song selection toward the end of this tour has just been fantastic.
We got our first The Sloth since 2019, and the Roggae was another perfect song for the setting. A lot of the first set songs were eight to ten minutes, just enough time for them to take a song out, stretch a little bit, let it settle, and then bring it home. This version had Trey using his effects to keep it going, but without a real peak. It was a very consistent set of music, without losing momentum. I thought they’d save You Enjoy Myself for the encore, but as a first set closer, it’s the best way to send fans into a setbreak out of breath and in need of more.
Instead, we get a hot Carini, the third of the tour. The reliability of the jam vehicle out of this song is just truly impressive. I thought the improv here was similar to what we heard in set one: a little laid back, but still driving, lots of effects, and not losing any of the intensity. As this tour has evolved, it’s becoming clear to me that Page and Trey have both achieved a balance of using the new gear / effects, so that the jams still lean in that direction (the “psychedelic soup” as I’ve been calling it), but then you still get a lot of Trey playing with a regular tone and Page on piano, like in the bliss section around six minutes into this Carini.
This 15 minutes of Carini has a lot packed in, and I think you’re seeing the band at their most powerful when they can achieve in 15 minutes the same thing they can achieve in 30 minutes. The Set Your Soul Free, at about 10 minutes, had a similar “microjam” tucked in there, and the Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 was the quietest that I’d heard them be all weekend. The raucousness of the entire Atlantic City boardwalk scene, contrasted with 35,000 people all silently appreciating the moment with this song was a touching moment.
This segued into another patient build into Piper, which ventured back into Carini, before running through both Waves and Simple. I’d argue that they were searching for something there in the second set, but it all flowed well and the songs were well placed. About to Run features Trey at his most Hendrix-like, and I thought this growling, intense shredding, with a fantastic peak, would lead us to the end of the set.
But instead we get a First Tube to finish, with all of us jumping up and down with no end in sight. It seemed like they didn’t want the weekend to end either.
The Fluffhead > Backwards Down the Number Line was 24 minutes of pure enjoyment, for me, and for everyone else there. This BDTNL was particularly celebratory, as a cap to this weekend and to the first leg of this tour. With all my friends, there were (masked) hugs galore … isn’t that what it’s all about?
Oh boy, is this guy now going to tell me that I should like Backwards Down The Number Line because it’s about friendship and shit? Not exactly, but sort of. Hear me out.
I spent the weekend with friends old and new, my wife and my business partner, my neighbors and people I've grooved with at shows for a decade or more. This song was played, I think, in celebration of that. If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that it’s a thrill (albeit a little nerve wracking) to get back to those things that we got so used to in “normal life.” It’s clear the band feels it too. We all felt it this weekend, and those who go to shows over the next few weeks will undoubtedly feel it too.
Trey talks frequently about how the band members are closer now than they’ve ever been before. The band has also talked a lot about the community that exists between the band and the audience, and how that relationship has evolved over the years—through celebration and heartbreak, through a lot of ups and downs. And then there are the fans. Lifelong friendships and relationships made because of this band, because of these shows.
I saw someone tweet a picture this week of people they met in Hershey, it said “Met this awesome family Hershey N1. We partied together every night through AC. Epic times with new friends for life.” With what other band can that be expected to happen?
You probably know the story of how BDTNL came to be, and if you don’t, check out Alive Again episode 3, Liquid Time, to hear Trey and Tom talk about it.
At moments like these, at the end of a big weekend, you realize how lucky we are as fans to have this music, to have this community. And I was grateful to be back at a show, experiencing the same things that we have been experiencing for 25 years or more. As Trey said right before the encore, “this was just magical.” It is—”with eyes wide open, somewhere in between the past and future, where you drift in time, you can see a different point of view.”
Now, with the first leg of the tour wrapped up, we have 11 days to listen back and debate meaningless things about the shows, like possibly settling once and for all whether Llama or Slow Llama is the real champion of the llama-verse. Stay safe out there, friends, and for you West Coast fans, you have some real beautiful stuff coming your way. Take care of each other, and enjoy it.
The author, RJ Bee, is the CEO of Osiris Media.
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