Philly. Bethel. Hartford. Jones Beach. Raleigh. MPP. Blossom! AC night one! This tour has been incredibly consistent, with few dips and many many peaks. The tour is picking up steam, and AC1 showed that they have no intention of slowing down. Relentless is the one word that comes to mind. The ballads are few and far between, most perfectly placed, the jams continue to evolve and show no signs of stalling out. And on the jams—they've finally optimized the synthesizer toys between Trey, Mike and Page, and Trey has perfected his tone, which is pushing them to innovate. They're pushing each other, and instead of a basic pattern that relies on building bliss peaks, we're getting noise rock, ambient space jazz, a mix of good and evil—new, different sounds. What every Phish fan is looking for.
But it can't possibly last, can it? Fishman, fueled by an experimental jet propulsion technology, must need a tune up at some point. Trey's shoes must need to be replaced. Does Mike have enough neon outfits? Page's sandwich supply must be dwindling. Like helicopter parents, fans are constantly pushing Phish to do more, to keep it up, to continue to deliver. But like my colleague Megan wrote, "It’s their own fault though, they keep delivering so we keep expecting it."
All this weighs heavily on our minds as we saunter in to AC2. From my vantage point, there are tens of thousands of people out there, as far as the eye can see. The preshow talk around me isn't really about discussing what songs might be played. Phish's greatest trick of 2021-2022 is that they've scared us out of making predictions. They love putting us in a precarious place, pushing us back on our heels, and they've done it once again. Any song can be jammed, anytime. Want to make a prediction about what's going to be played, what's going to jam? Good luck.
At the start of the show, it seemed as if this would finally be a cool-down show. "46 Days" into "The Moma Dance" starts it out with a pretty basic blues > funk combo. But then we get the 9th ever "Olivia's Pool." Sometimes we wonder with Phish, as we debate minutia like whether that was a tease or a performance or a quote or something else, are we screaming into the void? But after "Shafty"-gate, we are once again reminded, like Big Brother himself, they're always watching and listening. The set finally peaks with a stellar "Bathtub Gin," one of the songs that you probably would have predicted correctly for last night. Trey is using the loops to build his own textures, with the band catching on and pushing it further. Oh, another 17-minute, driving, energetic Gin? Ho hum.
Collective confusion settles over the crowd as they start "Heavy Rotation." We have a side conversation with a stranger about this being a Page song from his self-titled album from 2007. Only the second time played, first time since 2015. But instead of a basic run through, we get a jam! Only a few minutes, a microjam, if you will, but a jam nonetheless. "Character Zero" will surely close out the set, right? Not this Phish. A blistering "Moonage Daydream" sends us into setbreak wondering what they can do next.
"No Men" comes out of the gate firing. This is the fifth performance of the tour, and the second in three days. Unlike previous tours where digging deep into the song book was the goal, this is a tour where repeats are acceptable, encouraged, maybe required. I don't think anyone's complaining. Are you? If so, just realize that this consistency is allowing them to push the sonic frontiers. One of the things that's standing out to me about these jams is that the effects, particularly Trey's, have been dialed back pretty significantly. About halfway through this jam, we get Trey pushing a clean, repetitive riff, using his sustain, before going to the synthesizer effects. But where these effects stood out, and were a little jarring, in 2021, Mike and Page have adjusted as well, so once we go in this direction, we get a swampy space rock, instead of a fart noise into the ether. This is the main development in Phish's 2022 jamming that I hear pushing them through.
Is it possible that I'd get my third "Tweezer" in 18 days? I actually thought that this "No Men" was going further. The breakdown around 14 minutes would be a typical place for a jam to go into something else, but in this tour, Fishman often refuses to concede and pushes straight through. He is relentless, showing no signs of letting up. How does he physically do this? It makes no sense. At any rate, a slight major key refrain offers an opportunity to step into the freezer. This is my favorite song. This is my favorite moment at a Phish show. The crowd's as well. I was on the sand at this point, attempting my karate chop / Soul Train combo, my feet sinking further and further down. But at 17 minutes, we get another mix of space rock, funk, bliss building, with a bar band blues peak that dissolves into "Set Your Soul Free" after a revisiting of the main "Tweezer" riff. The second in five shows, Phish is playing what they want, what makes them comfortable, and what brings us more. No repeats? Overrated.
This takes us into more celebratory territory, but again reminiscent of a bar band building a peak for a small crowd. Not for tens of thousands on a beach. What a beautiful thing. Not giving into the urge to cool down, Trey and Fish lead us into "Simple." Remember in '94-'96, when "Simple" was a euphoric, calming, serene space? Like many things in life, it's more complicated now. In this 12 minutes, we get some staccato playing from Trey and Mike, with Page on the piano, which again brings a sound different from what we've heard tonight. We're in a contemplative place, but that moves slowlly into what we remember from the old days—some gentle, blissful playing. But only for a minute, as they go back into this space rock blues. They want to scare us, just a little.
You got "Number Line"'d? I'm sorry you had to hear one of your favorite musicians play one of his favorite songs™. A late second-set "Golgi" (more common these days), with a weird little fugue in the middle, leads us into a beautiful "Slave," perfectly matching the scenery and the feeling of satisfaction. "A Life Beyond The Dream" and "Tweezer Reprise" cap off another solid night of Phish.
Can it keep going forward? Can these four almost 60 year old guys continue to push themselves, and us, to higher and higher levels? Can they melt our faces again and again? When do they rest? Do they rest? Are they even human? Because of the strength of this tour, I've been wrongly predicting some nonsensical narration / wacky antics, but night after night, they just keep focusing on delivering great shows to us.
Phish is playing with house money. And all of this makes today's Sunday show an extremely exciting prospect.
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