Following an 18-year hiatus, Phish returned to Phoenix, Arizona for a one-off, Friday night performance at the Ak-Chin Pavilion. Formerly known as the Desert Sky Pavilion, the 20,000-person amphitheater was filled with fans eagerly awaiting the band’s triumphant return to the Grand Canyon State. At least, that’s how it seemed from the couch.
The band dove into a groovy and bluesy rendition of “Julius”—a song normally reserved for set closings and encores—to open the show. Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell traded solos after the verses, building up the energy in the room as the band’s rhythm section of Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman held tight in the pocket. They stayed in the pocket as the band settled into a patient and funky “Martian Monster”. The Chilling, Thrilling tune started in its typical, minor-key groove, highlighted by Page’s synth playing, but pivoted after a few minutes into a brighter, piano-forward space.
Phish – “Julius” – 10/22/21
[Video: Eric Nelson]
It was Trey who led the major key “Monster” improvisation into the opening riff of “Soul Planet”, the singalong that ushered fans into the year 2018, which may as well have been an eternity ago. After the song’s opening verses, the band broke into a fast-paced jam section punctuated by Fish’s quick work on the cymbals. The extended exploratory segment gave Chris Kuroda an opportunity to shine as the band flowed through distinct melodic themes—some lighter, some darker, some faster, some slower. The jam was 19 minutes in all and is definitely worth a listen if you haven’t had the chance.
The end of “Soul Planet” segued neatly into the opening notes of “My Friend, My Friend”. Phish stayed largely by-the-book throughout that song and the next one, “Bouncing Around the Room”, two long-time staples of the catalog. “Scent of a Mule” followed, the first Mike Gordon-penned song of the evening; it was highlighted by Page’s piano playing with light accompaniment from Trey in the mid-section.
The fans were then treated to a rendition of the Big Boat song “More” as the band vibrated with love and light throughout the upbeat number. About an hour into the first set, the band pulled out the funky fan-favorite, “Ghost”. There has been something of an expect-the-unexpected pace to the setlist orders on this fall tour, and the late first set “Ghost” jam was a prime example of that. This was a big and bold end-of-set jam that topped off at about 12 minutes before dipping back into the verse and ending with a hybrid “Julius”/”Ghost” melody to close out the set.
Phish – “Ghost” [Pro-Shot] – 10/22/21
After the break, Phish returned with the first cover of the night, an enthusiastic rendition of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Loving Cup”. A quick scroll through the archives reveals that this was the first time “Loving Cup” was played as a second set opener since 1994! Next up was “Mike’s Song”, highlighted by some exploratory guitar playing from Trey that led the band into “I Am Hydrogen” and, from there, through to the natural conclusion of “Weekapaug Groove”.
It was Gordo and Fish who kept up the light and bouncy pace of “Weekapaug” throughout the jam, driving forward and giving Trey the space to open up and build some tension-and-release melodies. Sigma Oasis track “Everything’s Right” followed as Trey emphatically ensured the crowd that everything was, indeed, gonna be all right. After a few minutes into the improvisational section, it became evident that this was poised to be the stand-out, worth-the-price-of-admission jam of the evening. Funky, spacey, triumphant, melodic—all adjectives that crossed my mind throughout the 26-minute number.
Eventually, the band slowed down the tempo, giving Trey room to strum the opening chords of “A Life Beyond The Dream”. The pretty Ghosts of the Forest tune was perhaps the only slow-down moment of the second set, which continued with the second cover of the night: “Cities” by Talking Heads. The funky, clavinet-heavy tune is always a welcomed addition to a setlist, and this was no exception.
It was Fishman that began the final song of the set, hitting the drum roll that opens “Harry Hood”. The band weaved through the artful composition and launched into a memorable jam section that swirled with tension before reaching its jubilant conclusion. A feel-good (about Hood) moment to end the second set.
“Suzy Greenberg” and “Cavern” took the encore spots, back-to-back high-energy rockers that left the crowd grooving and, with any luck, taking care of their shoes. “Cavern” had a playful drum break moment, giving Fishman and the band one last hurrah to usher in the end of the show. It took Phish eighteen years to make its way back to Arizona, but they certainly made the wait worthwhile as they delivered a setlist packed with great songs both new and old, and a couple of extended jams that highlighted the performance.
Phish – “Suzy Greenberg” – 10/22/21
[Video: Eric Nelson]
While it hasn’t quite been 18 years for me, I just wanted to thank L4LM and AOB for letting me write up my first show in a few years. An honorable mention to my dad, the “Jamfather,” for watching the show with me and texting me things like “awesome segue” and “A-plus here.” This type of commentary is, of course, invaluable.
Listen to a full audio recording of the show via LivePhish.
Click below to revisit Live For Live Music‘s full coverage of Phish fall tour 2021 including photos, videos, and concert recaps.
Phish Fall Tour 2021 Recaps
10/15/21 Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA – Recap
10/16/21 Chase Center, San Francisco, CA – Recap
10/17/21 Chase Center, San Francisco, CA – Recap
10/19/21 Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR – Recap
10/20/21 Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR – Recap
10/22/21 Ak-Chin Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ
10/23/21 NICU Amphitheatre, Chula Vista, CA – Recap
10/24/21 The Forum, Inglewood, CA – Recap
10/26/21 Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA – Recap
10/28 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV – Recap
10/29 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV – Upcoming
10/30 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV – Upcoming
10/31 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV – Upcoming
Setlist [via phish.net]: Phish | Ak-Chin Pavilion | Phoenix, AZ | 10/22/21
Set One: Julius, Martian Monster, Soul Planet > My Friend, My Friend > Bouncing Around the Room, Scent of a Mule, More > Ghost
Set Two: Loving Cup > Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove > Everything’s Right > A Life Beyond The Dream, Cities > Harry Hood
Encore: Suzy Greenberg, Cavern