Last night, Phish performed their first of two shows in Alpharetta, GA at the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, a staple for the band’s summer tours over the last decade. That area has become the de facto southeastern home for the band as Atlanta has seen more than its fair share of celebrated Phish shows since the early 90s. The expectations for their performances in this part of the country are always high, but after such a great Friday night in Pelham, AL, fans were expecting fireworks this weekend.
As I mentioned in the Pelham, AL recap, with what’s going on in the world it’s easy to find meaning in the song choices, especially early in the set. The first couple songs of the night were no different.
They got started with “Sand”, yet again acknowledging our post-covid world with the lyrics “If you can heal the symptoms / But not affect the cause / It’s quite a bit like trying to heal a gunshot wound with gauze.” The song didn’t suffer from its slower-than-usual pace, and it felt as though the band picked up right where it left off from the night before as they breezed through nine minutes of relaxed, cohesive jamming before Trey Anastasio brought the band back to the riff.
Another of-the-moment song followed. “Everything’s Right” with Trey singing over and over what we all wanted to hear: “Everything’s right, It’s gonna be all right.” Keyboardist Page McConnell led this one early with some nice work on the Wurlitzer before changing the direction entirely after landing on his synths. Trey picked it up and modulated major before bassist Mike Gordon stepped up to lead as this one clocked in at over 16 minutes in length.
Even with more from drummer Jonathan Fishman’s sampler pad, this was a strong start.
The Kasvot Växt tune “Turtle In The Clouds” had the band take a break from some early jamming and let Mike and Trey do their version of Scandinavian choreography at the front of the stage. As that was ending, Trey yelled out “Maze” to the band and Fishman quickly went into the familiar “Is it Bowie or Maze?” drumbeat. I’ve always loved Trey’s comping here. He locks in so tightly with Page as he solos on the B3. It’s some of my favorite interplay between the guitarist and keyboardist. Does “Maze” ever NOT deliver? This was no exception. Trey and lighting director Chris Kuroda were feeling it and they let everyone in the room know it.
The once epic bust-out but still fun to hear “Destiny Unbound” filled the fifth spot with the most ambitious selection of the tour to follow. Looking back at the last two shows, up to this point the band hadn’t challenged themselves like this. The complicated Junta composition wasn’t flawless, but “Foam” is welcome whenever and wherever it’s delivered.
“Stash” followed and this one had potential to be big. It started dark and stayed dark. Mike, Page, and Fishman connected early in the jam and laid down a chugging, sinister, middle-eastern type rhythm but Trey never got completely comfortable and eventually bailed for the set closer, “Bathtub Gin”.
For this one, the entire band got to ride the wave that is Jon Fishman. He was relentless here and kept pushing his bandmates to the eventual climax of another energetic and fun set.
“Chalk Dust Torture” opened the second set, and at first appeared to be a truncated version of the song but after they returned to the form they opened it back up. This one took a while to develop into anything decisive but not for lack of trying. The band kept modulating and changing the groove, trying to find a section that would launch them into uncharted Type II jam territory. It wasn’t until the 20-minute mark of the almost 27-minute offering that the band and Chris Kuroda really hooked up. Coming at 26:38, this was the second-longest “Chalkdust” ever played by the band. As they finished winding down it eventually gave way to the drippy Meters-esque groove of “Steam”.
Phish – “Chalk Dust Tortue” [Pro-Shot] – Alpharetta, GA – 7/31/21
“Steam” got dirty quickly with our guitar hero digging into some bluesy riffage before wrapping it up on the early side. Before the steam evaporated, Trey launched into the power chords of “Prince Caspian”.
This “Caspian” beckoned Crazy Horse as Trey did his best Neil Young impression. So far this tour I hadn’t heard his tone have so much hair on it. But that raw, toothy guitar was balanced out by some synth-heavy work by Page that took this one to outer space. As the heavy, space-loop outro diminished, Trey called for the band to launch into “Golgi Apparatus”.
Usually reserved for first sets, a surprisingly placed “AC/DC Bag” followed. Since 2009, this was only the third time “AC/DC Bag” has shown up in a second set. And the previous two appearances were as set openers. I was hoping they’d find a way to jam this one, but it was not to be.
After 55 minutes of unrelenting energy, it was time to take a breath with “Shade”. Since the Beacon Jams, I’ve been really impressed with Trey’s singing and that was on full display here.
But that breath was brief. Before anyone could get back from the bathroom, the band kicked into “Mike’s Song”. The rather short version segued into “Silent In The Morning” without the usual “Horse” preceding it. The band has often struggled with “Silent In The Morning” in the last decade, but this version, though not without a couple hiccups, was fairly solid.
To end the set, Trey strummed the opening chords to “Weekapaug Groove” only to quickly back off and let Mike do what Mike does. Trey smiled and danced around as the bassist slapped the song’s introduction under the spotlight. Though fun, energetic and bouncy, “Weekapaug”, like the last handful of songs of the set, didn’t go anywhere it hasn’t gone before.
Maybe the most important and appropriate message of the night came during the Ghosts Of The Forest “A Life Beyond The Dream” encore as Trey urged us, “Don’t give up hope.” Before retiring for the night, the band gave the audience one more chance to dance with “Cavern” complete with Fishman’s sampler on full display.
The Alpharetta opener marked the second night in a row with a 20+minute jam. Has that ever happened before? I’d have to guess that’s a first. The band seems as excited to be back as we are to have them and they’re going for something special every time they’re on stage.
Setlist: Phish | Ameris Bank Amphitheatre | Alpharetta, GA | 7/31/21
Set One: Sand, Everything’s Right, Turtle in the Clouds, Maze, Destiny Unbound, Foam, Stash, Bathtub Gin
Set Two: Chalk Dust Torture > Steam > Prince Caspian > Golgi Apparatus > AC/DC Bag > Shade > Mike’s Song > Silent in the Morning > Weekapaug Groove
Encore: A Life Beyond The Dream, Cavern
Chalk Dust Torture included a Fire (Ohio Players) tease from Trey and was unfinished. Trey teased Waves in Steam.