Phish returned to the scene of the crime on Sunday to close out the band’s two-night run at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, GA. The performance came as only the band’s fourth since the pandemic began in March 2020, following the return show in Arkansas on Wednesday, a one-nighter in Alabama on Friday, and night one at Alpharetta on Saturday.
As Phish continues to get back into the groove of touring—along with the rest of us—there’s a clear progression of relaxation onstage with each passing show. Sunday once again saw the band lower its shoulders, take a breath, and ease the tension throughout the 16-limbed musical muscle that is Phish.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) August 2, 2021
Following a brief rain delay, the band shot straight out of a cannon on Sunday with a “Buried Alive” opener. Not particularly renowned for its improvisational possibilities, the foreboding rocker instead rang the bell to announce that Phish had arrived prior to a segue into “Set Your Soul Free”. This telling of the reliable 3.0 jam vehicle kept it in first gear, delivering pleasant, surface-level jams.
The first highlight came as Phish began the introduction to “Reba”, which was met by a roaring cheer that was likely heard across the Peach State. The flowing jam—though not of particularly notable length or content—was successful in breaking down yet another layer of the pandemic-induced emotional ectoplasm in which we are all submerged. It was in that sublime composition that we all took one step closer to feeling just like old times.
With energy continuing to mount through the first set, Phish opted to direct the flow into the darkness by signaling the intro to “My Friend, My Friend”. Though this was the first time that evening Phish experimented with the dark elements, it would be far from the last.
Taking the mic for “555”, bassist Mike Gordon continued to dance flirtatiously with the phenomenon known as “evil Phish” while the rest of the band followed in step with the bass-driven jam. A push-pull of energy ensued as Trey Anastasio took the reins back for a “Kill Devil Falls” which, despite the titular reference to Satan, kept things light with the sing-along tune.
Though it appeared that Trey was shielding us from anything too frightening, “KDF” saw the guitarist do a complete 180 as he pulled an almost abrupt crash back into evil Phish. All the while, Page McConnell added minor flourishes from his grand piano as the eternal struggle for good and evil made its way into “Gotta Jibboo”. It was here that another one of Phish’s myriad musical moods emerged as the jam opened up into the first foray into spacey territory of the evening. Trey built out a cosmic structure that ultimately paid off in a sizable peak before a segue into “Sparkle” finished the three-song trio of transitions.
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Following a brief conference with the esteemed Jon Fishman—during which it was revealed that the drummer cannot, in fact, read lips—Phish performed the first “Thread” since the song was released on the 2020 studio album, Sigma Oasis. Though the track had been debuted live on 7/16/17, this latest version (the first since 7/16/19 at Fenway Park) seemed to find the band with more clearly defined intentions for the song. As was displayed last night, the track has great potential as a jam vehicle and also fit perfectly in step with the shadowy vibrations that permeated through many of the jams. Though the song finds Trey singing “You’re alone” over and over, for some reason, I didn’t believe him last night.
The effects-laden “Thread” jam eventually wound down into the start-stop funk of “Meat” where the band truly clicked together with a loose and layered vocal performance. Phish made it clear throughout “Meat” that they had nowhere to get off to in a hurry—and that they were there to have some fun, just like the rest of us. Case in point: the many Fishman “YEAH” samples that dotted the jam, continuing to cement the deep-voiced affirmation as the young tour’s unofficial tagline.
Unfortunately, that nonchalance didn’t completely transition over into the set-closing “Run Like An Antelope” which, despite hitting a few potholes on its way through the song’s composed parts, successfully shifted into high gear for its mighty, trademark peak.
The main event, so to speak, came during the second set, which opened up with a “More” that set the tone of joyful reunion for the frame of music to come. That joy soon bubbled over into absolute ecstasy as Trey fired off the incendiary opening riff to “Tweezer”, prompting an uproar from the crowd that made the cheering in response to “Reba” in the first set sound like a yawn.
Phish – “Tweezer” – Alpharetta, GA – 8/1/21
Beyond being the band’s most reliable of vehicles, this marked the first “Tweezer” since 2/22/20, a gap almost as unfathomable as the band’s forced 17-month hiatus. Like all the rest of us, Phish had plenty of pent-up energy that brewed throughout the pandemic and, like the rest of us, decided to let it all loose during “Tweezer”. The song ultimately clocked in at more than 33 minutes in length, becoming the fourth-longest jam since the band returned to the stage in 2009, joining the esteemed company of the Alpine Valley “Ruby Waves”, the 2019 Madison Square Garden “Tweezer”, and the 2013 Tahoe “Tweezer”. Length is just a number, of course, and not an indicator of greatness. The 8/1/21 “Tweezer”, however, packed as much power, creativity, and master group improvisation prowess as any great Phish jam throughout its extensive runtime.
Like all of those champion jams that came before it, the Alpharetta “Tweezer” was broken up into numerous distinct sections. Following the scripted portion of the program, “Tweezer” got spacey—like all the best of them do—as Trey, Mike, Jon, Page, and even Chris Kuroda explored the sonic (and visual) elements in the search of a strong musical foundation. It was Trey who laid down some crucial groundwork as he built up a low rumble, while Gordo added his own slinky bass licks to the brew. Across the stage, McConnell and Gordo soon locked into sync as the keyboardist connected Mike’s riffs with his own ingredients from the clavinet and Wurlitzer. The musical conversation enveloped the whole band as Trey lead the group through a call-and-response jam.
In an inside-baseball homage, Mike offered up the bassline for “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters”, to which Trey responded with a tease of “Esther”—a callback to the days when Trey was working out the compositions for what would become his senior thesis. This “McGrupp”/”Esther” combo has a name—”Tail Chased, Logic Erased”—as confirmed by Phish stat historian David “ZZYZX” Steinberg and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall. Read the full dive into the obscure piece of Phish history that resurfaced during the Alpharetta “Tweezer” here.
Yes! The title is “Tail Chased, Logic Erased”
— phanTOM™️ (@TomMarshall111) August 2, 2021
As if going through a wormhole, 33 blissful minutes had somehow passed before Trey dropped into the familiar chords of “Twist”. Though a cool-down song would’ve been appropriate—and even necessary for those of us still picking up the pieces of our shattered psyches or dying to hit the bathroom—the band still rode “Twist” out to the outer limits of our planet before bringing it back to one on a dime.
Though the “Piper” that followed didn’t contain the always-sought-after slow build, the band was able to make up for it on the back end with a healthy jam that ultimately drifted into “Farmhouse”. The song provided the much-needed breather after nearly an hour of dense improvisation between “Tweezer”, “Twist”, and “Piper”. A second “breather” followed with “Waste”, though no one could argue with this chance to reflect and appreciate being back and wasting time together.
Sensing the depletion of energy, Fishman dropped into the instantly recognizable rhythm of “First Tube”. This performance marked Phish’s first live offering of the song since Trey Anastasio Band bassist and the song’s co-writer, Tony Markellis, passed away in April. Since then, Trey has also performed the song during a solo acoustic show as well as with Oysterhead at The Peach Music Festival.
The instrumental offering ultimately brought the second set to a close, marking the first stoppage in play since the brief layover between the set-opening “More” and “Tweezer”. Upon returning to the stage, the band started up “Sleeping Monkey”, only to be briefly derailed when Trey offered Page a sweat rag. As the Chairman responded, grinning as he prepared to perform his oft-noted favorite Phish show, “It’s hot.”
With McConnell’s perspiration addressed, the band continued on with the ridiculous encore staple, with Phish ceding to the audience and hearing the roar of 12,000 people singing about putting their monkey on the train. This was followed, of course, by the “Tweezer Reprise” we were waiting for, adding an emphatic punctuation to the end of the evening, the end of the run, and the end of the weekend, and the end of the first chunk of Phish tour dates since 2019.
Phish returns to the stage on Tuesday at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, TN to kick off a two-night run. For a full list of tour dates click here.
Setlist: Phish | Ameris Bank Amphitheatre | Alpharetta, GA | 8/1/21
Set One: Buried Alive > Set Your Soul Free, Reba, My Friend, My Friend, 555, Kill Devil Falls > Gotta Jibboo > Sparkle, Thread, Meat, Run Like an Antelope
Set Two: More, Tweezer > Twist > Piper > Farmhouse > Waste > First Tube
Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
Tweezer contained an Esther tease.