Phish returned to the BB&T Pavilion last night to finish up their three-night run in Camden, NJ. The show marked a high point of the band’s 2019 Summer tour, as they offered up two sets filled with old-school songs, and locked-in, full-band improvisation. For the first time this year, Phish eschewed the newer Kasvot Växt and Ghosts of the Forest material in favor of classic songs from the band’s ever-growing playbook. To put it bluntly, last night’s show was the show Phish fans have been waiting for this year, the show that makes it all worth it, the one that justifies touring the country in search of the next great moment in the band’s storied history. For many fans, last night’s finale at the BB&T Pavilion was that moment.
Before the show started, Phish’s soundcheck created much intrigue, as they worked through some of the rarest and beloved songs in their catalog. All-in-all, the band practiced Round Room epic “Pebbles & Marbles”, “Most Events Aren’t Planned” from Page McConnell’s side project Vida Blue, A Picture Of Nectar favorite “The Mango Song”, and three songs from guitarist Trey Anastasio‘s rock opera Gamehendge: “Tela”, and “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” > “Fly Famous Mockingbird”. The Phish scene was buzzing as this information spread through the community. When all was said and done, they had performed five of the seven songs that they practiced at their afternoon soundcheck.
Phish started things off with a classic take on “The Curtain With”. The strong rendition served as a message of the band’s intentions for the evening. After getting through the intensity composition of “The Curtain” and it’s accompanying “With” segment, Anastasio started up the beautiful Rift ballad “Fast Enough For You” played for the first time in 82 shows. “Buried Alive” came next, a rare appearance for the song outside of the show’s opening slot. Perhaps the excitement got to Anastasio, as he flubbed the song’s first notes, but he recovered to lead the band through a high-energy version. The oldies continued with “Camel Walk”, with Page McConnell’s leading the pack on his organ. While the song was short-and-sweet, the band latched on to a rhythmic pattern that they each took turns trading off as they worked through the fan-favorite.
Phish then moved to “Reba” for the first time since their Bonnaroo performance. Each change in the four-part structure was instituted by Jon Fishman on drum pad, who liberally used his gong effect during throughout the show. The complex composition was delivered with mastery, including a rare appearance by the song’s whistling final stanza. A rocking version of “Sample in a Jar” followed, and it’s easy to see fans enjoying the song again now that the band is playing it a little less. This was a particularly strong version of the track, and it served as the finale of part one of the first set.
Following “Sample”, Anastasio motioned to his guitar tech at the side of the stage, who brought out another Languedoc guitar that he switched to for the aforementioned rarity “Pebbles and Marbles”. The song had not appeared in 71 shows, and has only been performed 20 times total since its debut in 2003. While this was a shorter version with no improvisation to speak of, the composition was performed with skill and precision, showing that their rehearsal during soundcheck had paid off. Their pre-show work continued to pay off with “Tela”, as the band seemed to play the song’s difficult composed section with confidence before dissolving into a fun rendition of “The Mango Song”.
Anastasio put a capo on his guitar to alter the tuning before busting out “Driver” for only the third time since 2013. Following the heartfelt ballad, Phish turned to one of thier oldest and most dynamic songs, “David Bowie”. The nearly-twelve-minute-version closed out the set with a bang, as Phish put an exclamation mark on a mostly-incredible first set.
Set two kicked off with a raging version of the Trey Anastasio Band jam-vehicle, “Mr. Completely”. The song has only been played by Phish five times ever, and this impressive version stretched past seventeen minutes long. The Vermont outfit moved through several different segments, taking this way out into Type II territory early and often. Finally, they went back into “Mr. Completely” to finish the song’s final verse, and then slowly dissolved into the Joy rocker, “Twenty Years Later”. One of the most interesting and adventurous versions of this song to-date, Phish pulled no punches here, taking the song past twenty-minutes with more top-notch Type II improvisation. Fishman was on fire throughout, pushing the band into new territories. The intense jam transformed into a truly blissful moment, that that built nicely and peaked just before a surprise transition into another old-school favorite, the punk/metal joke track, “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars”, which featured an “Ass Handed” tease from Fishman.
After the hard-rocking “BBFCFM”, “Tweezer” finally emerged and continued the band’s focused jamming. While “Tweezer” didn’t reach the lengths of “Mr. Completely” and “Twenty Years Later”, it packed a similar punch, with a thirteen-minute version that featured plenty of balls-to-the-wall improvisation. Anastasio was on fire, leading the band to a fiery peak that seemed to last for several minutes. “Tweezer” led into “Shade”, which seems to be in regular rotation for the first time since its debut in 2015. The short ballad was followed by another song from the soundcheck, the multi-sectional funk rocker, “Most Events Aren’t Planned”.
Phish kept the oldies coming with a quick take on “Makisupa Policeman”, which saw Anastasio call out bassist Mike Gordon for a bass solo, which led into some short full-band improv, highlighted by Fishman’s focus on his new electronic drum pad. After the reggae break, Phish closed out the awesome second set with “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Suzy Greenberg”, two of the more high-energy classics from the band’s catalog.
For the encore, Phish kept the energy up as Anastasio played the familiar rhythmic introduction to “Punch You in the Eye”. The crowd went wild when they heard what was coming, screaming with delight as the song started in earnest, as it was the first appearance of “PYITE” in the encore slot since 1998. Following a great version of the live favorite, Phish added another surprise with “What’s The Use”, the lone track that remains in rotation from the band’s revered instrumental album, “The Siket Disc”. This marked the first-ever appearance of “What’s The Use?” in an encore.
While “Tweezer” typically precedes a “Tweezer Reprise”, that was not the case on this evening, as Phish leaned on the blues rager “Julius” instead. While “Tweeprise” would have been a nice touch here, “Julius” certainly fit here, offering the band one more opportunity to rock out before the show came to a close.
While last night’s show wasn’t a “perfect” show (what is a perfect show, anyway?), it certainly checked off lots of boxes for the band and fans alike. The show featured several bust outs, multiple moments of incredible improvisation, and an overall focus on the earlier portion of the band’s career; what more could Phish fans ask for?
Next up for Phish is a two night run at Saratoga Springs, NY’s Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 2nd and 3rd. For a full list of Phish’s upcoming tour dates and ticketing information, head to the band’s website.
Setlist: Phish | BB&T Pavilion | Camden, NJ | 6/30/2019
Set One: The Curtain With > Fast Enough for You > Buried Alive > Camel Walk, Reba > Sample in a Jar, Pebbles and Marbles, Tela > The Mango Song, Driver > David Bowie
Set Two: Mr. Completely > Twenty Years Later > Big Black Furry Creature from Mars > Tweezer > Shade > Most Events Aren’t Planned, Makisupa Policeman > Chalk Dust Torture > Suzy Greenberg
Encore: Punch You in the Eye > What’s the Use? > Julius