After what turned out to be an extremely fun Thursday night in Las Vegas, ticketless fans scrambled to make their way into the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday for the second of Phish’s four-night Halloween run. While the speculation is usually reserved for Halloween night, the band’s “Backwards Down The Number Line” show indicated that something novel could happen at any moment.
Speaking of novelty, the band opened the show with two songs that, before last night, have graced setlists only once since the mid-90s. “Olivia’s Pool”, the song that eventually transformed into what we now call “Shafty”, got things started with its breezy, 1950’s style straight-ahead rock and roll. I can’t help but think the lyric “You’ll just go on an oblivious fool” is aimed straight at us as we try to decipher clues from red herrings on our way to incorrectly guessing what this band is going to do tonight, Sunday night, or any night, really.
Phish – “Olivia’s Pool” – 10/29/21
“Axilla Part II”, played at Shoreline Amphitheater on 8/31/21 for the first time since New Year’s Eve 1995, landed in the second slot. The dark, drippy outro gave way to an unexpected psychedelic extension that wandered through some dark hallways before the band found their footing and dove into one of the best jams of the evening. The 21-minutes of multi-sectioned improvisation were bookended by guitarist Trey Anastasio’s line “Don’t shine that thing in my face man” prompting lighting director Chris Kuroda to shut off the stage lights, letting the end of the song drift to its conclusion.
Phish – “Axilla (Part II)” [Pro-Shot] – 10/29/21
“Mike’s Song”, known for its charging darkness, went the other way early. After some searching that contained “Martian Monster” teases, a light, bouncy major key jam followed before the band seamlessly pivoted to its traditional finish. A brief, quiet pause preceded a nearly flawless “I Am Hydrogen” before drummer Jon Fishman kicked into “Weekapaug Groove.” This “Weekapaug” strayed a bit far from home, eschewing the typical, fast-paced bounce for some minor-key, Type II tension and release momentum before wrapping up.
A solid pass through “Shade” followed the traditional “Mike’s Groove” before giving way to the Page McConnell-penned “I’ve Always Wanted It This Way”. The synth-heavy Big Boat tune contained brief teases of “Who Knows” (Band of Gypsys) and “There Is A Mountain” (Donovan) by Trey before launching into a massive, screaming, set-closing rage-a-thon that built to an incredible peak. Oh to be in the room when Phish does stuff like that.
By now, we know that for this Fall Tour the first set is the new second set. But it’s not just about song selection and placement. It’s about how they’re digging into these first set songs. The band used to reserve for second sets an attitude and posture that we’re now seeing for entire shows. And it’s not just the band. Chris Kuroda’s first set approach also feels very second set-ish. They aren’t wasting any time.
Jon Fishman’s short but catchy, power-chord-heavy “Ass-handed” opened the second frame. It seemed as if the band, for the first time ever, was going to stretch this one, but the jam quickly segued into a faster-than-usual “Tweezer.” Early on, Trey and Mike locked into a fun little musical conversation, mirroring each other’s licks, with Page dancing on top and Fishman supporting the foundation underneath. This jam stayed in the major key for the first half, with Page leaning heavily on his Wurlitzer, which always keeps things light.
As Trey moved through his effects, and Page landed on his synths, the tone shifted into the groovy, sparse, atmospheric murk they’ve explored so much this year. While they searched for a solid motif they could rally around, the jam never really soared and instead transitioned into the bluesy rocker “Funky Bitch”, a song not found in a second set since 9/25/2000. Trey gave this one some extra juice and brought it to an absolute guitar-rock fever pitch that felt like it was meant to close the set.
A nicely executed “Reba” followed and though it felt oddly placed, the first ambitious composition of the night worked perfectly. The band felt particularly connected from the start of the improvisation and they effortlessly ascended to its beautiful peak before properly concluding with whistling, some more “Little Squirrel” patter, and lyrics from “Ass Handed”.
Like the “Tweezer” that preceded it, “Sand” kicked in at a faster pace and with less relaxed energy than we’re used to hearing. Slow and groovy was abandoned for swift and charging. After Trey teased the aforementioned “Tweezer”, he and Page floated on top of the rhythm section before modulating to a major key. Once they went major, Fishman and Mike broke from the form and a nice little jam followed before Trey brought everyone back into “Tweezer”.
While it felt like they transitioned into “Tweezer” so they could put a bow on it, they took this one back out for a quick spin before segueing into what would become a big, albeit short, “Sigma Oasis”.
“Walk Away” followed, making its 2021 debut. The way Phish performs the James Gang song makes it feel designed to close big rock shows. Page digs in with big octaves on the piano and the three-chord vamp sets up Trey to step out front and annihilate the sustain on his guitar, building the tension until it explodes, which of course it does. It was a fantastic conclusion to yet another great set from the band.
Proving they still respect the traditional encore, Phish came out for their curtain call with the gospel rocker “Julius”. It was a high-energy, fast-paced rock show from top to bottom, and the “Tweezer Reprise” closer was a perfect cap to the night.
Phish – “Julius” > “Tweezer Reprise” – Las Vegas, NV – 10/29/21
Did Phish give anything away last night that would tip us to their Halloween plans? Is “Little Squirrel” repeatedly popping up just to distract us? Was the “Who Knows” tease an actual tease? Are we looking for breadcrumbs where there aren’t any? It’s all hard to say. But what isn’t hard to say is that Phish continues to deliver night after night. And if anyone scrambling to get into the show tonight actually made their way into the building, they were handsomely rewarded for that effort.
Click below to revisit Live For Live Music‘s full coverage of Phish fall tour 2021 including photos, videos, and concert recaps. For more information on upcoming Phish tour dates, head here.
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 – Recap
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
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 | MGM Grand Garden Arena | Las Vegas, NV | 10/29/21
Set One: Olivia’s Pool, Axilla (Part II) > Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Shade, I Always Wanted It This Way
Set Two: Ass Handed > Tweezer > Funky Bitch, Reba, Sand -> Tweezer -> Sigma Oasis > Walk Away
Encore: Julius > Tweezer Reprise
Trey and Mike quoted Little Squirrel throughout the first set (after Olivia’s Pool, and during Axilla and Weekapaug Groove), and during the final vocal chorus of Reba. After Olivia’s Pool, Trey also did a Little Squirrel call-and-response with the audience. Trey teased Martian Monster in Mike’s Song and There Is a Mountain and Who Knows in I Always Wanted It This Way. Reba contained an Ass Handed quote by Trey in the final vocal chorus. Trey teased Tweezer during Sand.