Phish continued a lengthy summer tour on Saturday night with the band’s first of two weekend shows at the famed Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. The venue has played host to Phish a total of 19 times in the past, including an opening set for Santana 30 years ago in 1992 and a memorable “Tweezerfest” back in 2014. With such a storied resume, MPP has certainly earned its place in the heart of the Phish summer experience.

Mike Gordon got the Saturday show moving, tapping out the alternating bass riff of the funky fan-favorite, “Sand”. After the verses, the band modulated to an uplifting and exploratory jam session powered by a passionate Trey Anastasio guitar solo. The segment stretched for a few minutes before Trey pulled the group back into the main “Sand” riff and ended the song. Talk about coming out of the gate running!

Next up was Hoist ballad “If I Could”, replete with subtle harmonies and haunting melodies. A lower-energy choice to be sure, but the band played through the pleasant song with ease. As “If I Could” faded out, drummer Jon Fishman hit the opening drum beat of the instrumental “Buried Alive”, instantly whirling the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

With the energy surging once again, Trey segued the end of “Buried Alive” straight into the 3.0 era rocker, “Set Your Soul Free”. The guitarist led the initial charge on the jam, ripping through bluesy tones as Page McConnell led counterpoint on the electric piano. Page eventually switched to the organ as the jam continued, ultimately settling into a funky, rhythmic foundation. After a few minutes in the pocket, Trey introduced a major-key melody that ushered in a new, uplifting segment of the cosmic exploration. The band spent time building up the momentum in the jam, crescendoing in an all-out groove-fest powered by Fish’s drumming and echoing guitar melodies.

 

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Some 16 minutes into the “Set Your Soul Free” jamFishman who, 16 minutes into the “Soul Free” jam, Fishman hammered out the opening to the Phish classic, “Llama”. Going the route of a classic, blistering pace rather than the circa-2015 “Slow Llama” variant, this version fired on all cylinders, peaking with fervor on a quick jam before winding into its “taboot” ending and giving the band and fans their first break in quite a while.

Page McConnell took the lead on the next song, Fuego ballad “Halfway to the Moon”. The song slowed things down after the high-energy run, though the band slyly slipped from the song’s ending into a driving, rhythmic medley. Amidst the funk, Trey introduced Phish catalog oddity “Shafty”, more a riff and verse than a full song. Played only a handful of times in the band’s career, “Shafty”, complete with lyrics about hell on Earth set to a heavy backdrop, is often up to interpretation by setlist enthusiasts. While LivePhish noted this as a “Shafty” on the setlist, Phish.net has it labeled as a “tease,” likely due to the fact that the band never actually dropped into the natural key signature of the song.

Phish – “Halfway To The Moon” > “Shafty” [Pro-Shot] – 7/30/22

Nevertheless, the set carried forward as Phish ended the “Halfway Shafty” jam and slipped into a cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter #23”. The song was popularized by The Brothers Johnson and first introduced to the Phish catalog on Strawberry donut night of the band’s 13-night Baker’s Dozen run at MSG five summers ago. This was a noteworthy rendition that veered from the song’s structure and into a tight, four-to-the-floor jam session. Locked-in and grooving, Phish kept the fans dancing through this short but sweet segment.

 

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Trey then led the band into the next song, picking out the opening notes of the Gamehendgeian masterpiece, “The Lizards”. Always a fan favorite, this was a mostly well-played version that stayed true to its familiar form to tie a bow on a great, eight-song set of music.

Phish – “The Lizards” – 7/30/22

[Video: Bryan Strong]

After the break, Phish returned and, perhaps intentionally, Trey teased the string-scraping opening riff of “Punch You In The Eye”. Just as that opener pick seemed all but certain, the band instead broke into “First Tube”. The instrumental is non-stop, high-energy from start to finish. Trey bounced around on stage as he strummed the song’s anthemic power chords and lofted his guitar overhead at the song’s conclusion in customary fashion, a feedback-laden homage to rock’s greats.

As latent distortion rang from the amplifiers, Page hit the opening chords of “Fuego” and, before long, tens of thousands of Phish fans were chanting along to the song’s refrain. Phish quickly departed the song’s composed sections with a soaring jam led by Trey’s lifting guitar melodies and Page’s powerful grand piano. As Fish slowed the tempo, Page transferred to the electric piano, opening up the jam into more exploratory territory. Oscillating between atonal and harmonious melodies, the band launched the second set into the cosmos for a few minutes, illuminated from above by Chris Kuroda and Andrew Giffin‘s glorious lights. The deep jam continued as Trey and Fish found a bluesy rock groove. Page returned to the grand piano and eventually to the Hammond organ as Mike hammered out a heavy, ascending bass progression and Trey shredded emphatically. The tight rock n’ roll jam reached its psychedelic peak before Fish slowed the tempo, allowing the jam to fade naturally.

Nearly 19 minutes after the song began, Trey formally ended “Fuego” by segueing into the guitar riff intro of “Sigma Oasis”. The band extended this song as well, flirting with a bright and lighthearted segment offered plenty of intrigue despite not reaching the exploratory heights of the version played last weekend in Hartford. The four musicians stayed in this dreamy space for an extended period until Trey strummed the chords of “Prince Caspian” to move the setlist along. The band floated upon the waves here, playing a short jam that continued the dreamy themes that had emerged from “Sigma Oasis”.

The watery ambiance continued as Phish wound the jam into the 2.0-era song “Waves”. The band launched into a brief, uplifting jam before returning to the chorus and ending the song. It was Trey who strummed the two-chord opening of the next song, “Meatstick”. The beloved song and dance routine initially stayed true to form, but the band actually opened up this version of “Meatstick” and fell into a tight, rhythmic groove.

Trey eventually found the opening notes to “Simple” within this grooving tangent, bringing the band along with him for this whimsical staple of the catalog. Saxscrapers abounded as Phish launched into another short but sweet jam that soared at its high points but strongly but, at this late-second-set position, never truly had the chance to go into deeper territory.

Instead, the band continued by segueing into a classic one-two punch of “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” > “Suzy Greenberg”. The charming “Oh Kee Pa” instrumental always builds up the energy in the room, and the “Suzy” pairing never fails to bring the house down. This version was highlighted by an energetic piano solo from Page and, of course, Fish’s vocal outbursts. “Suzy” would ultimately mark the end of the second set.

Following the brief pause, Phish returned to the stage to open Saturday’s encore with another classic pairing, “Alumni Blues” > “Letter to Jimmy Page” > “Alumni Blues”. The classic Phish earworm instantly got the crowd dancing along and featured a great electric piano solo from Page early on and a really nice guitar solo from Trey near the “I’m alright” coda. Notably, “Alumni Blues” hadn’t been played in an encore since 1999. On a cool, breezy night following a brutal run of high-temperature shows, fans seemed to rejoice at having “a degree” in hand rather than 90+ degrees on the thermometer.

As “Alumni” ended, the band immediately launched into “Character Zero” for its third appearance of the summer. The uptempo rocker would ultimately close out the set as Trey treated fans to one final shred-fest on the lead guitar—a great exclamation point at the back end of an energetic encore and performance.

Phish walked off the stage after “Zero” having played a top-notch opening night at Merriweather Post. With a standout “Fuego” and fan favorites like “The Lizards” and “Meatstick”, it’s hard to imagine what this band can do to top it when they return to the stage Sunday night for round two. Expect the unexpected…

To order your LivePhish webcast for any of the band’s upcoming summer shows, head here. To sign up for a free trial membership to LivePhish+ and listen to the whole summer 2022 tour and more, head here. For a full list of upcoming Phish shows, head here.

Following Phish’s Sunday tour-ending Dick’s Sporting Goods Park performance, an all-star amalgamation of funk players will keep the party going at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom for The Phunk Sessions featuring members of John Mayer‘s touring band, LettuceDumpstaphunk, and more [get tickets].

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Setlist [via Phish.net]: Phish | Merriweather Post Pavilion | Columbia, MD | 7/30/22

Set One: Sand, If I Could, Buried Alive > Set Your Soul Free > Llama, Halfway to the Moon, Strawberry Letter 23 -> The Lizards

Set Two: First Tube > Fuego > Sigma Oasis > Prince Caspian > Waves > Meatstick -> Simple > The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg

Encore: Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues > Character Zero

The jam out of Halfway to the Moon contained Shafty lyrics from Trey and teases from Trey and Mike. Mike teased Miss You (Rolling Stones) in Strawberry Letter 23 and Flash Light in Character Zero.