Phish returned to Santa Barbara Bowl in Santa Barbara, CA on Tuesday for the last show before the band’s tour-closing, four-night Halloween run in Las Vegas later this week.
The amphitheater presented some stark differences from the rest of the stops on this brief tour. In addition to its 4,500-person capacity—a fraction of the size of the rest of the fall tour venues—the stage infrastructure ensured that Chris Kuroda‘s “marionette” light rig remained fixed in place throughout the night (a la Deer Creek). The venue enforces a strict 10 p.m. curfew, prompting the band to start just after 6:20 p.m., two hours earlier than the last several shows. In doing so, Phish gave west coast fans a taste of something not often seen on this tour: the last wisps of a California sunset.
A teetering, delay-fueled, 20-minute take on Round Room keepsake “Pebbles and Marbles” got the show started, marking the song’s first-ever appearance in the show-opening slot. Every part of that sentence may have sounded surprising in the past, but after a tour defined by both its inversion of typical setlist orders and its early-show improvisation, this unprecedented start felt like par for the course.
After some contrastingly lovely “things on my mind” refrains from Mike Gordon around the jam’s increasingly frantic 17-minute mark, drummer Jon Fishman simplified the beat, shifted cadences, and guided the group into the playful reggae ditty, “Makisupa Policeman”.
Trey Anastasio was clearly excited about the prospect for silliness here, offering up two separate “keywords” to throw solos to Page McConnell on the clavinet and Gordon on bass. Following an easy-going “vocal jam,” Trey and Mike embarked on what seemed to be a rehearsed snippet of dialogue masquerading as a rhythmic device.
Trey: “Hello.” Mike: “Hi.” Trey: “How are you?” Mike: “Good”. Trey: “I hope have a good time.” Mike: “Thanks.” After a few runs through that script, the crowd readily stepped into the Mike role, answering Trey’s queries for some humorous call and response. It’s new, but it’s old… File that away for later.
Yet another unusual reading of an old favorite song followed as Anastasio sang the lyrics to “Sample In A Jar” in a higher-than-usual register—and acknowledged that fact with some amusing vocal ad-libs—before McConnell pushed the typically by-the-book tune out into a spacious improv section.
Without pause, the band slipped from there into the Trey quarantine tune “The Silver Light”—a.k.a. the “playing toilet paper and hand sanitizer” song—for its first flash with Phish. The satisfying “Halley’s Comet” that followed featured an “Oye Como Va” interpolation, girthy synths, and plenty of ripping rock riffs from Anastasio over a rock-solid Fishman beat before the band dialed back the hysteria and glided into a delicate “Mountains In The Mist”.
Gordon original “Mull”, debuted earlier this year in Nashville, made its third-ever appearance next. The funky tune stretched out to more than nine minutes in length here, moving through guitar-led, white-light peaks, gurgling, synth-heavy valleys, and shades of Saturday’s “NICU”-fest in Chula Vista. Finally, a patiently surging “Set Your Soul Free” jam brought the first set to a close.
Set two moved frequently into ambient improvisational territory. From the dissonant harmonic motion and probing electric piano on “Blaze On” to the arhythmic flutters of “Beneath a Sea of Stars Pt. 1” to the toiling treachery produced by “46 Days”, melodic narratives stepped aside early on in favor of densely crafted soundscapes.
The funk began to coalesce from the ether once again as “46 Days” moved into New Orleans export “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley”. Playing the foil to the preceding “46 Days”, “Sally” retained her bouncing beat after three straight numbers rooted largely in rhythmically free-form improv.
Mike Gordon led the way on a fun, melodic vocal jam before setting the groove off and running with one of the more impressive grooves of the night. Sensing his hot hand, Gordon continued to lead the charge with a distinctly “Thriller”-like bass line, which soon enticed Trey to play along.
Cascading, delay-assisted guitar riffs, and some particularly stunning lights kept the crowd’s attention as Trey performed some sleight of hand, snatching “Weekapaug Groove” out of thin air without breaking stride. As some may recall, this is not the first time this year that “Weekapaug” has appeared without its perennial partner, “Mike’s Song”. When it happened at the first show of 2021 in Arkansas, however, the band seemed to be leaning into what amounted to an accidental segue. In Santa Barbara, the no-“Mike’s” “Weekapaug” was clearly a conscious decision—yet another chance to keep the setlist nerds on their toes.
“Weekapaug” quickly got interesting as Trey peppered in shout-outs to “Sally” before firing back up the “Makisupa” call and response—Trey: “Hello.” Mike: “Hi.” Trey: “How are you?” Mike: “Good”. Trey: “I hope you have a good time.” Mike: “Thanks.” The crowd soon joined in yet again. Just your regular old Phish hi-jinx? A clue about Halloween? A “hit in the head with a pan“-style red herring?
[UPDATE]: OG nerds and internet sleuths have since noted that these call and response passages were actually pulled from an obscure, proto-Phish project, Bivouac Jaun. While the 1983 demo—recorded by Anastasio, keyboardist/lyricist Tom Marshall, percussionist Marc Daubert, and others—was never widely circulated, several of its tracks went on to be included on The White Tape, widely considered to be the first Phish “album.” The demo’s final track is “Little Squirrel“, less of a “song” than a silly, tripped-out, audio greeting card. While it’s is not much to listen to, its “lyrics” can be heard as clear as day: “Hello. How are you? We hope you have a good time.” After a tour full of rare live readings of obscure, old recorded songs, this nod to “Little Squirrel” and Bivouac Jaun may be the oldest, most obscure bust-out of the bunch.
This unique “Groove” continued to surprise as it morphed briefly into “Piper”, allowing Trey the ability to include the red, red worm in his vocal ad-libs while the band drifted back to “Weekapaug” and into a dark, descending progression: “Piper, Sally, both of you, we hope you have a good time.”
“That wasn’t bad,” Trey laughed as the band took its first mid-set pause of the night, acknowledging the unusual nature of the rendition. Ghosts of the Forest rocker “About to Run” was up next, starting soft and soothing before diving into distortion. Increasingly common Hoist ballad “If I Could” followed, offering a showcase for Page’s grand piano, before a full-bore “Sigma Oasis” rife with effects, ad-libs, and screaming Trey riffs closed the set.
After topping off “Sigma Oasis” with a “First Tube”-style “Jedi” guitar-feedback moment, Trey summed up the evening’s sentiments with due simplicity. “Thank you, everybody,” he smiled. “We hope you had a good time.”
Perhaps it’s a testament to the thoroughly unusual nature of this show that a four-song encore featuring a Michael Scott-approved “Fuck Your Face” > “Meatstick” combo, oft-sought Gamehendge classic “The Lizards”, and newer-vintage closer “A Life Beyond The Dream” felt more like an afterthought than a highlight.
Loose and creative throughout the night, Phish seemed to prioritize the act of experimentation over its eventual results in Santa Barbara. The merits of the resulting music are a matter of opinion, but the implication is undeniable: on the precipice of a four-night Halloween run in Las Vegas, Trey, Mike, Page and Fish are set on challenging their own conventions. Expect the unexpected.
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 | Santa Barbara Bowl | Santa Barbara, CA | 10/26/21
Set One: Pebbles and Marbles -> Makisupa Policeman > Sample in a Jar > The Silver Light > Halley’s Comet > Mountains in the Mist, Mull > Set Your Soul Free
Set Two: Blaze On, Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 > 46 Days > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove > About to Run, If I Could > Sigma Oasis
Encore: Fuck Your Face > Meatstick > The Lizards > A Life Beyond The Dream
 Phish debut.
 featuring “Little Squirrel” (Bivouac Jaun) call and response lyric quotes
Pebbles and Marbles and Sample in a jar were unfinished. This was the Phish debut of The Silver Light. Halley’s Comet had an Oye Como Va jam. Blaze on had a lyric change to “We’ll be dancing at the Bowl.” Weekapug had a Piper jam.