On Tuesday, after months of buildup, Phish hit the 3,500-capacity The Met Philadelphia for their special celebration of Phish Radio presented by SiriusXM/Pandora. Since the show’s announcement in late October, the Phish fanbase has buzzed about this massive underplay at the smallest venue the band has played in two decades.
First and foremost, the Phish at the Met Philly chatter surrounded how fans could get in the door. Unlike most shows, no tickets were sold for this event. Instead, SiriusXM subscribers were prompted to enter a series of email raffles or call in to Phish Radio to attempt to get through to program hosts Ari Fink and Jonathan Schwartz for their on-air “Met Drops”—a task that quickly proved easier said than done as nonstop calls tied up SiriusXM phone lines and eager callers even began spilling over to other Sirius stations’ numbers with their hopeful outreach.
Many outspoken fans online decried the exclusivity of this performance, though it’s worth noting that several hundred ticketless hopefuls wound up gaining entry via a standby line (90% of getting in is showing up, after all). While the show was not webcast (and will not be hosted after the fact) by the band’s normal live streaming platform, LivePhish, SiriusXM Phish Radio made sure the masses could still follow along with a free live broadcast of the performance including pre- and post-show color commentary, fan interviews, and more.
Nobody knew quite what to expect upon arriving at the venue, but fans were pleased to find a well-orchestrated system to help get the show on the road. At noon, a line of “Winners” began to form on North Broad Street. One by one, all of the evening’s attendees made their way inside the lobby of the venue to receive their tickets and bracelet (you needed both to get in) and a laminate (which served more as a keepsake than an actual credential). Attentive attendees could even catch a few notes of the band’s ongoing encore as they passed through (they were working the kinks out of “Drift While You’re Sleeping” when we grabbed ours).
Tickets in hand, the crowd dispersed to find libations before returning en masse at 6 p.m. to begin filling the beautiful room. As fans filed in, it quickly became clear that the merits of this venue for a Phish show went well beyond its comparatively intimate size. With its classic, early-1900s design and efficient, intuitive modern venue updates, The Met Philadelphia provided both a timeless atmosphere and a seamless fan experience for this special performance.
[Photo: Andrew Blackstein]
The Metropolitan Opera House was built in 1908 by the well-known theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein I—the grandfather of the famed musical librettist Oscar Hammerstein II of the critically acclaimed composing duo, Rodgers and Hammerstein. While the venue was used as an opera house until 1934, the new renovation marks the latest evolution for the historic building, which has also been used as a movie theater, a ballroom, a sports venue, and a church in the past. Since reopening after its upgrade in early December of 2018, the venue has become the premier destination for touring acts making their way through the City of Brotherly Love.
After picking up their free posters (as advertised, there was one for everyone), attendees made their way to their seats to await the show’s 8 p.m. start time and take in room’s many visually stunning facets, from the gold leaf that adorned the space above the stage to the tiered balconies climbing either side of the space like ivy to the spectacular, snowflake-like chandelier that seemed to float below the cavernous ceiling. A quick scan of the crowd put to rest another widespread fan suspicion about this show—that it would be filled with corporate guests rather than real fans. Make no mistake: While the odd newcomer dotted the crowd, the venue was not packed with stodgy corporate aristocrats polishing their monocles and thumbing their noses at the ticketless masses. The vast majority of the audience was comprised of diehard fans who were ecstatically grateful to be in attendance for this momentous occasion.
Just before 8:00, the crowd erupted into its first howl of the night as the low-handing chandelier rose to the ceiling, signaling that the show was about to begin. On schedule, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell, and Jon Fishman strode onstage to a chorus of cheers. The process of getting in the door was now behind us, and the fun part was about to begin…
Considering all the unusual logistical aspects of the event, fans couldn’t help but wonder how the extraneous circumstances might affect the actual show. As we made our way to Philly earlier that afternoon, we pondered how the performance might go down. Would the band go above and beyond for their Phish Radio celebration, or would this “special show” go the way of the proverbial, stigma-plagued, vanilla “festival set?” We joked that it wouldn’t take more than one song to tell if Phish was “serious” about the Met performance.
Sure enough, the first song was a telling response to that hypothesis: Rather than picking up their instruments, the band members made their way straight to the front of the stage for a show-opening, a cappella rendition of “Hello My Baby”, the first Phish appearance by the classic Tin Pan Alley a cappella since 6/18/09, a gap of 417 shows. From there, the band donned their instruments to start the show in earnest with another tone-setting, statement-making song choice: the always-welcome “Tweezer”.
As the band worked through the A Picture of Nectar classic, fans took note of the pared-down light rig being used for the performance. The sprawling, marionette-like rig with which we’ve become familiar was left in the truck for the Met show (it would have looked garish and out of place over such a small stage, anyway). Instead, Chris Kuroda piloted a tasteful, streamlined setup that consciously kept the focus on the band and this unusually intimate locale.
After a few minutes of patient improvisation, the band guided the “Tweezer” jam into “Free”, perhaps a nod to the cost of admission for the fans in attendance (and those listening to the complimentary broadcast on SiriusXM). Mike Gordon, in particular, stood out on this one as his spring-loaded bass framework helped guide the Type I jam toward a towering peak.
Following a quick pause, the band dove into “The Moma Dance”. An airtight Fishman backbeat set the tone on the funky Story of the Ghost vamp as McConnell explored various tones on his organ. The crowd responded quickly to the energy behind this “Moma” as pockets of revelers broke into cheers of approval all around the venue. Trey excitedly bounced side to side as he guided the quartet toward a transition—back into “Tweezer”, despite Page’s apparent efforts to take the “Tweeprise” fork in that road. Yep, it was going to be one of those shows…
The second “Tweezer” jam of the night moved through some murky funk improv for a few more satisfying minutes before Anastasio led the way into a standout “Blaze On” complete with a big, patiently built, white-light peak. Next, Page McConnell relished his chance to sing the blues on a rare cover of ZZ Top‘s “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, marking the song’s first Phish appearance since 10/22/14 (a gap of 186 shows).
An excellent take on “Kill Devil Falls” was up next, and the band clearly felt the tangible energy in the room as they showed off an array of tones and effects en route to another masterful display of tension and release. As the “KDF” jam began to run its course around the 10-minute mark, the guitarist once again steered the ship back into “Tweezer” for a few more (though notable distinct) minutes of gooey funk grooves.
Out of first-set “Tweezer” #3 (!!), the band found their way into staple calypso cover, “Ya Mar”. Page McConnell shined here behind the organ as Gordon and Fishman once again set the song’s foundation. The band eventually found its way into some atmospheric percolation, recalling some noteworthy remarks made by Mike Gordon when describing his favorite summer 2019 jams on Phish Radio last month: While discussing his affection for the “Runaway Jim” from Charlotte on 6/21/19, Mike noted that what drew him to this particular jam was its “percolation.”
“For me,” Mike explained, “It’s a really good example of Phish just relaxing, after all the years not having anything to prove. Not even soloing or, you know, embellishing too much at the beginning of a jam. Just letting it percolate and sit there. I do hear some stuff in the bass where I’m trying to be a little ‘compositional,’ for the lack of a better word. But it’s all … in the interest of percolating on a chord or pattern. It’s like we’re trying all the stuff that we do. Trey is using his pedal that makes it sound to me like there’s a marimba in the background, or his Leslie pedal, or his pedal that makes it sound like a bass when he’s playing the guitar and we’re melding into each others’ sounds … But we’re not doing it to try everything and we’re not doing it to sort of show off. We’re doing it because the percolating has led us to doing it.” Mike will surely be a fan of the jams from the Met Philly show—throughout the night, the band potently percolated with ease.
A run through Ghosts of the Forest‘s “Drift While You’re Sleeping” brought the first set to a close. While this particular writer still has trouble getting into the “lovey” multi-part composition, the band did hit its various transitions cleanly and energetically to help send the show to intermission.
Following set break, Phish returned to the stage to kick off set two with another classic, “Chalk Dust Torture”. The band quickly guided this “Chalk Dust” into improvisational territory, patiently building to another satisfying peak before once again dropping into “Tweezer” (#4 on the night for those keeping score) for a quick detour en route to “Mike’s Song”.
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This “Mike’s” grooved with purpose as Trey peppered in fluttering licks and Page hammered away at his organ. Trey seemed to struggle slightly with some sound issues as he skipped his accent riffs in the song’s closing segment, eventually opting to cut his losses and guide the band into “Sparkle”, marking the first-ever “Mike’s” > “Sparkle” combo.
Next, the spotlight fixated on Fishman and the crowd roared with appreciation as the drummer belted out one of his silly signature tunes, “Ass Handed”, visibly amusing the rest of the band. From there, Fishman launched the band into “Weekapaug Groove”, but Trey wasn’t ready to leave “Ass Handed” in the past. As they worked through “Weekapaug”, Trey continued to sprinkle in “Ass Handed” quotes, eventually leading to a full-band “Ass Handed” vocal jam within this sprightly “Groove”.
A well-placed, well-earned ballad was up next with a beautiful “Miss You”. While this song can sometimes suck the air out of a promising set, this rendition was particularly moving and featured a tasteful, emotive guitar solo from Anastasio that’s worth revisiting down the road.
Blues and purples painted the stage as the band moved into “Waves”, which lasted just six short minutes before giving way to a brief, ominous “Twist” highlighted by the airtight rhythm section. The Beatles‘ “A Day In The Life” followed, giving fans a chance to sing along and Kuroda the chance to cast the stage in rainbows with his simplified rig.
The best of the night was still to come as Fishman dropped the band into “2001”. This “Space Odyssey” blasted off into the farthest reaches of outer space over the course of its 11-minute runtime. As Fishman moved over to the Marimba Lumina and Page and Mike experimented with various effects, the quasi-tribal jam seemed to capture the spirit of a Grateful Dead “Drums/Space” expedition. The results were nothing short of spectacular, making this “2001” a jam we’ll surely want to revisit again and again.
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Finally, as curfew closed in, a spirited “More” brought the set to a close and an encore-opening “Waste” gave way to the looming “Tweezer Reprise” to cap the show. As the lights came up, the PA appropriately blared Donna Summer‘s “On The Radio” for the fans filing out into the cold Philly streets.
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It was a #Tweezer kinda night when #Phish hit @themetphilly… . Up there with my favorite Phish show experiences. Everything was smooth sailing, everyone got a poster, everyone was equally excited to be there. Oh, and the show was pretty rad, too… Thanks, @siriusxm and @phish! On to Pittsburgh today… . 12/3/19 . #phishtour #phishmetphilly #phishmet #phishfalltour #phishradio #liveforlivemusic #tweeprise
Was this the greatest Phish show ever? No, of course not. Was it even the best show of this young tour? Maybe so, maybe not. You’ll have to decide for yourself. More so than usual, it was undoubtedly a very different experience listening to this show on Phish Radio versus experiencing it live in person. However, those in attendance will surely remember this incredible, unique Phish show experience for the rest of their lives. No matter how many massive, incredible arena Phish shows we see in the future, we’ll always have a special place in our hearts for this unforgettable evening at the Met.
Speaking of arena shows we’ll see in the future, Phish returns to their regularly scheduled Fall Tour programming tonight, Wednesday, December 4th, at Pittsburgh, PA’s Petersen Events Center. Tickets are still available here—it’s the only remaining 2019 Phish show that’s not sold out, so if you’ve got the jones, now’s the time. See you out there…
Below, you can check out a gallery of photos from Phish at the Met Philly courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein.
Setlist: Phish | The Met Philadelphia | Philadelphia, PA | 12/3/19
Set One: Hello My Baby, Tweezer > Free, The Moma Dance > Tweezer -> Blaze On, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Kill Devil Falls > Tweezer > Ya Mar, Drift While You’re Sleeping
Set Two: Chalk Dust Torture > Tweezer > Mike’s Song > Sparkle, Ass Handed > Weekapaug Groove, Miss You > Waves > Twist > A Day in the Life > Also Sprach Zarathustra > More
Encore: Waste > Tweezer Reprise
This show was simulcast on Sirius radio. Hello My Baby was performed for the first time since June 18, 2009 (417 shows). Jesus Just Left Chicago was played for the first time since October 22, 2014 (186 shows). Chalk Dust Torture was unfinished. Weekapaug Groove contained Ass Handed quotes from Trey, Fish, and Page.