On Saturday night, Vida Blue closed out their brief reunion run with a sold-out performance at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. The band—comprised of keyboardist Page McConnell (Phish), bassist Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company, Allman Brothers Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit), Russell Batiste (The funky METERS), and guitarist Adam Zimmon—just released their first album since 2003, Crossing Lines, on Friday, September 19th.
With so many years gone since the band’s last run of shows, it was unsurprising that the majority of the crowd at The Cap was watching their first-ever Vida Blue show. That fact, however, lent the whole evening a grateful tone. For the younger generation of Phish fans in the crowd, this was their first chance to catch Page’s supergroup. For years, nobody knew if this brief chapter in Page’s musical history would ever be revisited. It’s not often a band that hasn’t played in 15 years sells out a venerable venue like The Cap, but the significance of this reunion was not lost on the grateful audience—or the musicians onstage.
While Page’s fans are generally accustomed to nightly changes to the setlist, McConnell made it clear from the start that they’d be playing all the songs from their new record. The band made good on that promise, working through each of the songs on Crossing Lines in addition to some old favorites and a pair of game-tested covers.
The first thing fans noticed as the band took the stage was the striking stage design, which featured a large rendering of the Page McConnell-designed Crossing Line cover art bounded by a square frame of multicolor LED lights. The light rig took the theme of “Crossing Lines” to heart, using perpendicular spots to cast geometric shapes across the striking backdrop. Thanks to liberally-utilized smoke machines, the beams of light that shot out from the stage created the illusion of being inside a glowing, technicolor box.
After walking out to some old-school soul, the band got the show underway with “Analog Delay”, the first single released off Crossing Lines. “We’ve been out here a couple days, this is our third show back,” McConnell explained as they finished their opening song. “We’re looking forward to doing more of these.”
Next, Page introduced Russell Batiste ahead of his signature song on the new album, the aptly named (and initialed) “Real Underground Soul Sound”. Batiste channeled the Crescent City on this funky track, getting the crowd involved with his charismatic showmanship (“Lemme get a scream for New Orleans!”). Mixed among the Vida Blue originals that flowed from there was a rendition of John Lennon‘s “Jealous Guy”. Though the Plastic Ono Band classic was a staple of Vida Blue shows years ago, this marked its first appearance on this brief 2019 run.
Throughout the performance, Page seemed to relish his role as the bandleader and de facto emcee of the evening. Hamming it up with “Lawn Boy”-style bravado, the keyboardist bantered lightheartedly between songs, thanking the crowd for being there with them after so many years.
If Page was the evening’s emcee, Russ played the role of hype man, missing no opportunities to get the crowd riled up, most notably on the slow-burning, “The Moma Dance”-reminiscent funk vamp, “Where’s Popeyes”. Newcomer Adam Zimmon availed himself nicely with a handful of tasteful solos, taking some of the melodic load off McConnell so he could focus on creating sonic texture and ambiance on his various synths and keyboards.
While Oteil has cemented himself as a star in his own right in the years since Vida Blue’s last outing, he notably hung back for most of the show. This is Page’s band, after all, and Burbridge made sure to stay in his lane and defer to the man in charge. While those in the audience would surely have loved for him to step out of the shadows and assert his presence, his deference to Page showcased his own appreciation for being a part of this long-awaited reunion.
After “Final Flight”, a song off the band’s self-titled debut which has gone on to make a number of appearances in Phish setlists, Russell stoked the excitement of the crowd once again, prompting cheers for Page for putting the band back together. “It is my pleasure,” Page responded. And you could tell he really meant it.
From there, Page led the band into a rendition of Pink Floyd‘s “Sheep” before guiding the ship into a set-closing “Most Events Aren’t Planned”, perhaps the group’s most well-known song. When the band returned to the stage for their encore, Page thanked the crowd once again for being a part of the evening. As he explained, he hadn’t been back at The Cap since “about 1992,” but it’s still just as much fun as ever. Vida Blue finally closed out their show with another Vida Blue track, “Electra Glide”, and their rousing cover of Gary Numan‘s “Cars”.
Vida Blue – “Sheep” [Pink Floyd cover] – 9/21/19
While this marked the last Vida Blue date on the books, the band made it clear that they were far from done. Before they left the stage, Page once again made a point of noting that they’d see us “next time,” an encouraging notion for fans unable to make it out to this brief run. The wait for Vida Blue’s return was long and uncertain, but now that they’re back, the wait for next time promises to be much, much shorter.
Check out a beautiful gallery of photos from the show below, courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein.
Setlist: Vida Blue | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 9/21/19
Set: Analog Delay, Real Underground Soul Sound, Where Did It Go, CJ3, Jealous Guy, Phaidon, Dry Spell, Checking Out, Where’s Popeye’s?, Weepa, Maybe, Who’s Laughing Now, If I Told You, Final Flight, Sheep*, Most Events Aren’t Planned
Encore: Electra Glide, Cars^
*Pink Floyd cover
^Gary Numan cover