The last show Phish had scheduled in the state of New York, just in case you’d forgotten, was a little fest called Curveball. We all know how well that went. Sure, Dick’s would go on to scratch that itch for many would-be Curveballers, whether in person or via the complimentary consolation webcasts. But for fans in New York, Dick’s was just a big, salty reminder of what could have been—for the New York Phish faithful, redemption day has been circled on their calendars in thick red marker since that weekend: October 16th, the day Phish would make their rightful return to the Empire State to commence Fall Tour 2018 at the Times Union Center in Albany—indoors, rain-or-shine, turbidity be damned.
With such a bad taste left in the Northeast’s mouth after the Curveball curveball, Albany felt primed to break out in its stead. However, the one thing that threatened to hold it back from greatness was its positioning as the tour opener. The first show of a Phish tour is often less than stellar, as the band gets reacclimated to the stage and shakes off the offseason rust. Such was the dilemma heading into Fall Tour’s first night in Albany: Would this be sweet salvation? Or would it be about kicking off cobwebs, as so many tour openers are. The answer, it turned out, was somewhere in between the two, as Phish delivered an ambitious show featuring plenty of high-energy improv and segues despite pushing through a handful of rough spots.
“Moma Dance” came first to welcome the tour, reaching some energetic peaks before settling into its final refrain and, subsequently, launching straight into “Tube”. This stupendous, jammed-out rendition kept the pace high as the band worked through tight funk jam and some watery effects, building their way toward multiple hair-raising peaks.
“Theme From The Bottom” got the call in the three-spot, continuing the trend of old reliable tunes to start the set. This unusual “Theme” reached a towering peak of its own as it led into its customary a cappella breakdown. However, instead of launching back into the “Theme” theme from there, Trey Anastasio led the band straight into “Free”—from feeding from the bottom straight to floating in the blimp. The segue echoed a similar one-two punch from Dick’s 2017, and was no less exciting here.
“Army of One” came next, giving Page McConnell his turn in the spotlight before Mike Gordon‘s bass-y vocals signaled the start of “Halley’s Comet” to the approval of the energized crowd. After a short-and-sweet “Halley’s”, the band navigated straight into newer original “Everything’s Right”, which made several strong showings during Summer Tour. This version continued in kind—particularly in its first set placement—offering up more shimmering, submerged, Baker’s Dozen-reminiscent improv and some textbook Trey sustain before making a full segue into “Cities”. After a brief round of spacey improv, “Cities” gave way to “Walls of the Cave”, an appropriately rocking cap to a well above-average first set of tour.
Phish returned to the stage after setbreak with “Ghost”, kicking off a non-stop set that saw them segue from song to song with varying degrees of success. As “Ghost” petered out, Page offered up some piano licks reminiscent of “No Men In No Man’s Land” before switching to the clav to dive into the Big Boat standout in earnest. The crowd’s reaction to this intricately textured “NMINML”—and, specifically, its “happy that we’re here” line—hit home with intent. It may not have worked out last time they were “here,” but now they’re back and playing as though they’ve put this summer’s Curveball debacle squarely behind them. Get ready for this fall run to make some serious waves.
The unusual segue from “No Men” into “Piper” took many fans by surprise, as Trey’s vocals served as the lead-in rather than the usual instrumental build-up. You’ve heard of slow-build “Piper”—now, meet the no-build “Piper”. This “Piper” jam saw Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman take the lead, pushing the story in a number of interesting directions before fading into the ominous opening notes of “20 Years Later”. This marked the third rendition of the Joy cut this year, but was easily the most interesting of the group, weighing in as the improvisational highlight of the set. Many fans subscribe to the notion that Phish is at their best when they’re at their darkest, and this “20YL” did nothing to dissuade that thought process. Over the course of the song’s nearly 15 minutes, the band built schizoid tension over eerie synth swells, bass rumbles, and feedback loops, resulting in a powerful display of quintessentially “evil” Phish that’s surely worth revisiting later.
Out of the darkness, Phish made their way somewhat awkwardly into a rare mid-set “Show of Life”. While this sentimental song often takes heat from fans for taking the wind out of the sails of strong sets, this version felt like a worthy contrast to the darkness of “20 Years Later”, and even featured a short but surprisingly strong improv that evoked the same beautiful feelings of contentment usually induced by high-caliber “Harry Hood” jams.
With the clock rapidly winding toward the venue’s 11:00 curfew, the band had time for just a couple more tunes, which they used wisely on a “2001” > “Character Zero” dance party to round out the set. Finally, after a brief break, Phish returned to make good on the hinted direction of the preceding “Show of Life” jam with an excellent, peaking “Harry Hood” encore.
Phish – “Harry Hood”
[Video: Mike Kane]
Two months to the day after cancellation day, New York state fans’ palates were finally cleansed from the turbid aftertaste of Curveball. Now, we can set our sights on tonight’s Albany finale and the remainder of the tour that follows it. While this was not the greatest Phish show of all time, it more than held its own when measured against other tour openers of the era. The band is hot, the weather is cool, and something very special looms in Vegas at the end of the month. We’ve just gotten started, but you can already feel good about Fall Tour. See you out there.
For a full list of Phish’s upcoming tour dates, head to the band’s website.
Below, you can view a gallery of photos from Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour opener via photographer Andrew Blackstein.
Setlist: Phish | Times Union Center | Albany, NY | 10/16/18
Set One: The Moma Dance, Tube, Theme From the Bottom > Free, Army of One, Halley’s Comet > Everything’s Right -> Cities > Walls of the Cave
Set Two: Ghost > No Men In No Man’s Land > Piper > Twenty Years Later > Show of Life > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Character Zero
Encore: Harry Hood
You can listen to a full soundboard recording of the show via LivePhish.