Here we go, kids: Phish at Bonnaroo. Two-set headlining performance. While history has taught Phish fans not to expect the best of the best for festival sets, Friday night’s one-set late-night slot began to assuage those notions. Would the Sunday main event finally shake the festy Phish stigma? Would Phish destroy Bonnaroo? The band gave everyone a chance to find out the answer with a free live webcast of the Sunday proceedings on the Farm.
After enjoying some Cardi B on the Which Stage, Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish made their way over to the What Stage to close out the festival.
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“Set Your Soul Free” got the nod to kick off set one, Trey Anastasio clearly feeling the buzz from the sellout crowd as he laid into one of the band’s newer-vintage go-tos. “Blaze On” was up next, giving the crowd (surely full of nice shades) a chance to sing and dance along—and a nice “Blaze on, Leo” piano solo, taboot—before Trey took the opener to the next level with some red-hot Languedoc licks.
“You guys got some energy left? Cus we do. You guys done with Bonnaroo yet?” Trey asked with a laugh and a giddy bounce. “We’ll slow it down and give you guys a ‘message’ song, see if you can catch your breath.”
Kasvot Växt favorite “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” did little to help Bonnaroovians catch their collective breath—at least if they were keeping up with the band, who sang the new repertoire addition with palpable excitement. Trey even took a moment to get his rockstar on, climbing down the stage stairs and up onto a speaker to rip a solo.
[Screengrabs via LivePhish]
“Reba” was up next, treating the largely new-to-Phish crowd to a time-tested classic complete with a beautifully- (and patiently-) constructed jam. If lovely “Reba” jams are the kind of stuff that makes fans get “IT,” it’s safe to assume Phish gained some new fans with that one.
Eschewing the whistling coda of “Reba”, the band instead dropped into another big anthem worthy of a massive festival crowd, “Free”. After a short but sweet reading of the live staple and a quick pause, Mike Gordon‘s pulsing bassline signaled the start of “Sand” as a light-footed Trey bobbed along. Anastasio could clearly feel the buzz of the crowd as he tore into his gritty “Sand” guitar licks with even more oomph than usual. The short but potent improv quickly moved into a breezy major key jam space before building to a cacophony and some satisfying white-light peaks.
As “Sand” fizzled out, the band gave the gathered masses a chance to cheer before steering into “Wolfman’s Brother”. This version was well-played, despite a handful of vocal fumbles. Page McConnell shined here with his NOLA-inspired piano swells, helping push the group out into improvisational waters behind eerie synth wobbles and an airtight Jon Fishman beat. After lingering briefly in the submerged, Baker’s Dozen-style ambiance, Trey once again drove things home with a searing guitar release. Finally, Fishman kicked into “Cavern” to cap the relatively brief opening set, offering a friendly reminder to the Bonnaroo crowd to take care of their shoes—advice that always counts double at a big festival.
Set two—the final set of music at this year’s Bonnaroo—kicked off with a short and sweet “Mike’s Song” which the band dug into with dynamic focus. Wasting no time, they flowed out of “Mike’s” and into one of their most beloved pieces, “Fluffhead”, marking the first time ever that a “Fluffhead” has followed “Mike’s”.
After a nice big peak to end Fluffhead, the band slinked into “Twist”. Quickly moving through the song’s structure and into improv territory, Fishman set the tone for an airy, melodic jam. The band picked up momentum as Trey peppered in dextrous trills, flirting with both “1999” and, later, “What’s The Use?”. The improv expanded in sonic scope to a lush, luminous boil before Trey drove them into “Weekapaug” to (seemingly) close out an unheard-of “Mike’s (Fluffhead Twist) Groove”, complete with ecstatic Fishman “woos.”
Page laid down some super funky synth as “Weekapaug” began to pick up steam. However, after two short minutes, the band executed a seamless detour into “No Men In No Man’s Land”, Trey belting out the lyrics with particularly contagious charisma. After some extra cheers for “happy that we’re here,” the abbreviated dalliance with “NMINML” quickly returned to “Weekapaug”, with Page flexing his chops on the piano. But wait—out of “Weekapaug”, “Twist” emerged once again. Yep, it’s one of those sets.
The brief return to “Twist” finally found its way into the ominous opening notes of “Fuego”. After some extra Father’s Day emphasis on the “world’s greatest dad” line, Phish led the tens of thousands of gathered fans in the song’s unrepentant howl of a chorus. All of Bonnaroo came together for this cathartic howl at the moon in this one final set of music after scores of artists performed across multiple stages all weekend.
The “Fuego” jam picked up some sustain-assisted, Middle Eastern-sounding elements as Trey wailed away toward another big peak before landing in the chugging progression of “Ghost”. This excellent, compact-but-dense “Ghost” jam quickly shifted into a pretty, melodic major-key space. Though it maxed out at just under 9 minutes in length, the relatively short rendition managed to pack an impressive amount of interesting improv into its sub-10-minute duration.
From there, the band surfaced from 20,000 leagues below into a tub filled with bootleg spirits for “Bathtub Gin”. Everyone in the crowd—on the tail end of their 4th day of Bonnaroo—surely meant it when they sang along to “We love to take a bath.” Page led the charge as the band patiently built this “Gin” into a soaring festival anthem. Trey trills and Page fills pushed it to yet another big release of tension, and then another—an awe-inspiring moment for the Bonnaroo crowd. “See you next time,” Trey said as the band served up the final notes of the set-closing rocker, as a chorus of streamers on couches around the country surely made plans to hit the next Phishy Bonnaroo.
With time left for a couple more, Phish returned for their encore with a pair of beloved staples, “Wilson” and “First Tube”, a powerful way to close a thrilling headlining show on the Farm.
So, did Phish squash the cursed mediocrity of the proverbial festy set? The jams didn’t go all the way “out there”, and the setlist pulled from a tight rotation of songs, steering clear of unusual covers and bust-outs like the “Shafty” from 2012. But what they delivered was red-hot 2019 Phish—only four nights into their summer run and already kicking ass and taking names. If this is the 2019 version of a non-Phish festival set, this young summer promises to be something truly special.
Grab your tickets while you can, folks. We have a feeling Phish converted some new fans this weekend. To the newly initiated: welcome to the party. We’ll catch you on tour.
You can watch the full Phish Bonnaroo Sunday performance below. Who knows how long Phish will leave it up, so get it while it’s hot!
Phish – Bonnaroo – 6/16/19 – Full Video
Phish summer tour continues on Tuesday, June 18th with a performance in Toronto, ON. For a full list of the band’s upcoming dates, head here.
Setlist: Phish | Bonnaroo | Manchester, TN | 6/16/19
Set One: Set Your Soul Free, Blaze On, Death Don’t Hurt Very Long, Reba, Free > Sand, Wolfman’s Brother, Cavern
Set Two: Mike’s Song > Fluffhead > Twist -> Weekapaug Groove -> No Men In No Man’s Land -> Weekapaug Groove -> Twist > Fuego > Ghost > Bathtub Gin
ENCORE: Wilson > First Tube
 No whistling.
This show was webcast for free via Live Phish and took place on the What Stage. Reba did not have whistling.
Full soundboard audio of the show is available to stream via LivePhish.