Following a night off after returning to the stage in Arkansas—and for the first time since 2015—Phish took the stage in Alabama on Friday evening for a performance at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham.
Without wasting much time, the band launched into the reliable opener, “The Moma Dance”. This one didn’t do anything to break the mold, but it was fun and funky as usual and the band breezed through it.
“Sigma Oasis” followed, offering another solid effort with no audible issues. Written pre-COVID, its lyrical themes—”take off your mask, the fear’s an illusion, etc.”—seemed like an odd choice considering the bands recent plea to its fanbase to take extra precautions against spreading the coronavirus on this summer’s tour.
Afterwards, Trey Anastasio thanked the audience for having them and noted how beautiful that part of the country is and how much he enjoys being there before launching into the bouncy “Back On The Train”. After some nice work from Page McConnell on the Wurlitzer he passed the baton to Trey, who ramped the energy up a notch before ending the song abruptly but not unceremoniously.
The beautiful “Dirt”, executed impeccably, landed in fourth spot. As the band vamped the beginning of the Kasvot Växt: tune “The Final Hurrah”, Trey joked, “Trying to remember this one … haven’t played it in a while. Ya know… we’ve had stuff going on.” The line “taste the humidity” got some nice acknowledgment from the crowd as they withstood their second consecutive hot and sticky summer night of Phish. The band had no problems with bringing the energy back up for this one, and lighting director Chris Kuroda really dug in here for the first time of the night.
Riding that comfortable energy, Trey signaled for the band to kick into Son Seals’ “Funky Bitch”, a first set Phish standard, featuring some nice B3 work from Page and a dialed-in Trey closing it out with some focused bluesy guitar work.
Six songs in—all short but very sweet—the band seemed relaxed and connected in a way it didn’t during the first set of the Arkansas show. After 45 minutes of proving they were sufficiently hooked up, the slow vamp of “Ghost” crept in, signifying the band was ready to tackle some uncharted jam territory.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) July 31, 2021
I need to take a quick pause here. I was in the audience for the Arkansas show. More than once I heard some interesting, non-musical sounds coming from the speakers. It wasn’t as blatant and obvious as Page’s samples from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House and I could see that he wasn’t the one behind these new sounds. It almost seemed as if a radio frequency got tangled and enmeshed with Phish’s broadcast. Granted, I was at the first Phish show in over 500 days, so my judgment and perception weren’t as reliable as they usually are. I assumed I was hearing things that weren’t there, which is quite possible.
But tonight, during the beginning of the “Ghost” jam, some audible laughter found its way into the music, invoking Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage”. Watching from the couch on Friday, it became clear that Jon Fishman has a sampler onstage with who-knows-how-many sounds programmed, giving him another mechanism to impart his waggish personality into the music. If you listen closely throughout the set, you’ll hear a deep-voiced “Yeah” popping up here and there, among other things. It will be interesting to see how this evolves as the tour goes on.
Though it didn’t reach a typical tension-and-release peak the band never relented during this “Ghost”, eventually easing back into the opening vamp before closing it out completely after a dark and stormy 13 minutes. “Ghost” gave Chris Kuroda his first real opportunity of the night to stretch his legs and show off the latitude of his new lighting rig, which is simply spectacular.
A mellow “Driver” slowed things down before a groovy “The Wedge” showcased some of Trey’s most fluid guitar work of the night as he deftly soloed over the songs changes. “Walls of the Cave” was an appropriate closer for the rocking yet fairly safe set. The energy for this one was more kinetic than it had been for any moment of the previous three sets of summer tour, and it whipped the crowd into a set-ending frenzy the way only Phish can. As far as first sets go, the song selection was great, the performances were tight, and it felt like a fantastic setup for a deep and loose second frame.
The band returned to the stage after a fairly short set break with the Sigma Oasis tune “Evening Song”, marking only its third time performed and its first appearance during a second set. Surprising as it might’ve been to open any set, it warned the audience to “approach the night with caution”—a fair warning, given what was to come.
The crunchy power chords of “Carini” echoed throughout the amphitheater, its patented dark energy surging. The fans behind “Make Phish Dark Again” may have been disappointed early on with this rendition as the band quickly took the dark jam into major-key territory, but the payoff that was about to come surely soothed that contingent. The band quickly found its pocket thanks to Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon laying down a steady, chugging foundation for Page and Trey to dance upon.
The first section of this jam saw abundant interplay and communication between the guitarist and keyboardist. Page’s synths and Trey’s heavily delayed guitar weaved in and out of the theme they created, echoing then separating from one another until the entire band found a more cohesive second half of the jam. Fishman, in particular, seemed determined to sustain the pulse laid down by the band in the first set.
Listening to this 25-minute “Carini”—the longest-ever version of the song in its 24-year history and an improvisational gem that will be talked about for years to come—it was hard to believe that this was not only the second show of a tour, but the second show after a 521 day layoff. The band absolutely soared through the back half of this jam, and the eventual crescendo was peak Phish. This one is worth revisiting.
Phish – “Carini” [Pro-Shot] – 7/30/21
A standard and thumping “Martian Monster” followed—with some more fun from Fishman’s sampler—before the short trip gave way to the TV On The Radio-penned jam vehicle “Golden Age”. The band wasn’t ready for the energy to wane (“Clap your hands if you think you’re in the right place”), and this version gave the crown plenty to dance about as they spontaneously composed onstage. The infrequently performed “Mountains in the Mist” was a perfect breather after 50 straight minutes of non-stop Phish fire.
It’s easy to search for and find either hidden or overt meaning behind many of the songs Phish performs after such a long and difficult layoff, but as the band made its way into “Blaze On”, Trey was beaming as he sang, “You got your nice shades on / And the worst days are gone / So now the band plays on / You got one life, blaze on.” “Blaze On” picked up where “Golden Age” left off, ratcheting the energy right back up with lots more from Fishman’s sampler.
To close the set, the band tied a bow on a memorable set with a flawlessly executed “Harry Hood” that begat a blissful jam replete with Trey’s patented Languedoc sustain before the euphoric build-up and release we all knew was coming.
It was a huge second set—the band couldn’t miss and the setlist had no holes. For the encore, Phish threw us one that I can’t imagine anyone saw coming, the Mike Gordon-led nod to reggae, “Yarmouth Road”. This surprising choice stood in stark contrast to the rest of the show, making seemingly little sense in context. A rather uninspired “Gumbo” followed, but thankfully, Phish had one more bullet in the chamber and delivered an absolutely blistering “Character Zero” a much more appropriate closer for a show of this magnitude.
Whether you’ve been here since 1.0 or you’re just starting to see Phish, this was a great night for the band and its fans. There wasn’t a moment during this show where the band was lost or unsure. They were playing with the knowledge that at any moment this could again be taken away from them and from us, and they needed to leave everything out on that stage. If you can, get to Alpharetta this weekend. After tonight, I get sense that they’ll be going after every show like they might not get a chance to the play the next one.
Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from Friday night’s Phish show in Pelham, Alabama via photographer Christian Stewart.
The tour continues the next two nights with the first multi-night run of the tour in Alpharetta, GA. For a full list of upcoming Phish summer tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Phish | Oak Mountain Amphitheatre | Pelham, AL | 7/30/21
Set One: The Moma Dance > Sigma Oasis, Back on the Train, Dirt, The Final Hurrah, Funky Bitch, Ghost, Driver, The Wedge, Walls of the Cave
Set Two: Evening Song > Carini > Martian Monster > Golden Age > Mountains in the Mist > Blaze On > Harry Hood
Encore: Yarmouth Road, Gumbo > Character Zero
Page teased Long Tall Glasses in Gumbo. This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.