The announcement of Phish performing their own tropical destination festival sent shockwaves through the community. What would it be like? How would they play? After three funk-filled days of music, all of the major question marks were left with answers, as the Burlington band made themselves at home on the sun-soaked beaches. As fan escaped the winter with a weekend retreat, Phish provided the perfect atmosphere for celebration.
The group started off the show with the song everyone was expecting, “Mexican Cousin.” The tongue-in-cheek composition is something of a rarity at live performances, only coming in a show for the 13th time since its debut in 2003. The apropos setting of the song made for a raucous way to kick off a show, but it was “The Curtain With” where Phish made their statement. The soaring composition was performed for just the first time since Dick’s 2014, as the band wove through the intricate sections with a vengeance. This band was here to play, and Sunday always brings out the best.
After the soothing “With” segment of the song, Phish curved into a classic “Sample In A Jar.” The bubbly song opened up the Madison Square Garden run, and was right at home amongst the Mexican waves. Next up was “Yarmouth Road,” another upbeat jam that fit the beachside vibe to perfection. Afterwards, Trey Anastasio took a moment to share that the band was planning to work on a new album, and it would be some time before they hit the road again. Time will only tell what that means, scheduling-wise.
The tropical jams kept coming, as Phish brought out “The Landlady” by herself for only the second time in recent memory. The first, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park back in August of 2015 was the first time “The Landlady” appeared without “Punch You In The Eye” since 1994 – a gap of 768 shows. With no “Punch” played over the four-night MSG run, we’ll just have to wait and see what the fate of these two intertwined compositions will be. Regardless of the statistics, this was an over-the-top version, with Anastasio nailing the challenging melody.
Next up was the Page McConnell-sung “Army Of One,” which was a beautiful selection in the midst of a rocking set. McConnell took a moment to share his appreciation for the experience, before the band launched into a rocking “Kill Devil Falls.” The jam here was nice and tight, nothing too out of the box but shredding nonetheless. This opened the door for an all-time favorite, “Bathtub Gin.” The 12-minute set-one version took no prisoners, highlighted of course by the “we’re all in this together, and we love to take a bath!” line while actually swimming. That’s the magic of Mexico, a venue unlike any prior for Phish fans. With some upbeat and lovely instrumentation, the band matched their location and created a true paradise, if only for a moment.
After “Gin,” the group got to work on their first cover of the night, “Funky Bitch.” The Son Seals song was delivered with attitude, as bassist Mike Gordon led the vocals and kept the funky grooves alive. McConnell was on fire here as well, dabbling the ivories with glee. The energy kept on coming with “The Moma Dance,” featuring some top-notch work from Jon Fishman among the band on fire, before closing out the set was the dark and rockin’ “Saw It Again.” The song never fails to get people excited, and the crowd was on their toes by the end of set one.
The group returned to the stage and quickly busted into the opening madness of “Down With Disease.” It was one of those here-we-go moments, stretching out 20 minutes and veering towards the Halloween instrumental “Shipwreck.” The jam started out absolutely blissful, with the band members clearly enjoying themselves throughout. Things then got psychedelic and spaced out, with the lighting to match the band’s colorful tones.
They took the jam into a slowed down, soulful rendition of “Roggae,” a song which has been nothing short of stellar in 2015. The pensive moment was short lived, however, as the band jammed out the opening notes of Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless.” Still waiting! For fourteen minutes, the band was locked into a tight funk groove like none other. “Crosseyed” also featured a quote of “Shipwreck,” veering into dark and uncharted waters. The group got weird before shifting in a down-tempo “Farmhouse.” It’s never the song you want, but it did help to bring the fans back down to Earth.
Afterwards, Phish got to work on a big-time “Mike’s Groove,” with Mike Gordon bringing the patented funk on his own Mike’s Song.” Naturally, one has to ask what song will come sandwiched between “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug,” and the band chose “Bug” for the task. The slow number evoked some swaying and smiles, especially for those bouncing through the ocean. The “Weekapaug” was no slouch either, again featuring a “Shipwreck” quote among some tight-knit jams.
The set ended with a traditional telling of “Slave To The Traffic Light,” albeit the word traditional could easily be swapped with incredible. The song has so many natural peaks that were just perfect for the occasion, closing out the last Phish Mexico set was a passion.
Finally, the band returned for one more song, and made it a great one. They chose to debut a cover of Led Zeppelin’s rocking song “The Ocean,” certainly fitting for the concert’s backdrop. When Phish does Zeppelin (a la “No Quarter” or “Good Times Bad Times”), they do them justice, and this was no exception. The new cover sounded a bit, well, new, but the band made it their own with some high-pitched vocals from McConnell and some Jimmy Page-like guitarwork from Anastasio. “The Ocean” provided a bit of symmetry for the weekend, which started with “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” and ended with “The Ocean” itself.
After three days in Mexico, phans are forced to go home not knowing when the next Phish will be. Left only with bows of appreciation and a “see you soon” from Trey, one can only hope that the next Phish outing isn’t too far off. We certainly can’t wait.
Check out the setlist below:
Setlist: Phish at Barceló Maya Palace Deluxe, Riviera Maya, Mexico – 1/17/16
Set 1: Mexican Cousin, The Curtain With, Sample in a Jar, Yarmouth Road, The Landlady, Army of One, Kill Devil Falls > Bathtub Gin, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance, Saw It Again
Set 2: Down with Disease > Roggae > Crosseyed and Painless > Farmhouse > Mike’s Song > Bug > Weekapaug Groove, Slave To The Traffic Light
Encore: The Ocean