On Friday night, after a blistering run of shows in the South, Phish traveled up to Noblesville, IN for the first time since 2016 to take the stage at the legendary Deer Creek—er, I mean, Ruoff Music Center—for what marked the band’s 24th performance at the venue.

So far this summer, Phish shows have been a tale of two sets. The first set, usually more measured and paced. The second set, a spectacle of unpredictable, improvisational wonder. So, in a move I don’t think anyone saw coming, the band kicked off the run with jam vehicle “Carini”. This version deftly modulated major almost immediately and moved through nine and a half minutes breezy minutes before the band wrapped it up.

The relaxed, bouncy drip of “Wolfman’s Brother” followed. Bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman locked in quickly, letting guitarist Trey Anastasio further explore the variety of tones we’ve been hearing from his new rig. Although they colored within the lines on this one, the second half grew organically to a crescendo before the band effortlessly slid back into the tune to finish up.

The straight-ahead and wide-open “Sand” landed in the third slot. Much like the “Carini” and “Wolfman’s” that preceded it, the band was patient, letting the jam develop, building all the way through to the end of its fourteen minutes.

For those first few songs, the band didn’t force anything. They were easy-going and loose, but energetic at the same time—a really fun thirty-five minutes to start the weekend.

“I’d like to send this next song [out] to all you people in the back, all you beautiful people, this one’s for you,” beamed Trey as he started the first “Lawn Boy” of the tour. Page McConnell, as usual, was all smiles for this one. The short Kasvot Växt tune “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains” followed before the band launched into “Tube”.

“Tube” saw the band jump right back in the same improvisational waters where “Sand” was swimming, giving the crowd another seven minutes of Phish’s unique brand of dance music. After the increasingly infrequent Hot Rize bluegrass tune “Nellie Kane”, Phish delivered a beautiful and flawless “Horn” for the eighth song of the set.

“Rift” followed, and it saw the band stumble for the first time of the night as Trey had a little trouble throughout the composition, but afterwards, the guitarist managed to sneak a “Stash” tease as well as the line “the limestone capital of the world” into a very solid pass on “The Wedge”.

The dual-segmented, feverish rocker “Walls Of The Cave” closed the set with its patented second-half explosion. Although never a disappointment as a set closer, this version elevated a notch above the one we heard in Alabama.

As I already mentioned, and as we all know by now, the second sets this summer have been incredible. But the band is bound to let up at some point, right?

The first set stalwart “AC/DC Bag” opened the frame, appearing in the second set for only the fourth time since the band reunited in 2009. After a short and sweet rendition, the band delivered its longest “Blaze On” to date, clocking in at 27 minutes and 47 seconds.

Patience was the name of the game with this eventual juggernaut, as it took a little while before this one solidified into something majestic. Throughout the first part of the jam, it sounded like the band wanted to go into “Simple”—a harbinger of what was to come. Mike led the way into the second section with some gooey ring-modulated bass bomb magic, but this “Blaze On” really blossomed once they stripped things down in order to find a motif they could build upon. And boy, did they. The band followed Trey into the last leg of this one and built layer upon layer on top the foundation he elegantly set up, allowing the guitarist to eventually take flight and soar right through to end.

Phish – “Blaze On” Jam (partial) – 8/6/21

[Video: Frankie]

Then, for the first time on this tour, the crowd got to chant the name of the infamous Duke of Lizards. A short romp through the always rocking “Wilson” quickly gave way to what would become the highlight of an already inspired night—what shall forever be known as the “The Deer Creek Simple.”

Phish – “Simple” [Pro-Shot] – 8/6/21

[Video: Phish]

Before the band launched into the jam, we got a nice “Magilla” tease from Page. The keyboardist was the star early on, setting the dreamy tone with a lush, panned-stereo effect on his Fender Rhodes that washed over the audience. But this thing was about to take a turn towards the dark side.

Much like “Split Open and Melt” from two nights earlier in Nashville, Phish embarked on a Pink Floyd-esque kaleidoscope of sinister sonic exploration. “This is f—ing crazy,” is all I could think to myself as the jam deteriorated further and further into psychedelic anarchy. Trey was so pleased he couldn’t stop laughing to himself throughout what felt like Phish’s elevated and menacing version of “Drums” > “Space”. The segue back into the song’s structure, which was slick and downright filthy, came in a different key than the one in which the song started. All this and I haven’t even mentioned lighting director Chris Kuroda, who might’ve been the MVP for this one despite the older venue not supporting his rig’s marionette-style mechanical motion.

So what does Phish do to counter that 25-minute aural and ocular assault? The only thing that makes sense. They started what became a blissful, joyous “Harry Hood”. The relief that “Harry Hood” provided put an even brighter spotlight on how menacing that “Simple” really was. Trey even needed to offer some comfort as he couldn’t help but walk out to the front of the stage to get closer to the audience, grinning ear to ear. He might’ve been having the most fun of anyone at the amphitheater.

To close the set, we got a much different rendition of the summer tour opener “I Never Needed You Like This Before”. Putting a bow on a raging set at the loudest point in the night felt like a more appropriate slot for this song, and the band was able to give it more energy than they did for its debut.

Returning to the stage for encore, Trey addressed the audience by saying “Ive been thinking about this one a lot lately, so what the hell?” before the band started “Sanity”. Many of the lyrics Phish sang early in the tour seemed to have deeper meaning as we reflected on the pandemic, but possibly none were as relatable as “I don’t know what I’ll do today / Cause sanity never came my way / Lost my mind just a couple times.” If ever there was a song built for Fishman’s sampler, it was this one—and he let us know it.

Phish – “Sanity” – 8/6/21

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

Then, for only the fourth time ever as an encore, the band played “Limb By Limb”, which I—along with most people—incorrectly assumed to be the final tune of the night. But “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S” lifted an already elevated crowd into the stratosphere.

The last time I felt this way about the band was during The Baker’s Dozen run. I didn’t want to miss a note of what was happening that summer at Madison Square Garden. Missing a show felt like missing a piece of history.

What’s happening every night during these second sets is astonishing. Usually, you’d have to see a handful of shows in order to get one of those transcendent sets. Right now, they’re just doing it every night. I can’t help but think that they’re straight up rewarding us (and themselves) for what we all had to endure this last year and a half. And I don’t want to miss a note of it.

The 2021 Phish Deer Creek run continues tonight with the band’s second of two shows in Noblesville this weekend. For a full list of upcoming Phish tour dates, head here.

See below for a gallery of photos from night one of Phish at Deer Creek below via photographer Keith Griner.

Setlist: Phish | Ruoff Music Center (Deer Creek) | Noblesville, IN | 8/6/21

Set One: Carini, Wolfman’s Brother, Sand, Lawn Boy, We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains, Tube, Nellie Kane, Horn > Rift, The Wedge, Walls of the Cave

Set Two: AC/DC Bag > Blaze On, Wilson > Simple, Harry Hood > I Never Needed You Like This Before

Encore: Sanity, Limb By Limb, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Trey teased Stash in The Wedge. Simple contained a Woman from Tokyo tease.