There’s a good reason the saying exists. Anywhere you find people talking about Phish, you’ll see it. Grizzled veterans know it well. Even the newest phans understand. It’s not a cliché or a platitude—it’s old wisdom, sage advice. And if you don’t heed it, well, that’s just foolish.
You all know what it is. Say it with me: Never. Miss. A. Sunday. Show.
Boy, was that true of last night when Phish returned to Noblesville, IN to close a three-night run at the venue formerly known as Deer Creek. As if we needed more proof that the band relishes playing at this venue, the quartet used the occasion to deliver one of the wildest sets in recent memory.
Following the news earlier in the day that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival had been pushed from October 2021 until Spring 2022 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, concern bubbled throughout the country and around the lot that we may soon hear about more cancellations—a foreboding possibility that only added to the stakes of Phish’s Sunday performance.
The show got started with a nice, breezy pass through “Sigma Oasis”, the title track of Phish’s 2020 album. Next, the band dispensed the forever beloved “The Curtain”, played “Without” its instrumental ending for only the fifth time sincemiie 9/9/2000, the band handled it with a relaxed confidence before segueing into an early-show “Mike’s Song”.
Keyboardist Page McConnell set the tone for the early part of this jam with some greasy, wah-wah Clavinet work. About halfway through, the band aborted the dark, bouncy groove, modulated major, and stripped the jam back before building up to its crescendo. Guitarist Trey Anastasio’s sustain has been a real weapon for the band, well, forever, but this summer especially, and he leaned on it again to great effect during this jam. Bassist Mike Gordon was apparently impressed, dropping in a big bass bomb as a sign of approval. After a very oily minor modulation back to the initial theme of the tune, the band jammed right into its proper conclusion before kicking into the first “My Soul” of the tour.
Page and Trey each took their turns blazing through solos during the bluesy rocker’s first-ever appearance as the meat of a “Mike’s Groove”. Closing the loop, the band dove into “Weekapaug Groove”, Page raising the heat on the shared groove as he moved from Wurlitzer to piano. Though this one never reached a big blowoff top, it still had plenty of energy and some nice interplay between the band members.
It was a fantastic start to the evening, but the band had no plans to let up and followed the “Mike’s Groove” with “Mercury”—the first live rendition of the song since it appeared on Sigma Oasis last year. There are certain new guitar tones and effects we’ve been hearing from Trey that will forever be associated with this tour, and he cycled through a lot of them in this short “Mercury” jam before morphing into a dark and drowsy “46 Days”.
The eighth song of the night was another tour debut, and the band did an impressive job with the complicated “Taste”. From there, the band offered up the debut of a new song fans had heard from afar during soundchecks in both Alpharetta and Nashville, the slow and groovy new Mike Gordon tune, “Casual Enlightenment”.
“Be my mantra / Be my pinch of Nirvana / Be the touch of transcendence I wanted,” sang Mike about a casual night with a mystery guest. As with most debuts, you could feel the band concentrating through this one, making sure they got it right.
Phish – “Casual Enlightenment” (Debut) – 8/8/21
Then, to close the set, we got the “David Bowie” everyone had been eagerly anticipating. Though Trey had some early trouble in the composed sections, he rebounded nicely and the band delivered a solid jam that evoked a vibe similar to the “Weekapaug” we heard earlier in the set. Modulating major early, this one didn’t elevate until the modulation back to the minor “Bowie” theme, eventually wrapping up a strong 90-minutes of music.
There were six tour debuts in the opening frame, including one brand new offering from the band. The set had lots of energy and some terrific improvisation. The pillows were nicely fluffed for a big second half of the evening.
And about the second half of the evening… I will do my best to articulate what eventually happened on that stage, but no matter what I write, it won’t suffice. No setlist will be adequate. Words can’t do justice to the segue-heavy mashup mayhem that ensued. You’ll just have to listen yourself. That said…
To open the second frame, the band coasted through a gurgling, full-throttle, almost 16-minute “Bathtub Gin” that didn’t let up until the very end, at which point the bottom dropped out and the jam landed in the first “Waves” of the summer.
It appeared as if we were only getting a small serving of the Round Room tune as the band jumped back into the song’s refrain not long after a frenetic and smoldering jam. But it was on the backside of this “Waves” that things got interesting.
It seemed as though we were in for another “longest-ever” Type II jam, but after a “Bathtub” tease from Trey, the band completely changed directions and settled into a funky, staccato groove over which Trey started singing the lyrics to “Ghost”. This quick pass through “Ghost” was unlike any you’ve heard before, and just as you started to think you wouldn’t mind hearing it this way every time, Trey pulled the ripcord and segued into the sought-after New Orleans cover, “Sneaking Sally Thru The Alley”.
Phish – “Waves”/”Ghost”/”Sneakin’ Sally” Transition – 8/8/21
Things continued to get stranger from there. Just as a great “Sally” groove got going and the band started easing into a vocal jam, out of nowhere Trey started singing “Ghost” over the bouncy groove. Grinning and laughing, he crooned, “I feel I never told you / The story of… Sally / In the alley!” as the band continued with the thick, funky vibe.
As “Sally” started to wane, Trey began strumming the opening chords of “Twenty Years Later”. The lyrics “Feel it turning in circles / And you’re never the same again / Spin slowly while sounds cascade and decay / I’m here upside down” would turn out to be an excellent forecast for what was to come.
Over a spacey, esoteric sonic exploration which evoked a sort of “Prince Caspian”-type jam, Trey sang the song’s refrain, “Inside this silence see, all are free” before another wizard-like slide into what became a pure and precise “Waste” featuring some of Trey’s best guitar work of the night.
At this point, it was clear that there would be very few musical breaks until the band left the stage, and before the last notes of “Waste” faded, Trey veered into “Twist.”
Then, right in the middle of an inspired, bass-heavy “Twist” jam, Trey started singing the reggae-flavored “Maksiupa Policeman” and the band followed him into the song. Still smiling, Trey ad-libbed the lyrics, “Woke up this morning / Sally in my bed / Hey Makisupa Policeman wouldn’t twist around round round round round” before leading the band back into “Twist.”
Over “Twist”, Trey started singing lyrics from “Twenty Years Later” before going back into “Makisupa” where, over that reggae vamp, he sang lyrics from “Sneakin’ Sally”, “Bathtub Gin”, “Twenty Years Later”, and “Ghost”—“I feel I never told you / The story of the police-man!” Page got in on the action with some “your trip is short” samples from “Martian Monster”, letting us know that our spaceship was about to blast off.
Phish – “Makisupa Policeman”/”Twist” – 8/8/21
[Video: kembra allen]
Right on cue, just as things were getting a little too silly, the band got serious and took “Twist” where she originally promised she’d go—deep into the psychedelic darkness. Trey’s syncopated arpeggio delay, which has shown up all over every show, really found its perfect home here, hoisting this jam to its eventual peak before the band went back into the form of the tune to wrap it up.
After an unrelenting hour of music, the band finally took a short breath before kicking into “Most Events Aren’t Planned”, marking Phish’s sixth performance of the Vida Blue tune. The title aptly spoke to all the music that preceded it, and the lyrics “Out of space and time / And the boundaries of mind” were appropriate not just for the Page-penned, hip-hop-electronica voyage, but for the stunned audience after what they had just witnessed. Phish soared through this one, evoking a similar feeling to the first set closer from Friday, “Walls Of The Cave.”
Phish – “Most Events Aren’t Planned” (Vida Blue) – 8/8/21
[Video: kembra allen]
Unwilling to leave the stage, Trey started the Big Boat tune “More”. After landing on the final, satiating chord to end “More”, Trey ducked back into “Bathtub Gin” once again–if only so he could sing, “the story of … Sally!!” before taking a bow.
Though maybe not everyone’s favorite encore, “Contact” feels like it usually shows up after very special shows. The band and the audience, arms in the air, waving in unison after experiencing something outlandish and beautiful together—the feeling can’t be beat.
Afterwards, Trey joked, “This could be a little theme here,” as the band started into the more widely beloved car song, “Slave To The Traffic Light”.
You know, sometimes these recaps can feel a little frivolous. So often words aren’t enough. That’s why music exists. Music is what language wishes it could be. And for all of us in this little club—the people at the show, those of us watching from home, the people who will listen at some point down the line— Phish so profoundly embodies that notion. We’re truly all in this together, but never more so than when the band delivers a perfec, sublime show-ending “Slave”. Seeing a version like Sunday night’s could bring a tear to the eye of the most jaded vet.
Phish left it all on the stage this weekend in Indiana. The sheer number of musical styles and techniques on display tonight was downright absurd. I truly have no idea if or when these guys will let up. As I mentioned in previous reviews, and at the top of this one, the stakes were already high. Now, they’re even higher, and our favorite band is determined to leave everything out on the stage whenever they play.
Let’s all get some rest tomorrow, because we get right back at it on Tuesday night in Hershey, PA. Lucky me. Lucky you. Lucky us.
Check out a gallery of photos from the Sunday night Phish show at Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, IN below via photographer Keith Griner.
Setlist: Phish | Ruoff Music Center | Noblesville
SET 1: Sigma Oasis, The Curtain > Mike’s Song > My Soul, Weekapaug Groove, Mercury > 46 Days > Taste, Casual Enlightenment, David Bowie
SET 2: Bathtub Gin > Waves -> Ghost > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Twenty Years Later -> Waste > Twist > Makisupa Policeman > Twist, Most Events Aren’t Planned > More > Bathtub Gin
ENCORE: Contact > Slave to the Traffic Light
This show featured the debut of Casual Enlightenment. Sneakin’ Sally contained a Ghost quote and a Waves tease. Makisupa referenced Sally. The return to Twist contained Twenty Years Later, Ghost, and Martian Monster quotes, Bathtub Gin and Makisupa Policeman teases and quotes, and Sally references. Trey teased Martian Monster in Most Events Aren’t Planned. The set ending Bathtub Gin contained a Ghost quote with a Sally reference. This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.