Following a wild weekend in IndianaPhish rolled into Hershey, PA on Tuesday for the band’s first of two midweek shows at Hersheypark Stadium.

While thunderstorms caused a slight delay at the gates, the inclement weather had cleared and a brilliant rainbow had arched over the sprawling expanses of the stadium toward the amusement park in the distance by the time the band hit the stage just after 7:40 p.m. “All the colors of the ‘bow,” Trey Anastasio marveled, echoing Bart Simpson (“It’s a double!” added Page McConnell) before the quartet launched into “First Tube”, mirroring the opening tune from the band’s 9/15/2000 show on this very stage.

[Photo: Barahm Foroughi]

Clearly relishing the opportunity to flex their stadium-rock sing-alongs in the evening’s massive space, Phish continued into the tour debut of “Axilla I” and an unusual early-show “Fuego”. Inside this “Fuego” was where the Hershey crowd got its first taste of improv on the night as Trey and Mike Gordon bounced melodic ideas off of each other while Page’s anthemic piano flourishes danced nimbly on top of them.

After drifting through a few distinct motifs—and foregoing the song’s composed ending entirely—Trey Anastasio fired up the “Runaway Jim” riff and sent the band racing off behind the fugitive pup for the second time this summer. While the song sputtered slightly to start, Anastasio eventually got his footing and patiently built the Type I rocker to an impressive peak.

A brief pause for deliberation yielded a run through “Gumbo”. While Anastasio found some audible humor in his own vocal octave indecisiveness here, McConnell was there for the proverbial “hold my beer” as he swaggered his way through his saloon-style spotlight solo.

Another Phish rocker made for a stadium came next with a compact and highly potent “Sample In A Jar” before “Steam” seeped in for its second running of the tour. While the dark and brooding funk vamp has been a live staple for a decade, it feels like it has picked up new life since being drafted into the Sigma Oasis family last year. We’re looking forward to seeing how the song continues to evolve from here.

In what could be construed as a wink to the chocolate factory within eyesight, the band continued with the first “Sugar Shack” of the tour. Taken at a slower pace than usual, Phish offered up a notably solid version of the notoriously tricky Gordon-penned Joy cut.

Transporting the Hershey crowd from Candyland to “foul domain,” another more sought-after tour debut followed in the form of a frantic, high-speed “Llama” augmented by some spectacular rainbow bursts by Chris Kuroda on the lights. The Gamehendge favorite elicited tangible excitement from both the audience and the grinning guitarist, who asked faux-sheepishly when the song was finished, “How come we never play that song? That’s a fun song.” How come, indeed…

Phish – “Llama” – Hershey, PA – 8/10/21

[Video: Nevaklass]

When Trey looked to Jon Fishman to kick off the next tune, the drummer seemed distracted. “Fish is checkin’ his emails before this next one,” Trey joked, “See if anybody out there texted him. … You guys are like, ‘Too much floor tom, man! Slow down!'”

“That’s just how you’re gonna get more,” Fishman replied, echoing his sentiments from his recent SiriusXM interview and punctuating them with a well-placed “Yeah” from his sample pad/troll button.

With that, the band jumped into the Fishman-sung Kasvot Växt vamp “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long”, always a reliable outlet for the drummer’s mischievous antics. Loose and silly and with plenty of girthy, dissonant synth tones, the band clearly had fun on this reading—as evidenced by an excited Trey singing his own “samples” of Fishman’s “Yeah”s.

Finally, with time for one more to close the first frame, the band moved into the always-welcome “Run Like An Antelope”. This one, in particular, offered some classic Trey sustain leading into the bridge and some classic Trey lyrical fumbles ahead of “rye rye rocco.” Forever laughing it off and charging forward, Fishman responded to the ensuing bid for “spike” with a well-placed “Yeah” sample… Man…

Phish returned after setbreak to kick off the second half of the night with back-to-back improvisational jams on a pair of newer-vintage songs that the band loves to play (as evidenced by their prominent placement in past New Year’s Eve spectacles): the funky Big Boat jam vehicle and NYE 2015 “hourglass” soundtrack, “No Men In No Man’s Land”, and the 2017 Phish NYE centerpiece, “Soul Planet”.

While this two-song opening segment may not have stretched to the lengths and depths we’ve seen from set two opening segments over the last couple weeks, it certainly affirmed Phish’s intention to get dark and creative, to try new sounds and push the boundaries of the songs they’re feeling.

“No Men” offered some big, billowing improv to fit the giant stadium (not to be confused with the Giant Center, the arena across the street that was initially intended to host this Hershey run). Filled with shimmering phasing effects, ominous pitch-shifting from Trey, faint notes of “Bathtub Gin”, and echoing, arpeggiated synths, the jam probed at the darkness for several minutes before pushing off toward a more melodic path behind a simple piano riff.

“Soul Planet” kicked in from there and moved quickly through its composed structure and into a fast-paced funk jam layered with loose, relaxed vocal ad-libs. Fishman pushed the story forward to start before Trey took the reins with major arpeggios to further the band toward sunnier skies. After briefly dropping back into funk behind a deep groove from Mike and Page, Trey signaled a shift into “NICU”.

This fun yet strangely-placed “NICU” offered a few amusing bright spots—like Trey asking “Leon,” not “Leo,” to “play it”—but ultimately gave way to another straightforward number in “Joy”.

Phish – “NICU” – Hershey, PA – 8/10/21

[Video: Bryan Strong]

Another oddly placed tune, “Scent of a Mule”, featured a nimble breakdown from Page and Trey, some fun, gurgling synths, and some wobbling variations on Fishman’s “Yeah” sample, but didn’t do much to align the scattered nature of the set to that point.

Phish – “Scent of a Mule” – Hershey, PA – 8/10/21

[Video: Troy Laur]

Keeping the rotation tight, Phish moved into the second “Golden Age” of the tour. While some nice Page synth washes seemed to offer some potential, Trey quickly pulled the escape hatch and guided the band into the second “Prince Caspian” of the tour. Then, the second “Backwards Down The Number Line” of the summer.

The indescribable, unabashed release of the first “The Lizards” since Mexico and the always-cathartic though arguably not terribly exciting “Character Zero” (the third in ten shows, for those keeping track) finally brought the set to a close, and a rockin’ “Rock and Roll” served as the encore.

The songs were well-played throughout the set, but the unfettered flow and energy that has highlighted this summer’s young tour seemed to be missing on Tuesday. It’s an inevitable point you reach on any tour, especially any tour as good as this one. Not every show can be the best show. Every list—even a list of strong shows—has a top and a bottom, and this show will probably wind up toward the bottom of most people’s list through the first ten concerts on summer tour 2021.

That said, don’t forget what list we’re talking about. For the first time this summer, Phish seemed to pump the breaks a little at Hersheypark Stadium on Tuesday, but make no mistake—the band is still rolling. Don’t be surprised when they lay on the gas again tonight for night two.

Check out a gallery of photos from the show below courtesy of photographer Bahram Foroughi.

For a full list of upcoming Phish tour dates, head here.

Setlist: Phish | Hersheypark Stadium | Hershey, PA | 8/10/21

SET 1: First Tube, Axilla, Fuego[1] -> Runaway Jim, Gumbo > Sample in a Jar, Steam, Sugar Shack, Llama, Death Don’t Hurt Very Long > Run Like an Antelope

SET 2: No Men In No Man’s Land > Soul Planet -> NICU > Joy, Scent of a Mule, Golden Age > Prince Caspian > Backwards Down the Number Line > The Lizards > Character Zero

ENCORE: Rock and Roll

[1] Unfinished.

Fuego was unfinished. Soul Planet had a No Men in No Man’s Land quote and a DEG tease from Trey.