On Saturday, February 22nd, Phish played the third of four shows at the Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico. Among discerning heads, the previous three Mexico runs haven’t carried the musical cache reserved for the more storied venues in Phish history (e.g., Alpine Valley, Dick’s, Madison Square Garden). Perhaps because the tropical environment lends itself more to breezy enjoyment than the raging energy attendant to most top tier Phish experiences, but stellar musical moments like the “Sand” > “Ghost” > “2001” from January 15th, 2016 have been relatively rare.
Try telling that to any of the lucky attendees at Thursday’s show, who got an entire night’s worth of music in one set, or Friday’s show, who received a triple serving of the ultra-rare “Shafty” and marvelous jamming out of “No Men In No Man’s Land” and “Piper”. Spirits were surely high headed into Saturday night.
Over three hours, Phish delivered sped-up versions of fan favorites, odd song placements, a bevy of cover bust-outs, and a handful of interesting jams. “Willin'” started the night auspiciously, with drummer-cum-frontman John Fishman taking a rare turn on lead vocals (dressed in a parrot print suit, no less). The Little Feat classic, played for the first time since Halloween 2010 (349 shows), became the third straight Halloween tune to begin a show on this run. The “Tube” that followed was aggressively paced but suffered from a few rough changes.
Phish – “Willin'” – 2/22/20
Turning to the ballad, “Evening Song”, in the third slot of the first set was an interesting choice. “Set Your Soul Free” pulled the energy right back up and into the first micro jam of the evening. All four band members seemed locked into the rollicking, if not overly energetic in execution.
Nothing chums the water like a tasty bust out, and “You Sexy Thing” (70 shows) delivered. While no one will ever accuse Mike Gordon of being the most talented singer, he gave the high notes his all, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
“46 Days” saw Trey Anastasio meaningfully engage with his guitar for the first time, giving a fairly standard reading of the shred for which the song is well known. When Chilling Thrilling‘s “Your Pet Cat” finished, the set had yet to develop any real flow. The next 15 minutes of “Tweezer” > “Manteca” provided the antidote and the first full-band meld of the evening. Page McConnell stepped out early on the baby grand piano, guiding the band through a major key modulation, then into the first “Manteca” proper in 4 years and 160 shows. Trey bore down with some great trills before puddling into “Twist” via “Makisupa Policeman.” Much like “46 Days” before it, this workhorse of the Phish canon trod some very familiar territory before returning home. All four members gave perfunctory bows before hurrying off the stage.
If those in attendance felt as though the show had lacked a certain buzz, despite the three bust-outs and a decent jam out of “Tweezer”, the band might have been thinking the same thing when it turned to “Energy” to start the second set. The ebullient melody gave a jolt to the crowd, who was enduring another driving rainstorm. Page’s synth flow guided the jam down to “Soul Planet,” which Trey quickly shredded with some tasteful wah.
Phish – “Energy” – 2/22/20
It is not for no reason that even after almost 37 years, Phish are still the undisputed kings of the jam scene, and tonight’s “Waves” showed exactly why: 30 minutes into a down second set with crowd energy waning, they pieced together the jam of the night, pushed forward by Fish’s ever-changing rhythms. The whole band dialed back to a simmer and let the music, not a man, take the reins for the next 16 minutes, at which point Trey hit on a simple two-note pattern while singing a few bars of “Soul Planet.”
If you listen to a single jam from Saturday, it’s got to be the “Soul Planet” or the truly scary “Carini” that followed it. Unlike so many of its 3.0 brethren, this “Carini” stayed on the wrong side of the tracks, through some heavy syncopation-led by Mike before landing into “Chalkdust Torture.” While “Carini” and “Waves” were the most accomplished jams of the evening, this “Chalkdust” certainly strayed the furthest from home before expertly segueing into “Have Mercy.” Mike hit the night’s only few real moments of funk.
Deep into the fourth quarter, Trey reached for “A Life Beyond the Dream,” the second Ghosts of the Forest track of the weekend. A very difficult beginning vocally was redeemed by an energetic effort to close. The composed sections of “Harry Hood” were executed with a zest usually not found in latter-day versions, but the jam suffered from lack of direction and was put to bed early.
After one final bust out in “Sweet Jane” (100 shows), “Tweezer Reprise” put the cap on an evening where Phish frankly struggled to find the magic. Workmanlike efforts on “Carini,” “Chalkdust,” and “Waves” are worth a listen, but other moments will not warrant future listening. Phish plays the fourth and last evening of Riviera Maya 2020 tomorrow night.
Phish Riviera Maya at the Moon Palace Cancun continues tonight, Sunday, February 23rd.
Setlist: Phish | Riviera Maya | Cancun, MX | 2/22/20
Set One: Willin’ (Little Feat cover), Tube, Evening Song, Set Your Soul Free, You Sexy Thing (Hot Chocolate cover) > 46 Days, Waste > Your Pet Cat, Tweezer > Manteca (Dizzy Gillespie cover) > Makisupa Policeman > Twist
Set Two: Energy > Soul Planet > Waves > Carini > Chalk Dust Torture -> Have Mercy > A Life Beyond The Dream, Harry Hood
Encore: Sweet Jane (The Velvet Underground cover) > Tweezer Reprise
 Played over You Sexy Thing backing music.