Last night, before the sun had a chance to set, Phish took the stage for the second of two sold-out shows at the Ascend Amphitheater in downtown Nashville, TN.
For the second time this summer, Phish opened the show with a debut from Trey Anastasio‘s quarantine songwriting sessions. “Evolve” is laid back and breezy and evokes some hints of “Crowd Control”. Without a real jam section or launching point, the Phish debut of “Evolve” remained short and sweet.
Next, for the first time on this tour, Phish played a song already heard in its entirety this summer, ending a notable run of no repeated songs through the tour’s first five shows. Up to this point, the band had played 98 unique songs without re-playing a tune. The no-repeat breaker came in the form of “Free” and, as usual, bassist Mike Gordon was out front early with some syrupy Modulus Bass action. Big Red eventually brought the tune up to its peak with some of his signature sustain before wrapping up the strong take on the popular Billy Breathes number that so many fans had been waiting to sing along to throughout the last year.
“We’re so happy to be here, you have no idea,” beamed Trey before counting off the pace to “Ocelot”. This languid version was a little sluggish to start, but the crowd’s patience was rewarded with a slow-burn jam featuring some nice handiwork by Trey.
After blasting through a Nashville-appropriate country/bluegrass-inflected favorite, Trey quipped, “[That was] a little song by Jon Fishman, it’s called ‘My Sweet One’. It went straight up the charts a few years ago with a bullet. Number one!”
Following some goofy banter by the band about how this next song was by a band they love to cover from the ’80s, the drummer asked, “Do I start this?” about the Kasvot Växt song “Cool Amber And Mercury” before a laughing Trey counted it off himself. It was only the sixth appearance of the Halloween 2018 song, the last being at the North Charleston Coliseum on 12/7/19.
The Page-penned Fuego tune “Halfway To The Moon” followed. This one always feels like it has potential to stretch out, but even without a big jam it’s a great opportunity to hear Page at his finest on the piano.
“What key is that in?” asked Trey. “E-flat,” responded Page before starting “Water In The Sky”, which included a nice little Wurlitzer solo from the keyboardist.
[Photo: Keith Griner]
Another Billy Breathes tune, “Theme From The Bottom”, found its way into the first set next. Once again, Trey used his sustain to create some tension to lift an already beautiful jam up a rung to its eventual climax.
The always-welcome “Suzy Greenberg” followed. After some great piano work by Page, Trey tried to return to the verse, but Page wasn’t finished with his solo so the rest of the band stepped back and the crowd cheered as he dug in even harder.
Then, much to the delight of the Music City crowd, Trey began the distinctive, arpeggiated opening of “Fluffhead” over the final notes of “Suzy”.
Though over the last decade Phish has sometimes struggled with the Junta composition, the band nailed it in Nashville. The band, along with lighting director Chris Kuroda, were as dialed in with this one as they had been on anything all tour long. It was just an outstanding, rocking version to close set one—and Trey knew it, as he couldn’t help but smile and bob his head for the last few minutes. Not only was this the highlight of the night up to this point, it’ll go down as one of the highlights of this entire tour. Fantastic stuff.
Phish – “Fluffhead” – Nashville, TN – 8/4/21
[Video: Tennesee Rocks!]
With almost no extended jamming in the first set, you’d expect them come out swinging for the fences in the second half, and that’s exactly what happened. On this tour, the second sets have become required listening. Never have I heard the band so determined to improvise for such long stretches—and this set was no exception.
Performed for only the seventh time in Phish’s history, the Trey Anastasio Band standby and Phish jam vehicle “Mr. Completely” opened the set, leaving no question that they would take this one deep. The band charged headfirst into the jam and immediately picked up the energy right where “Fluffhead” had left off. The band blitzed through a raging, multi-layered, effect-laden sonic journey reminiscent of the last handful of second set gems we’ve been treated to this tour. Even though it clocked in at “only” 19 minutes and 23 seconds, you can stack this one next to the “Carini”, “Chalk Dust Torture”, and “Tweezer” from this past weekend.
Before the delayed, gooey, space funk finished echoing out, Trey counted off “Birds Of A Feather”. A raging but abbreviated version gave way to “Ghost”. Early on here we heard more from the drippy, evil octave effects in Trey’s new rig, which set the tone for the beginning of this jam. Fishman and Mike seemed especially connected during this one, allowing Trey and Page to trade thematic ideas until the band collectively discovered the second half of this improvisation. At one point, Fishman and Trey both teased “Mr. Completely”, which took them down a new, darker path.
Just as they seemed to be settling in for another section, we were treated to the best segue of the tour. Without bailing on the dark, delay-heavy, wah-wah theme of the previous jam, the band followed Trey into “Bathtub Gin”. Page never landed on the signature piano for the introduction and instead stayed on his synths, sustaining the motif established in the fantastic “Ghost”.
The auspicious beginning delivered on its promise and the non-stop energy continued throughout this “Gin”, touching on some of the themes established in “Mr. Completely” and explored again throughout “Ghost” before drizzling back into the head of the song finish up.
Phish – “Bathtub Gin” Jam (partial) – Nashville, TN – 8/4/21
[Video: Tennesee Rocks!]
It was time for a breather, but Fishman instead kicked into the familiar drum beat of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, otherwise known as “2001”. Yet again, reluctant to abandon the theme, Page stayed on his synths rather than digging into the traditional Fender Rhodes as he teased “Gin” ahead of blast-off. Trey teased “Mr. Completely” once again while Mike and Fishman hammered down on the funky “2001” groove. This abridged version had hardly finished when, still unwilling to relent, the band segued into “Split Open And Melt”.
At this point, the “songs” could have been anything. They were just using them as breaks between one long thematic, exploratory jam. You could line these jams up back-to-back and it would just sound like different sections from one overarching piece.
For this section, Phish went even darker, even more twisted, and even more experimental than we had heard all tour. This downright evil 17 minute and 32 second “Melt” set-closer got nastier and more sinister the longer it went on. As the band emerged from the darkness and went back into the song’s form, a visibly stoked Fishman used the sampler for the first time of the night to voice his approval with two “YEAHS!”
After thanking the crowd and introducing the band before exiting the stage for the encore break, Trey joked, “This last song was in the key of C-sharp, we hope you enjoyed it. We’ll see you again soon.”
Phish – “Split Open And Melt” [Pro-Shot] – Nashville, TN – 8/4/21
Flat-out refusing to dial it back at all whatsoever, the band returned to the stage for a blistering “Character Zero” encore with more delayed, “Mr. Completely” style guitar from Trey.
It’s hard to imagine that Phish can go any harder than they did last night in Nashville. It was another massive second set from the band. Absolutely massive. Every note of this set is worth listening to, and if it hasn’t already, FOMO is setting in around the country as word spreads to phans far and wide what Phish has been doing in the South. Almost a year and a half of love, light, and frustration are pouring out of these guys on stage every night, and it’s a wonder to behold.
[Photo: Keith Griner]
This weekend, Phish is off to Noblesville, IN for three shows at the legendary Ruoff Music Center (formerly—and forever, in our hearts—known as Deer Creek). I can’t imagine what they have in store for us there.
For a full list of upcoming 2021 Phish summer tour dates, head here.
Check out a gallery of photos from Nashville night two below courtesy of photographer Keith Griner.
Setlist: Phish | Ascend Amphitheater | Nashville, TN | 8/4/21
Set One: Evolve, Free, Ocelot > My Sweet One, Cool Amber and Mercury, Halfway to the Moon, Water in the Sky, Theme From the Bottom > Suzy Greenberg > Fluffhead
Set Two: Mr. Completely > Birds of a Feather, Ghost -> Bathtub Gin > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Split Open and Melt
Encore: Character Zero
 Phish debut.
This show featured the Phish debut of Evolve. Page teased “Charge!” after My Sweet One. The Birds was quoted in Birds of a Feather. Ghost and Bathtub Gin contained Mr. Completely teases. Page teased Bathtub Gin in Also Sprach Zarathustra. This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.