Phish has performed at the North Charleston Coliseum six times dating back to 1995, and Friday night’s sold-out crowd walked into a well-oiled machine at the end of their brief fall run ready to crush their seventh appearance at the South Carolina venue.
What’s a great way to kick off a three-night party in South Carolina? A “Carolina”, “Party Time” opener. Since 1998, this would mark the band’s third “Carolina”, which was appropriately played in North Carolina during that 21-year span. The show-starting barbershop rarity was greeted with thunderous applause that only got louder during Jon Fishman‘s drum opening for “Party Time”. Page McConnell dropped in early with jazzy organ overtones and, after switching to the grand piano, he handed the leadership role to Trey Anastasio for some extended guitar work.
Next up was the instantly loved Shuggie Otis cover, “Strawberry Number 23,” which was first played by the band during the “Strawberry Donut Night” of Baker’s Dozen. The bouncy “Undermind” shined a spotlight on Page’s synth work, which has been a prevalent force in this short tour thus far. Trey took over with a distorted, fuzzy effect that grew into a thunderous peak. As “Undermind” came to an end, Trey asked, “Hey Page, I’ve just been wondering, where you been anyway?” Page’s answer was the song, “I Been Around”. The bluesy Joy tune has now randomly shown up on tour seven times since 2009 and tends to include some playful banter to engage the crowd.
A well-executed and confidentially played “Divided Sky”, gave way for another early-Phish classic with “The Sloth”. The first setlist where these two classics appeared together dates way back to 8/9/87 at Nectar’s. There was a time not long ago where die-hard fans would do just about anything to scratch “Destiny Unbound” off their bucket list, yet Friday’s extended version was the 17th played since the return of Phish in 2009. Fishman laid down a nice foundation for Page’s funky Clavinet, Trey’s bright and bluesy guitar work, and a “Live and Let Die” quote snuck in by Mike Gordon.
“We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains” was the first Kasvot Växt tune to be played since “Turtles In the Clouds” opened last Saturday’s show in Providence. This three-show gap would be the longest that the Scandinavian alter-ego went missing from a Phish show since i Rok’s debut on 10/31/2018. The sweet, gluey magnet reprise quickly shifted gears into lyrics about a weapon-yielding buddy in “My Friend, My Friend”. The sinister dark-Phish staple nicely introduced “About to Run” from the Ghosts of the Forest album. The band gave Trey all the time he needed to let his emotions out via six-string.
The buy one, get one combo of “The Horse” > “Silent in the Morning” acted as the calm before the set-ending “David Bowie” superstorm, the third Nectar’s era tune of Friday’s first set. Light designer Chris Kuroda did what he does best by illuminating and exciting the already-frantic audience members, leaving them more than satisfied during set break.
Watch the band’s set one performance of “Strawberry Number 23” from Friday below.
Phish – “Strawberry Letter 23” – 12/6/2019
[Video: Gregory Marcus]
Continuing the trend of rare set two openers this tour, the foursome returned to the stage with the always-rambunctious “Axilla”, which was last seen in this slot back on 7/22/2016. Page’s organ was back in the spotlight during the straightforward rendition complete with Fishman’s demonic vocal delivery that even gave Trey a good laugh. “Scents and Subtle Sounds” from 2004’s Undermind would serve as the evening’s longest and most dynamic offering. At nearly 19-minutes, the jam began with a blissful delivery that slowly crept into more interstellar territory with Gordon’s deep bass grooves accented by Page’s synth work. Fishman brought the tempo to a low boil, summoning Page’s Clavinet along with a start-stop “wooing” segment. A spooky full-band outro created the ideal segue for Led Zepplin’s “No Quarter,” last performed as part of 12/29/18, one of the best shows of last year.
“Your Pet Cat” was a good opportunity for Page to show off his meowing Disney samples on top of Gordon’s funky bassline. Since the first few performances, “Mercury” has been a standout jam vehicle, but Friday’s version was more tightly compact than usual. Trey introduced the brief funk jam with a choppy, tick-tock riff which laid nicely on top of Gordon’s groove. The band transitioned into “Saw It Again” for the first time post-“Mercury”, giving way to a potent and extended “Limb By Limb”. Fishman threw the dog a bone, singing “This Old Man” over the dizzying effects offered by his bandmates.
A gorgeous “Lizards” kept the set in a mellow mood that didn’t seem to bother the dialed-in crowd at all. “Suzy Greenburg” picked the energy back up and capped an excellent night of music with more “Axilla” notes from Trey; a follow up from the “Axilla” echoed in “Scents and Subtle Sounds.” For the three-part encore, the band returned to stage for the first “Bittersweet Motel” since 7/6/2016, modifying the lyrics to “halfway from Charleston” to “Pittsburgh.” Making up for lost ground, the second Kasvot Växt original of the evening came in the form of “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long”, before an extended, fully-filled “Loving Cup”.
Friday night’s exclamation point of a show proved that the hard-to-find Charleston tickets were worth all the effort. If the first of the band’s three sold-out Charleston shows was any indication of how the next two would be played, fans with Saturday and Sunday tickets are in for a special treat. Phish concludes their 2019 Fall Tour on Saturday and Sunday night at the North Charleston Coliseum. If you are one of the thousands that struck out on tickets, you can watch both shows on LivePhish.com.
Setlist: Phish | North Charleston Coliseum | North Charleston, SC | 12/6/2019
Set One: Carolina, Party Time, Strawberry Letter 23 (Shuggie Otis cover) > Undermind, I Been Around > Divided Sky, The Sloth, Destiny Unbound, We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains > My Friend, My Friend > About to Run, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, David Bowie
Set Two: Axilla > Scents and Subtle Sounds > No Quarter (Led Zeppelin cover) > Your Pet Cat, Mercury > Saw It Again > Limb By Limb > The Lizards, Suzy Greenberg
Encore: Bittersweet Motel > Death Don’t Hurt Very Long > Loving Cup (The Rolling Stones cover)
 No “Myfe” ending.
 Lyrics changed to “halfway from Charleston to Pittsburgh.”