Every year, at some point before Phish hits the road, I find myself asking the same rhetorical question: “It’s summer tour already?! But it feels like New Year’s run was just last month!” This year, that notion was not illusion but reality as the band kicked off a brief early-summer run (Memorial Day Weekend is summer, don’t @ me) at The Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, AL on Friday—just over a month after celebrating a belated New Year’s Eve on Earth Day at Madison Square Garden.

Trey AnastasioPage McConnellMike Gordon, and Jon Fishman took the stage at 8 p.m. local time and greeted the fading, orange sunset glow with the first-ever show-opening “Twist”. Not in any apparent rush, Phish worked through measured segments of melodic improv, getting reacquainted with each other and their ever-expanding palette of sounds as they they took in the Gulf Coast air.

A brief “Halley’s Comet” set up an early-show “Sand” oozing with dark, dank late-night energy. Some gracious thank yous (“Nice to see you, nice to see you down there. You all look so lovely and beautiful,” Trey grinned) and intra-band deliberation (“That’s my friend Page McConnell coming over to give me hug,” he added as the pianist bent his ear) prompted The Dillards‘ “The Old Home Place”, a strong Southern selection smothered with a savory solo from Page.

A short trip through a funky, layered “Martian Monster” gave way to an even shorter anecdote about some less-exotic beasts, “Dogs Stole Things”, the rollicking blues chestnut serving as a launch pad for McConnell’s Fuego ballad “Halfway to the Moon”.

As the conversation in our living room drifted to the fact that Southern road warriors Widespread Panic were also playing in Alabama at that very moment, I must admit that Phish briefly got the mute button here in favor of the Panic stream. When your wife is a card-carrying Phish fan but a Georgia girl through and through, sometimes it’s best to play along. Hearing Jimmy Herring rip a solo on “Worry” is never a bad way to spend a few minutes. The joys of couch tour…

A contemplative, slow-build “Stash” snapped us back to the Southern Coast. Buoyed by Gordon’s plodding low-end bounce and Fishman’s light touch on the cymbals, this rendition of the A Picture of Nectar favorite lurked through the darkness before breaking into a frantic sprint toward the light.

From there, a lovely “Shade” and a rocking “I Never Needed You Like This Before” finally landed in a set-closing “Bathtub Gin”. As the jam churned to a climactic conclusion and waves of sound pulsed through the cracks of the Fishman dam, both the sprawling (more so than usual?) light rig and some artful new camera angles gave the viewers at home some novel eye candy to enjoy.

After a break, the band returned for set two with a quick “Llama” of the “slow” variety, taking Orange Beach for a funky jaunt over the Turquoise Mountain. The second frame escalated quickly from there as the band lifted off to “Soul Planet”. Always good for some cosmic improvisation, this rendition quickly went dark and spooky thanks to dissonant interplay between Trey and Mike and entropic synth swells from Page.

Phish – “Soul Planet” > “Quadrophonic Toppling” > “Soul Planet” [Pro-Shot] – 5/27/22

As gears connected and the jam ground into a mechanical fray, a muted vocal sample began to float into the mix. Even listening back post-show, it was tough to make out exactly what the recorded voice was saying (Mrs. Cleaver, is that you?) or from whose corner it was coming—though some familiar Fishman “ha ha” samples assured that he at least had some skin in the game (and if that’s the case, there’s probably a tongue-in-cheek joke attached).

Things got even stranger from there. As the band percolated on an airy progression and Fishman continued his giggling samples, Trey slid into the first rendition of The Siket Disc‘s “Quadrophonic Toppling” since the Long Set at Big Cypress on 12/31/99, a gap of 603 shows

Well, that’s the short version. A slightly longer but more informative version: Not quite a “song” by conventional standards, “Quadrophonic Toppling” appeared on The Siket Disc as a sub-two-minute bass vamp with an occasional snippet of Mike saying the words “quadrophonic toppling” laid on top. At Big Cypress, coming out of a now-storied “Sand” jam, Mike played a recording of him saying “quadrophonic toppling” from his phone into the mic to herald the first-ever live rendition of the free-form piece… sort of; aside from the pre-recorded words and the open-ended feel, nothing in this 14-minute interlude sounded much like what’s on The Siket Disc. The “Quadrophonic Toppling” that popped up during the Orange Beach ’22 “Soul Planet” maneuvered in much the same way, the words serving more as a call to cultivate a certain soundscape than to play a specific composition.

After the show, the detail-oriented online Phish community hashed it out over how to score it: Was this a true rendition of “Quadrophonic Toppling”? Was it just a “quote,” as we marked it when Mike said the words during “Axilla Part II” on fake New Year’s last month? Can any performance of a song that has no real musical parameters really be a true rendition? Do we need to get a life and stop obsessing over Phish data? [Note: Never. We love you, Phish nerds. Never change].

As of publication time, it looks like the collective Phish stat-erati have decided to call this a true “Toppling”, and that’s all well and good, but its implications are more important: at show number one of the campaign, a night often bogged down by cobweb-clearing and that “new-tour smell,” Phish was creating, inventing, and renewing in prime, mid-tour form.

[UPDATE 5/31/22]: After changing stances several times, phish.net has updated the setlist to refer to this “Quadrophonic Toppling” as a “quote” rather than a full rendition. The powers that be even went back and adjusted the Big Cypress setlist to call that one a quote, too, undoing decades of setlist stats leaving the song at an “official” total of zero times played. Read the explanation or the updates here. LivePhish continues to list the segment as “Quadrophonic Toppling”.

The set only got better as it went: A brooding “Ghost” swelled and contracted to hair-raising effect. An ethereal “Scents and Subtle Sounds” cast a dim, film noir haze over the amphitheater. On “Chalk Dust Torture”, no doubt a highlight of the evening, the band quickly dispensed with the composed bits and set off on brisk improvisational journey, cycling through distinct melodic and textural concepts with purposeful intent. While perhaps not the longest or greatest “Chalk Dust” of all time, this one covered a ton of interesting ground with curiosity and a tasteful touch.

With time for one more, the band broke out The Rolling Stones‘ “Loving Cup”, just one sip from a glass that seems poised to overflow all summer long. A two-song encore of “Waste” and “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” finally closed the book on night one.

A whole lot of fun, and we’ve only just begun. Phish returns to The Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, AL tonight for night two of three. For a full list of upcoming Phish tour dates, head here.

Stream a soundboard recording of the full show via LivePhish here. Order your Phish Spring Tour 2022 webcasts here.

Setlist [via phish.net]: Phish | The Wharf Amphitheater | Orange Beach, AL | 5/27/22

SET 1: Twist > Halley’s Comet > Sand, The Old Home Place, Martian Monster, Dogs Stole Things, Halfway to the Moon, Stash, Shade, I Never Needed You Like This Before, Bathtub Gin

SET 2: Llama[1], Soul Planet -> Quadrophonic Toppling -> Soul Planet > Ghost -> Scents and Subtle Sounds -> Chalk Dust Torture, Loving Cup

ENCORE: Waste, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

[1] Performed in a slow funk style.

Llama was performed in a slow funk style. This show featured the first Quadrophonic Toppling since December 31, 1999 (604 shows). During the soundcheck, Mike quoted Got My Mojo Working in the jam and Trey quoted My Shot after The Final Hurrah as well as Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 in Gumbo.


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