After a quick pitstop at The Met Philadelphia on Tuesday night for their most intimate show in 20 years, Phish continued on their regularly scheduled tour in another well-known Pennsylvanian city on Wednesday. Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh may have been the only show on the 7-night schedule not sold out months in advance, but the ravenous fanbase still showed up in droves to celebrate their favorite Vermonters.
For the second time in its existence, the Mike Gordon-penned “555” opened the show and served as one of “newer” songs of the night. Next, “AC/DC Bag” threw the setlist into a time machine traveling back to an era when Phish kids toured without cell phones, social media, or vape pens. Excluding two side project debuts, the song selection in Pittsburgh remained encapsulated in the pre-3.0 era throughout the duration of the show. Also of note, the absence of Kasvot Växt material in both Philly and Pittsburgh marked the first two-shot run without i rokk since the 2018 Las Vegas Halloween run during which it was debuted.
The jazzy, New Orleans-influenced “Car, Trucks, Buses” was played for the first time since the Baker’s Dozen, a possible nod to the “no songs repeated” tour currently underway. More standard renditions of Phish originals came next in the form of “Water in the Sky”, “Sample in a Jar”, and “Theme from the Bottom”. The first cover of the night followed in the form of Son Seals’ “Funky Bitch”. Trey Anastasio gave the rocker an extra push at the end, but nothing in the first set really broke free from its original composition until the smooth and bluesy “Wolfman’s Brother”. Trey dug in with a fluttering guitar solo accented by Page McConnell’s big B3 organ, making the 10-minute rendition feel much longer and stronger than the timestamp might suggest.
During the well-executed “Haley’s Comet”, Page jumped from clavinet to grand piano to organ following Fishman’s jazzy kit work as they launched into a jam. Teetering on the edge of a monster Type II outing, the band seemed to be going places during the extended, 10-minute “Halley’s” but never achieved full funk lift-off as Trey mellowed things out with a segue into the year’s first rendition of Los Lobos “When the Circus Comes”.
Like a camel-centered Geico commercial, it was all about Mike on this hump day. The band took a brief huddle before debuting “Victim” off Gordon’s 2017 solo album, OGOGO. Page hopped on the Moog synth to add spacey sounds to the bizarre lyrics and catchy bassline. Trey and Fishman gave a Mike Side smile of approval as the song came to an end, signifying that this may not be a one and done in the Phish repertoire.
Phish – “Victim” – 12/4/19
[Video: kembra allen]
Returning to the old school song selection, Phish chose one of their most-played set closers in history, “Run Like an Antelope”. Like most of the other songs in the set, “Antelope” was performed like it was ripped right off the studio album, but still had the fierce energy that kept the crowd grinning through setbreak.
Phish – “Run Like An Antelope” – 12/4/19
[Video: SPECKOFDUST1019 JCH]
In another rare choice of set openers, the quartet went with “Cavern” to start the second act for the first time in 21 years. The “Runaway Jim” that followed saw the band truly break from the mold for the first time on the night. The jam started with a trippy, Pink Floyd-like progression featuring heavy guitar distortion from Trey with Page trailing close behind for arguably the jam of the night. As Fishman shifted gears to introduce a slow-moving, blissful section that transformed back into a spacey groove, lighting designer Chris Kuroda made sure everyone felt included, illuminating the crowd behind the stage to the delight of those facing him. Page’s synth highlighted the end of the “Jim” before Trey began to subtly introduce the opening riff of his Ghosts of the Forest title track, the second side project debut of the night.
Phish – “Ghosts of the Forest” – 12/4/19
[Video: Gregory Marcus]
It’s hard to believe that “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” was one of the newest songs performed on Wednesday night, as it was first played live more than 15 years ago on 6/17/04. Page’s massive organ blended nicely with Gordon’s chunky bass as “ASIHTOS” moved into an ethereal space. Trey appeared to cut the jam short by introducing another water-themed original with a rocking “Prince Caspian”.
The jam that morphed out of “Fuego” featured an exotic middle eastern guitar rift surrounded by heart-pounding bass riffs and a buffet of synth effects. The dark and haunting end of “Fuego” saw “You Enjoy Myself” rise from the ashes. Complete with trampoline bouncing, Gordon’s bass solo, Trey’s unhinged dancing, and a “Shout (You Make Me Wanna)”-influenced vocal jam, fall’s first “YEM” did not disappoint. Speaking of always-welcome tunes, a bonus rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” closed the set in iconic rock fashion.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) December 5, 2019
The old school show was not complete without a vacuum-infused mega bust-out. After Trey took a seat behind the drum kit and the usual “Hold Your Head Up” instrumental brought Fishman to center stage, the drummer warned the crowd, “Whatever you do, you don’t want to go get a beer now” before starting into Syd Barrett‘s “Terrapin”. A staple in the early ‘90s, Barrett’s “Terrapin” had not been performed since 8/11/2004 (a gap of 436 shows), and its “we’re the fishes” line appropriately elicited a chorus of cheers from the crowd. After Fishman’s extended vacuum solo, he ran around the stage, jumped on Page’s grand piano, and eventually navigated his way back to his drum kit, deliriously sipping his water bottle. “Thank you for indulging, that was just so satisfying…and stupid,” Fishman conceded as Trey took his usual place onstage for a show-closing “Julius”.
Beginning Friday night, Phish will close out their short and sweet tour in South Carolina with three sold-out nights at the North Charleston Coliseum. Will they continue their run of no repeats? Tune into to LivePhish.com and see for yourself.
Below, you can check out a gallery of photos of Phish in Pittsburgh courtesy of photographer Andy Wilhelm.
Setlist: Phish | Petersen Events Center | Pittsburgh, PA | 12/4/19
Set One: 555, AC/DC Bag, Cars Trucks Buses, Water in the Sky > Sample in a Jar, Theme From the Bottom > Funky Bitch > Wolfman’s Brother, Halley’s Comet > When the Circus Comes, Victim > Run Like an Antelope
Set Two: Cavern > Runaway Jim > Ghosts of the Forest > A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Prince Caspian > Fuego > You Enjoy Myself > Good Times Bad Times
Encore: Hold Your Head Up > Terrapin > Hold Your Head Up, Julius
 Phish debut.