At long last, Phish Fall Tour 2019 has finally arrived! With bellies still full both onstage and in the crowd at Providence, RI’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center after the previous day’s Thanksgiving festivities, Phish eased into their brief November/December run with an undoubtedly fun though less-than-outstanding Friday evening performance, much like many tour openers in recent memory.
Phish started their first Providence show since 10/22/10 with a jolt of energy in the form of “First Tube”. Trey Anastasio bobbed and weaved his way through the fan-favorite instrumental, the first of seven Farmhouse (2000) songs to appear on the setlist on Friday night. After an energetic, white light peak and some unusually watery tones from Page McConnell, the band brought the strong leadoff number to a close.
A particularly funky, slightly extended rendition of Kasvot Växt centerpiece “The Final Hurrah” followed, aided greatly by more quivering New Orleans-style piano frills from Page. The band seems to be getting more and more comfortable with this relatively new tune, which feels primed to break out into a bonafide beast of a jam. On this night, however, “The Final Hurrah” remained mostly within the lines (save for some hot Page/Trey interplay and a jazzy backbeat from Jon Fishman) before Trey pulled the ripcord and guided the band into “NICU”.
Next, an extra-long Fishman hi-hat ripple sent a beam of sunlight dancing through “Steam”, a relatively brief reading highlighted by more jazz-inflected chord choices from Trey. “Scent of a Mule” followed from there, offering a few moments of levity with the customary “Mule Duel” between Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon.
An out-of-left-field bust-out was up next in the form of “Bye Bye Foot”, the long-lost Fishman ballad not heard live since 8/10/97 at Deer Creek. This marked the fifth performance of Jon Fishman-sung tune at an “official” public Phish show (not counting its technical debut on 6/6/97 at a special, friends-only show Brad Sands‘ and Pete Carini‘s house ahead of the band’s European tour).
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Where I end and you begin I wanna find… that line and cross it back and forth until it’s erased by our foot steps by our foot steps by our foot steps #ByeByeFoot an ultra rare nug #Bustout Jam with a lead vocal by Fishman. 22 years 705 show gap since last played. Performed only four times in 1997, tonight was the fifth time ever. #Stats #Phish #Providence
A short and sweet “No Men In No Man’s Land” picked up the momentum once again before a room-temperature bowl of “Gumbo” (well-seasoned with an excellent Page outro jam) led into a spirited take on “My Soul”. From there, Phish debuted a tune off Crossing Lines, the new album released by McConnell side project Vida Blue earlier this year. While it was nice to see 2019 vintage Vida Blue work its way into a Phish show, the ballad didn’t quite connect in its first outing in the big leagues. No matter—the tour is still young, and a red-hot “Sand” jam (complete with Cheshire Cat-like red, purple, and yellow displays from Chris Kuroda) and a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Fire” (the first since “Boston Cream” night at the Baker’s Dozen on 8/5/17) were waiting in the wings to close out an overall strong set one on a high note.
Phish – “Fire” [Jimi Hendrix cover] – 11/29/19
[Video: Gregory Marcus]
After setbreak, the band returned to the stage to kick off set two with “46 Days”. The live staple quickly pushed into improv territory behind winding and weaving melody lines by Mike and Trey. Anastasio guided the band through some tension and release with notably thick, meaty tones before landing back in the “46 Days” theme to complete the short but sweet set opener in less than eight minutes.
Without skipping a beat, Trey once again took the reins as he launched the group into “Back On The Train”. This “BOTT” was similarly short, though interesting for the “Very Long Fuse”-reminiscent vibes with which it was infused courtesy of the Chairman of the Boards. Fishman continued to push the song’s country-stomp groove as the rest of the band closed in on a melodic progression buoyed by nimble Trey trills.
As “Back On The Train” fizzled out, Anastasio once again led the way into the next song, “Plasma”, the TAB/Phish crossover that’s had something of a Rennaissance in 2019 (it’s now appeared at five shows this year after making just seven total appearances between its Phish debut in 2014 and the end of 2018). While the song got off to a somewhat rocky start, the band quickly recovered and successfully set out to make “Plasma” the jam of the night.
Wobbling synths from McConnell and spacey funk tones from Gordon spiked the electromagnetic waves that radiated from this “Plasma”, which chugged along into dissonant territory for a few extra minutes before being Trey unceremoniously pulled the ripcord in favor of “Farmhouse”. While a promising Phish jam being nixed in favor of cluster flies and Northern Lights unavoidably elicits some groans from fans, this version was thoroughly enjoyable—largely thanks to some lovely piano adornments from Page, an easy pick for Providence Night One MVP.
The “Light” that followed showcased a delay-assisted, plodding Mike Gordon vamp propelled by powerful rock and roll piano builds from Page. After moving through some slinky, Baker’s Dozen-style space, Trey hinted at a shift to “Set Your Soul Free” before opting instead to reprise the closing line of “Plasma”. As the first bonus “Plasma” riff faded out, Anastasio counted off “Birds Of A Feather”. The band dispatched this “BOAF” in less than six minutes before opting for another breather in “Joy”. Sure, we didn’t quite need another breather at this point, but “Joy” was nonetheless pretty as always and quickly built up to a big, soaring Trey peak.
The appearance of “Simple” next raised hopes for the home stretch of this performance. It offered revelers a chance for a quintessentially Phish sing-along and boasted a “Magilla” tease from Page but seemed to finish far too quickly, topping out at under 5:30 in length before Trey asserted his previous musical suggestion with a segue into “Set Your Soul Free”.
The same satisfyingly murky guitar tones appeared once again during this compact “SYSF” jam before the “Plasma” outro reared its head once again for its third appearance of the night to close out the segment. Finally, an always-welcome, typically-ripping cover of James Gang‘s “Walk Away” (just the second of the year following 2/22/19 in Mexico) brought the second set to a close.
Phish had plenty more on the docket for the Providence crowd when they returned for their encore. After working through “Meatstick”, the band moved into a pair of mellow ballads in “Sleep” and “Driver”. Of particular note, “Sleep” has experienced something of a revival in 2019 after an appearance at SPAC and a few showings during Trey’s fall acoustic tour—a change in pace we can whole-heartedly get behind. One last Farmhouse song, the anthemic “Bug”, capped the four-song encore.
Phish night one in Providence delivered largely what we’ve come to expect from tour openers: a handful of surprising song choices, a whole bunch of tried-and-true staples, and a few genuinely bright spots amid an entertaining performance that we likely won’t spend much time listening back to. Thankfully, there’s another, far more important thing we’ve come to expect from modern-era Phish: It’s not a matter of if the real magic will arrive. It’s only a matter of when. We’re off to a solid start, and the best is yet to come…
Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from the Phish Fall Tour opener in Providence courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein.
Phish Fall Tour continues on Saturday, November 30th with the band’s second and final show at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. From there, Phish will head to Long Island to close out the first weekend of the tour with a performance at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, December 1st. For a full list of upcoming Phish shows, head here.
Setlist: Phish | Dunkin’ Donuts Center | Providence, RI | 11/29/19
Set One: First Tube, The Final Hurrah > NICU, Steam > Scent of a Mule, Bye Bye Foot, No Men In No Man’s Land, Gumbo > My Soul, Maybe, Sand > Fire
Set Two: 46 Days > Back on the Train > Plasma > Farmhouse, Light -> Plasma > Birds of a Feather, Joy, Simple -> Set Your Soul Free -> Plasma, Walk Away
Encore: Meatstick > Sleep, Driver, Bug