On Tuesday night, Phish took the stage at Shoreline Amphitheatre for the first of two midweek shows that were never supposed to take place in Mountain View, CA.
The band was due to perform in Stateline, NV this week, but as a raging wildfire moved toward the Lake Tahoe basin, Phish made the call to push the Tahoe shows to the Northern California amphitheater, four hours outside harm’s way.
But live music in 2021 is never entirely out of harm’s way. As Phish diverted away from the devastating Caldor fire, Hurricane Ida was making its way toward the southern coast of Louisiana, where it waged significant destruction and left New Orleans without power indefinitely, saddling any lingering regret over the recent cancellation of the October Jazz Fest with a hefty sack of sobering perspective.
Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Bonnaroo—the festival Phish headlined at its last iteration in 2019—made the eerily Curveball-like call to cancel this weekend as rain saturated its Tennessee grounds. Then, of course, there’s that pandemic thing going around, a fact no one in attendance could ignore as proof of vaccination or a negative test were verified for all on the way into the venue.
Despite that rampant uncertainty, Phish still managed to perform on Tuesday night—in warm, clear California weather, no less—and the band’s grateful recognition of that fact was imbued in every note they played, every bust-out they dusted off, every jam they took deep throughout the show. If the fantastic, best-of-summer performance on night one at Shoreline is any indication, Phish is glad, glad, glad to be alive and touring.
Making those sentiments known early, the band opened the show with the increasingly rare “Glide”— the first since a 2019 “show of the summer” candidate, 7/14/19 at Alpine Valley. Next, rewarding the audience for the venue audible, the band busted out the first “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent>Fly Famous Mockingbird” since The Baker’s Dozen in 2017. The ever-chased duo, while not flawless, was a wonderful treat.
Phish – “Col. Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird” – 8/31/21
Afterwards, guitarist Trey Anastasio took a moment to verbally express his gratitude to the fans for adjusting their tour plans. He went on to thank everyone involved in the “herculean effort” it took to move the shows to one of their “all-time favorite venues” and address those affected by the devastating Caldor fire that predicated the switch. [Note: Donate to the Caldor Fire Fund via the WaterWheel Foundation here].
A short but invigorating “Wolfman’s Brother” energized the crowd before giving way to a beautiful version of the Hoist tune, “If I Could”. Landing in the fifth spot was a blistering rendition of “I Never Needed You Like This Before”. Though it seems destined for a career as a set-closer, the Lonely Trip tune seems to get better with each performance, no matter where in the set it lands.
Phish – “I Never Needed You Like This Before” – 8/31/21
Thematically, Phish’s 2021 summer tour jams have been less “tension, release, peak” and more accurately characterized as “dark” or “murky” or “swampy.” During the summer’s effects-laden explorations, the band doesn’t seem disconnected—quite the contrary, in fact. Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell, and Jon Fishman seem relaxed, patient and in sync, the jams all filled with movement yet still cohesive. The almost 18-minute “Stash” that followed pulled on that thread, morphing into a sonic landscape that swelled and melted and cascaded into darkness while lighting director Chris Kuroda bewitched the audience with his new rig’s Pacman-like effects.
Phish – “Stash” – 8/31/21
Another rarity appeared next with the tour debut of the Mike Gordon-penned “Weigh”, followed by a solid pass through “Bouncing Around The Room”. After leaning on some more intricate songs, Trey signaled for the breezy “Gotta Jiboo”. Though this one usually beckons for more, Trey pulled the band back into the form on the early side.
Closing the set—right where it belongs, in my opinion—was David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”. Performed only once a year since Phish debuted it on Halloween in 2016, this song is quintessential, straight-ahead guitar rock. As is customary, Trey stepped up and absolutely roasted the back half of this one, giving the thirsty crowd a hefty dose of guitar-hero glory en route to well-earned break.
Phish – “Moonage Daydream” (David Bowie) – 8/31/21
While most any fan could have assumed that we were in for a big jam when the band hit the stage for set two and launched into “Soul Planet”, nobody could have guessed just how “big” it would turn out to be—that is, one of the longest and most exciting renditions of any song ever played by the band.
This 47-minute (!) “Soul Planet” absolutely soared from the very beginning. Drummer Jon Fishman was determined to keep the energy up, never once relenting, and we all benefitted greatly from that relentlessness. The intensity that was seemingly lacking at The Gorge was on full display early on with the kind of spirited jam you might expect to hear out of “Crosseyed and Painless”.
I could write about the first 18-minutes of pure heat, or how the band eventually shifted darker and more ethereal before modulating major for some lighter, straight-ahead jamming. I could talk about how the lyrics crept back in somewhere in the middle over a chorus of synths. I could talk about the palpable momentum that ran through the entire expedition, but this monster went in so many different directions, you just have to listen to understand.
The runtimes of many of Phish’s “longest” jams are often padded by extended periods of trial and error as the band searches for cohesion, but there was none of that here. The quartet was locked in from the moment the set began, fearlessly screaming through space. There is no doubt that the Shoreline “Soul Planet” was the definitive rendition of this song (sorry, NYE 2017, we still love you). This jam will go down as one of the overwhelming highlights of 2021, and it will require multiple listens to fully digest it.
Phish – “Soul Planet” [Pro-Shot] – 8/31/21
Then, over the funky drippings of that massive “Soul Planet”, the band executed a flawless segue into Kasvot Växt centerpiece “The Final Hurrah”. Though they dialed it back a bit, the greasy jamming continued on the back half of this version before unfolding into a blissful “Theme From The Bottom” to wrap roughly 70 minutes of uninterrupted music.
At this point, you’d think they’d relax a bit. But after a short pause to deliberate—during which the word “incredible” visibly escaped Trey’s mouth—Phish treated Shoreline Amphitheatre to the first take on rocking Hoist alt-take “Axila Part II” since the vaunted 12/31/95 show at Madison Square Garden (don’t shine that thing in my face, man).
Continuing the magic, for the first time since 6/30/19, Page led the way on Gamehendge jewel “Tela”, the third of the night—but not the last—from Trey’s senior thesis, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday. Anastasio deftly handled the difficult atonal-fugue climax, putting a nice bow on the fan favorite.
And after that, why not dedicate a screaming and heavenly set-closing “Harry Hood” to recently passed, legendary Jamaican record producer Lee “Scratch” Perry? Fishman made sure to say his name loud and clear during the introduction of the song, another gorgeous take on a beloved composition.
For the encore, we got another tour debut with the gentle Junta tune “Fee”—megaphone and all—before Trey plucked the familiar notes of yet another Gamehendge staple, “Wilson”, to close out the night in spectacular fashion.
What a show. There was just no let-up or let-down last night. It all felt like a gift—and one we were lucky to receive amid the troubling news pouring in from seemingly every direction. Phish knows exactly when it’s time to deliver, and that’s just what they did on Tuesday at Shoreline.
Phish returns to Shoreline Amphitheatre tonight for a second and final Mountain View, CA performance. For a full list of upcoming tour dates, head here.
Scroll down to check out a full gallery of photos from the first of two shows at Shoreline Amphitheatre below via photographer Peter Wallace.
Setlist: Phish | Shoreline Amphitheatre | Mountain View, CA | 8/31/21
Set One: Glide, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Wolfman’s Brother, If I Could, I Never Needed You Like This Before, Stash, Weigh, Bouncing Around the Room, Gotta Jibboo, Moonage Daydream
Set Two: Soul Planet -> The Final Hurrah > Theme From the Bottom, Axilla (Part II), Tela > Harry Hood
Encore: Fee, Wilson
 Trey on megaphone.
Forbin’s and Mockingbird were performed for the first time since July 30, 2017 (113 shows). Trey teased In Memory of Elizabeth Reed in Stash. Axilla (Part II) was performed for the first time since December 31, 1995 (855 shows). Fish mentioned Lee “Scratch” Perry (who had recently passed away) in the Hood Intro. Fee featured Trey on megaphone. This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. The new date was originally supposed to occur at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys in Stateline, NV but was changed due to wildfires in the area.