On Tuesday night in St. Louis, Phish wasted no time shaking the dust off as they embarked on their 26-night summer tour. The Vermont foursome chose an indoor venue to kick off a mostly outdoor tour for the first time since 2016 in St.Paul. Lighting designer (and honorary fifth member) Chris Kuroda used Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena to try out his new Lite-Brite-esque sunbeam rig while the band tinkered with new effects of their own.
Set One saw a chameleon of a band morph from Kasvot Växt to Phish to Hot Rize and back into Phish before closing with Ghosts of the Forest. Trey Anastasio took over during the opener, “Cool Amber and Mercury”, and did an excellent job washing out Page McConnell’s repetitive “Faceplant Into Rock” (“The Final Hurrah”) samples by way of a wild guitar solo. Similar to their last arena run at Madison Square Garden this past December, opening with a tune from Halloween’s i rokk “costume” was a telltale sign that their Scandinavian alter-egos will be present for the foreseeable future.
“46 Days” took the second spot with the band paying their respect to Leigh Fordham, the recently departed friend and former light crew member whose name anchors the song’s chorus. Anastasio was dialed throughout, reminding the crowd that he had seen a lot of stage time since Phish’s last south-of-the-border run in Mexico. The dark and gritty “46 Days” found Mike Gordon holding his own as he bounced deep bass lines over the guitarists energetic playing.
An extra-saucy “Stash” continued to impress the arena as Jon Fishman egged on his bandmates to create a funky exploration of the classic rarely seen in the 3.0 era. McConnell drove this “Stash” into ambient territory by way of a hovering spaceship synth effect as the band orchestrated a smooth and patient jam. After the first set highlight came to an end, Gordon got some time on the mic for the popular “Nellie Kane” Hot Rize cover to give the set a little bluegrass flavor. Gordon took over once again during a bass-driven “Free” that swiftly moved into another Billy Breathes original with “Theme From the Bottom”. During the dance-worthy, extended “Tube”, Gordon found ways to throw bass bombs at McConnell’s abrasive “Faceplant Into Rock” samples to keep the asses in the crowd shaking.
The “Theme” lyrics, “Time in the forest to dig under rocks,” may have been Phishy foreshadowing of the Ghosts of the Forest tune, “Drift While You’re Sleeping”, which closed out the set in its Phish debut. Before Tuesday night, there was heavy fan-speculation as to whether or not GotF originals would make it into the Phish repertoire, but as every Phish fan knows, surprises are expected any time this band takes the stage. Anastasio’s heartfelt compositions created for his departed friend led to a brief spring tour and guitar-drenched album. The sonically-shifting piece worked in the Phish realm and was well-played for its first go-around on Tuesday night, despite the lack of female vocalists. Although the first set may have been somewhat clunky on paper with a less than exhilarating closer, for tour openers, this one certainly broke the “ease into tour” stigma that has plagued past summers.
The Set Two “No Men In No Man’s Land” opener found the 37-year-old college band rocking the University arena from the early notes of Anastasio’s uplifting section, moving freely from effect to effect. Gordon latched onto the slow-building Type II jam and collided with McConnell’s clavinet to lead “NMINML” into a rocking “Bathtub Gin”. Anastasio worked through a guitar-heavy “Gin” before pulling the ripcord in favor of “Ghost”. Gordon worked the bass and shook the ground to initially take the “Ghost” into an airy territory, but Anastasio eventually kidnapped the jam and renamed it “Piper”.
After sprinting through “Bathtub>Ghost,” McConnell and Gordon worked together to build a supportive foundation for the “Piper” jam. McConnell held down the Hammond while Anastasio hung onto a soaring note that made it sound like he was closing out the “Gin” from two songs ago. Was he blazing through the jam vehicles so fast he forgot which one he was on? Speaking of blazing, “Blaze On,” zipped its way into the fast-moving second set for the fun-loving Missouri crowd. Anastasio quickly took it in a bluesy direction and Gordon bounced along to the hollow, plinko effects being delivered. Before it caught too much momentum, Trey launched into an odd “Joy>Simple>Limb By Limb” combo. “Limb By Limb” came complete with a Munchkin Land-friendly “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” tease and fizzled into a productive “Slave to the Traffic Light” to close out a second set packed with more songs than the first.
What is a show without choreographed dance moves brought to you by Gordon and Anastasio? “Turtle in the Clouds” seemed like the most fun the band had since “NMINML”, and the standard “Character Zero” capped off a playful two-song encore (complete with MORE “Faceplant Into Rock” samples) to send the crowd home before Wednesday night’s return.
Set I had its share of hits while Set II answered the question, “What would Phish sound like if they were forced to cram a bunch of could-be 30-minute-jam-monsters into the same set?” While the tour opener may have contained more radio-friendly and less jam-chart worthy tunes, the veterans gave everyone hope for the road ahead. Whether the St. Louis Blues win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup or not on Wednesday night, at least the city gets to celebrate a double shot of Phish.
Below, you can check out a beautiful gallery of photos from the show courtesy of photographer Keith Griner.
Setlist: Phish | Chaifetz Arena | St. Louis, MO | 6/11/19
SET 1: Cool Amber and Mercury, 46 Days, Stash, Nellie Kane > Free > Theme From the Bottom, Tube, Drift While You’re Sleeping
SET 2: No Men In No Man’s Land > Bathtub Gin > Ghost -> Piper > Blaze On, Joy > Simple > Limb By Limb, Slave to the Traffic Light
ENCORE: Turtle in the Clouds, Character Zero
 Phish debut.