Jam titans Phish returned to Mexico to kick off their fourth destination event in Riviera Maya on Thursday, where they delivered the first of four consecutive nights at the Moon Palace Cancun resort. While fans certainly enjoyed the upgraded amenities and hospitality that the Moon Palace had to offer, perhaps the biggest change from past years in Mexico was the addition of a one-set show on the first night of the event, which had previously been a more relaxing evening without any scheduled live music.

To mark the occasion and in honor of the rare one-set show, Phish offered up an exciting set that mixed beloved rarities, seemingly long-lost covers, several fan-favorites, and a healthy dose of full-band improvisation.

Phish got down to brass tax right away, opening with a rare version of The Rolling Stones‘ sentimental Exile On Main Street rocker, “Torn And Frayed”. This marked the first time that “Torn And Frayed” had been played since July 2012, a gap of 285 shows. This version featured some beautiful playing from keyboardist/pianist Page McConnell, which elevated the song’s short-but-sweet jam section before the band moved into “Ghost”. Traditionally a jam-vehicle, “Ghost” seems to have moved up in the rotation, and has become a reliable early-set rocker. This version featured some patient, full-band improv, with drummer Jon Fishman in full control to set the tone before Anastasio helped push the rest of the band into “Free”.

“Free” was the musical highlight of the night. Following a confident take on the song’s opening section, the band moved into its evil funk jam section as bassist Mike Gordon was on fire throughout. Anastasio latched on to one of Gordon’s ideas and introduced a descending chord progression, which made way for a huge, dark peak. When it seemed like the band was headed back to the end of “Free”, Anastasio started playing an interesting, ethereal guitar part, which inspired McConnell to deliver a sample from “Shipwreck”, a song from Phish’s famed 2014 Halloween cover of “The Thrilling Chilling Sounds Of The Haunted House”. Following the “Shipwreck” interlude, the band moved back into the ending of “Free” while McConnell kept playing “Shipwreck” and “Your Pet Cat” samples, and Anastasio added quotes from his impromptu “Rescue Squad” song from this past New Years Eve. When all was said and done, “Free” was over fourteen minutes long, the longest and most improv-laden version of the song since the band reunited in 2009.

Next up, “Shake Your Coconuts” by Junior Senior made an appearance, the second time it’s been played by Phish following its debut on Coconut Night of the Baker’s Dozen residency. This performance marked a 100 show gap of “Shake Your Coconuts”, and Anastasio celebrated the occasion by changing some of the song’s lyrics to “It’s Phish in Mexico time.” After the song, Anastasio commented that “they had to do that one, come on!” Mike Gordon’s semi-funky song “Victim” then followed and helped the band rev up for “The Moma Dance”. This version was memorable, as it had a breezy section in the middle of the song’s second verse while Anastasio and Fishman added some vocal vamps.

The always fun “Gotta Jibboo” was next, and its confident and bouncy groove was perfect for a show on the beach in Mexico. The revived ballad “Shade” gave fans a quick breather, before Phish really dug back in with an impressive and seamless “The Landlady” -> “Destiny Unbound” segment that brought the house (beach?) down. This is a classic transition for Phish, one that they used to rely on all the time in the early 90s, however, they hadn’t transitioned from “The Landlady” -> “Destiny Unbound” since 1991, a whopping 1,348 shows ago, making it an extremely special treat for fans in attendance. That they nailed the transition with precision certainly helped elevate the moment too.

“Steam” found the band’s rhythm section providing a solid foundation for Anastasio’s exploratory guitar work. His psychedelic stabs and wails on the guitar punctuated an impressive piece of full-band improvisation, eventually bleeding into “Crosseyed And Painless” by The Talking Heads. At this point, the band was absolutely on fire. Anastasio moved back into a more complementary role, while the rest of the band took the ecstatic crowd on a hypnotic journey. After a slight miss on the segue into “Run Like An Antelope”, they pulled themselves together for a mostly strong version, with Fishman really pushing the tempo before a move into a rocking, high-energy “Cavern”.

Following “Cavern”, Phish moved into a song that is continuing to cement itself in the Phish songbook, Anastasio’s Ghosts Of The Forst song, “Beneath A Sea of Stars Pt. 1”. This was a sublime version, with a beautiful, delicate jam, that dissolved into a prolonged ambient moment, with McConnell leaning into his synth pads while the rest of the band seemed to get quieter and quieter. As the jam truly fizzled out, Anastasio started up the guitar riff for “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, and led the band into the big Kasvot Växt rocker from Halloween 2018. This has become one of the band’s most treasured songs since its debut, and the crowd responded in kind with a huge roar and by loudly singing along to the song’s poignant lyrics, “This is what space smells like / You will always remember where you were.”

Following “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, Phish left the stage for a short encore break, and returned to perform a spot-on version of the band’s most cherished song in “You Enjoy Myself”. Once the band’s most frequently-played song, “You Enjoy Myself” has become rarer these days, so fans in Mexico were given an extra special treat to catch one in the encore slot. The song featured its trademark intricate composition, trampolines, a funky improv section, and an avant-garde, improvised vocal jam before Phish took their final bows and wished the crowd good night. When all was said and done, Phish played a set that was over two hours long, making it one of the longest sets of their career.

Watch the band’s show-opening, bust-out performance of “Torn and Frayed” from Thursday below.

Phish – “Torn and Frayed” – 2/20/20

[Video: Phish]

If this is the version of Phish that showed up on night one in Mexico, fans at Phish Riviera Maya are certainly in for a treat throughout the weekend. The band is clearly in a great place, laughing and joking with each other while continuing to push musical boundaries on a nightly basis.

Phish Riviera Maya at the Moon Palace Cancun continues tomorrow, Friday, February 21st.

Setlist: Phish | Phish Riviera Maya | Cancun, MX | 2/20/20

Set: Torn and Frayed > Ghost > Free*, Shake Your Coconuts^, Victim, The Moma Dance > Gotta Jibboo, Shade, The Landlady > Destiny Unbound, Steam > Crosseyed and Painless (Talking Heads cover) > Run Like an Antelope > Cavern > Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 > Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

Encore: You Enjoy Myself$

*”Shipwreck” and “Rescue Squad” quotes
^ Lyrics altered: “It’s Phish in Mexico time.”
$ “Walk This Way” tease
– “Torn and Frayed” First Time Played since July 7, 2012 (285 shows)
– “Shake Your Coconuts” First Time Played since July 21, 2017 (100 shows)