Phish turned in an instant-classic performance last night at the Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, TN. When it was realized that that both Phish and Bob Weir would be playing in a Nashville on the same date, fans of both Phish and the Grateful Dead hoped that some sort of collaboration might occur. When word got out that Weir had performed “Walkin’ Blues” with Phish during their soundcheck, fans were certainly excited to see Phish welcome their first member of the Grateful Dead to their stage since 10/6/2000. However, no one could have predicted that Weir would walk on stage in the middle of the second set and stick around for six songs, yet that’s exactly what happened, creating one of the most special and unique moments in Phish history.
Before Weir’s appearance, there was a first set to play, of course. The band started things off with a a song that’s always welcome in the show-opening slot, a short-but-sweet “Chalk Dust Torture”. “Blaze On” followed, and the band used it as an early opportunity to stretch their improv muscles out. Phish kept it moving with “Ghost”, which seems to have found a comfortable spot in the first set this year. Phish has now performed the trusty funk tune four times in the first set in 2016. “Lawn Boy” was up next, perhaps a fitting tribute to the beautiful green grass setting of the Ascend Amphitheater.
Phish continued the set with the non-stop vocal attack of “Halley’s Comet”. As soon as the band reached the song’s typical jam section, Anastasio started up “Sand”, keeping the excited crowd bouncing along with another party anthem in the first set. “Sand” featured the first real jam of the night, with the band connecting to swiftly build the energy to a peak. The band quickly worked through Big Boat song “Tide Turns” before “46 Days” brought the energy back up. Mike Gordon and Page McConnell really connected on this track, locking in perfectly to allow Anastasio a platform from which he could explode, showing off some of his old-school “machine gun” guitar skills.
The band once again slowed things down with the third Big Boat song of the set, “Breath and Burning”. “Limb By Limb” was an excellent choice to pick things back up. After a spirited run through the song’s verses, the band immediately launched into a fun improv segment, with Jon Fishman moving the beat around his kit with ease as Anastasio and McConnell intertwined for some exploration. As the song came to a close, Fishman kicked into a high energy version of “Cavern”, which surprisingly dropped into an uptempo and funky version of “2001”. After the song’s first peak, the band settled into a patient bit of improv, with McConnell leading the way with on his clavinet before Phish brought their second set to it’s conclusion.
The band returned to the stage for set two with a song that typically closes out sets, “Julius”. Anastasio showcased his fireworks on the guitar during this blazing version, that eventually fizzled out into “Fuego”. “Fuego” was played only two shows ago in Charleston, and Phish made quick work of the song, with Anastasio aborting what could’ve been a standout version of the song to begin “My Friend, My Friend”. “MFMF” is always a rager, and the energy really picked up during this song as the band wound towards its ominous peak.
The pre-show rumors were then confirmed, as Bob Weir waltzed on stage with his guitar, and subsequently led the band through a blissful version of “Samson & Delilah”. This was Weir’s first appearance with Phish since he sat in for a three-song encore on 10/6/2000, and this was Phish’s first on-stage guest since Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman joined them during their run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in 2014.
[Video via TheKamherst//YouTube]
Weir stayed on stage as the band transitioned into “Twist”, providing rhythm guitar and adding to the core while he and Phish delivered one of the most memorable versions of the song in recent memory. Bobby locked in perfectly with Gordon and Fishman, and the band launched into true type II territory. Weir seemed to have his moment in the sun with each member of the band, taking time to lock into rhythms created by each member, truly listening and jamming with Phish. To describe this moment as “huge” would be a complete understatement, as Phish and Bob Weir turned in a fifteen-minute improv master-class with “Twist”.
[Video via Phierce Photo on Live For Live Music // YouTube]
Fans assumed that Bobby would sit in on one, maybe two songs, but the next song completely blew everyone’s collective mind, as Weir remained on stage and lead the band through Anastasio’s emotional new Big Boat song “Miss You”. His vocals were a bit rough at points, but, honestly, who could hold it against him? Bob Weir sang lead vocals on a Phish song, and that should be enough to send a shiver down any fan’s spine.
[Video via zmanatl // YouTube]
After “Miss You”, the band reprised their cover of “West L.A. Fadeaway” with Weir. The crowd was absolutely floored by the sludgy rock song, with Anastasio and Weir leading the band, trading guitar licks with confidence and ease.
[Video by TheKamherst // YouTube]
The night perhaps reached its unbelievable apex when “Playing In The Band” followed, and, honestly, at this point no words can do the excitement justice. Anastasio sounded marvelous playing this song again, but the whole band shined here, as they were focused and powerful throughout the Grateful Dead classic. Phish and Bob Weir took “Playing In The Band” out into space, delivering another tasty moment of improv, with Weir energetically holding down the rhythm while Fishman and Anastasio pushed the band further and further away from the song’s form. Finally, they returned to the groove to complete the almost thirteen-minute version of the song, finishing the set and leaving the Nashville audience absolutely stunned at what they had just witnessed.
[Video by runaway jr // YouTube]
The encore break provided a much needed time out for band and fans alike after the insane, Grateful Dead-tinged second set. When they finally did come back out for their encore, Weir was still with them, and joined in on a fitting and euphoric cover of Bob Dylan‘s “Quinn The Eskimo” that certainly left everyone jumping for joy.
[Video by phunguy // YouTube]
Phish’s first night in Nashville was, for lack of a better word, epic. After years of downplaying association with the Grateful Dead, the Fare Thee Well concerts opened things up for more collaborations between the Phish and Grateful Dead camps, however, no one was expecting the special, improv-heavy performance that occurred last night. Phish performed almost a full set with one of the Dead’s core members, and performed several songs from the Dead’s storied live catalog. This show will immediately enter the pantheon as one of the most important shows in the band’s history. Wow.
Phish returns to Nashville tonight to complete their mid-week two-night run, assumedly without Bob Weir as he will be performing at the Ryman Auditorium tonight. Check out full audio from the show, as well as the full Phish.net setlist and a photo gallery from Phierce Photo below.
[Video courtesy nognuisagoodgnu // YouTube]
Phish | Ascend Amphitheater | Nashville, TN | 10/18/2016
Set 1: Chalk Dust Torture, Blaze On, Ghost, Lawn Boy, Halley’s Comet > Sand, Tide Turns, 46 Days > Breath and Burning, Limb By Limb > Cavern > Also Sprach Zarathustra
Set 2: Julius > Fuego > My Friend, My Friend, Samson and Delilah, Twist > Miss You, West L.A. Fadeaway > Playing in the Band
Encore: Quinn the Eskimo 
 Phish debut; Bob Weir on guitar and vocals.
 Bob Weir on guitar.
 Bob Weir on guitar and vocals.
 Phish debut; Bob Weir on guitar.