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Phish Explores Improvisational Waters & Oceanic Themes For Opening Night On Atlantic City Beach [Videos]

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For the second summer in a row, Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell put their makeup on, fixed their hair up pretty, and met us last night in Atlantic City to kick off a weekend of Phish on the beach. The Vermont jam band returned to the Atlantic City Beach on Friday for its first of three shows, playing to thousands of smiling fans who flocked to the sandy shoreline venue.

The show started emphatically with a short but sweet burst of “Chalk Dust Torture” as Trey took the lead with a bluesy solo that kept the energy high. As the momentum continued to build, it was Page McConnell on the Yamaha grand who carried the jam from the groovy, rhythmic session to a harder, rock and roll sound.

Within the rocking jam Trey strummed the opening power chords of “Wilson”, though fans were momentarily uncertain whether it was still the “CDT” jam or actually a shift into “Wilson”. It was, in fact, the Gamehendge anthem. The call-and-response “Wilson” intro brought Phish into the rocker, blap boom, as the crowd danced along gleefully. A great one-two punch to get the weekend started.

Next up was the obvious “Sand”, an on-the-nose homage to the terrain beneath fans’ feet. Of course, this shorefront “Sand” was destined to go the distance as Phish dug in for a deep jam that wound through minor key and major key segments, dark and light themes. Drummer Jon Fishman was in fine form throughout the session, driving the rhythm as his bandmates explored around him. Eventually, the quartet locked into a pentatonic blues jam that ushered them back into the riff to end the song.

The set continued with the second Trey Anastasio Band-native song in a row, “Plasma”. Again, Phish took the opportunity to stretch out in the first set, noodling over the song’s shuffling progression for an upbeat jam that eventually explored some darker motifs. As “Plasma” concluded, Fish tapped out the opening beat to lead the group into “Theme From the Bottom”. This version was well played, keeping with the watery theme of the evening performance as the group sang of swimming from the bottom, from the top.

Phish then looped into a longer-than-usual take on funky favorite “Back On The Train” from there, keeping the energy high in Atlantic City. Though it mostly stayed in the lines, the song and its subsequent jam were well placed in this exciting first frame.

The title track of Phish’s 2020 album Sigma Oasis followed, presumably chosen for its beachy lyrics that talk about sandcastle-guarding alone on the beach. The song was one of the slower selections in the set, but its optimistic themes suited the mood well. The song took off into one of the standout jams of the show, Trey leading the way with a soaring solo before Page switched to electric piano and plunged into darker waters en route to some serene, blissful sea breeze.

The “Sigma Oasis” jam stretched to 22 minutes in total as the band emerged from a spacey section and accelerated the tempo. From psychedelic space to a full-fledged Mike Gordon funk fest, the expedition covered ample ground before rolling into Talking Heads‘ “Cities”. The classic sing-along, though undoubtedly dotted with flubs, served as a wonderful punctuation for a mind-bending, first-set “Sigma” jam. The band left fans vibrating with love and light through set break with the upbeat Big Boat rocker “More”, catapulting from the verses into a bright jam powered by Page on the piano and Trey’s melodic guitar solo.

Some 30 minutes later, the band returned to the stage and opened another set with a high-energy rocker, this time “Axilla, Part II”. The song was its usual, energetic self—with more nods to summer aquatic activities—and kicked off the set on solid footing before dipping into its pulsing “don’t shine that thing in my face, man” outro.

Without delay, Trey dropped into the opening melody of “Soul Planet”. The selection stayed on the watery theme (the lyrics to “Axilla” lyrics reference a pool, which is arguably on theme as well, but not as direct as “the ocean is love”), but this version of “Soul Planet” will be remembered for the barreling, exploratory jam that immediately left the song’s usual atmosphere and embarked into the great unknown. The exploration built up energy through a tension-and-release section in which Trey wandered and Gordo dropped some bass bombs on the crowd. Eventually, Trey reclaimed the driver’s seat, finding a melodic line that led the jam into brighter space, then beyond it into a heavier, blues-rock sound.

As the “Soul Planet” jam decayed around the 15-minute mark, Gordo led the band into a memorable take on “Down with Disease”. This “Disease” ultimately stretched to nearly 21 minutes in length as the band departed from the verse and explored themes that would alternate between short, staccato notes and long-held, lingering tones. Illuminated by a limitless stream of new looks from Chris Kuroda and Andrew Giffin’s lighting rig, it seemed for a brief moment that the group would segue into “Meatstick”, especially as Page explored heavy synth tones. Fish kept the pace and propelled the jam back into outer space to continue the thoroughly engrossing jam session.

Eventually, the band let the bottom drop out of the heavy jam, floating melodiously for a few more minutes before eschewing the closing refrain of “Disease” (for now) and setting the table for “Ruby Waves”. Yet another lengthy, water-themed jam to pair with the rest of the beachy set, this punchy rocker begat nearly 15 minutes of inspired improvisation, starting melodic before descending into dark, funky, full-band interplay. Showcasing the groupthink earned through 35 years of listening and reacting, the band moved from the “Ruby” jam back into the closing lines of “Down With Disease” to round out the thrilling passage and bring the set to its first pause after nearly an hour of undeterred creativity.

Phish – “Ruby Waves” > “Down With Disease” – 8/5/22

[Video: Nevaklass]

Up next was funky favorite “Ghost”. Even with plenty of engaging improv already in the books, the band dove into this “Ghost” jam with intent, stretching it into a 12-minute séance that was at times intriguing, mind-bending, weird, and dark, thanks in part to a pronounced “No Quarter” tease. With the tension thick and the mood out of this world, Fishman finally tapped out the opening beats for the all-time great, “Harry Hood”.

I may get in trouble for using this line too many times, but this really was a version of “Hood” that you could feel good about. Aside from a gritty, mid-song bass-and-synth section that had fans cheering along, the version was highlighted by a blissful jam that lingered in a shallow pool of bright, pleasant melodies to round out the stellar six-song set.

With only a short while left to play, Phish returned to the stage and took it on down to the shore (“That’s the Jersey Shore that was about. … The Jersey Shore, the only shore in the world,” laughed the Jersey-raised Anastasio”) for an encore rendition of the pianist’s favorite Phish song, “Sleeping Monkey”. Nothing wrong with a little home state pride.

Finally, the band dropped into another fan favorite, “Free”. The song has been having an eventful week—after stretching to 25 minutes for its second-longest iteration ever at Blossom Music Center on Tuesday, this one marked its first appearance during an encore since 1997. The show’s final song selection naturally stayed on theme, as Trey put extra oomph into the lyrics about splashing in the sea.

Phish – “Sleeping Monkey”, “Free” – 8/5/22

[Video: Nevaklass]

Phish returns to the Atlantic City Beach tonight, August 6th, for night two of three. For a full list of upcoming Phish 2022 summer tour dates, head here. To order your LivePhish webcast for any of the band’s upcoming summer shows, head here. To sign up for a free trial membership to LivePhish+ and listen to the whole summer 2022 tour and more, head here.

Following Phish’s tour-closing Sunday show at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on September 4th, an all-star ensemble of funk players will keep the party going at Denver, CO’s Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom with The Phunk Sessions featuring members of John Mayer/D’Angelo‘s bands, LettuceDumpstaphunk, and more [get tickets].

Setlist [via phish.net]: Phish | Atlantic City Beach | Atlantic City, NJ | 8/5/22

Set One: Chalk Dust Torture -> Wilson > Sand > Plasma, Theme From the Bottom > Back on the Train, Sigma Oasis -> Cities > More

Set Two: Axilla (Part II) > Soul Planet > Down with Disease > Ruby Waves > Down with Disease > Ghost > Harry Hood

Encore: Sleeping Monkey, Free

Soul Planet contained a tease of Dog Log by Mike and of Dave’s Energy Guide by Trey. Trey teased Midnight Rider in the first Down with Disease and No Quarter in Ghost. Shipwreck was quoted in Sleeping Monkey. Mike teased Dave’s Energy Guide in Free.

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Source: L4LM.com