Home Live For Live Music Enter The Hydrosphere: Phish Plunges Into Water-Themed Second Night At Sphere

Enter The Hydrosphere: Phish Plunges Into Water-Themed Second Night At Sphere [Photos/Videos]

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phish sphere webcast livestream admat 1
phish sphere webcast livestream admat 1

Phish hit the stage once again in Las Vegas, NV on Friday night for its second of four shows at Sphere, the futuristic concert theater widely touted as the only edifice of its kind on Earth. On many levels, that assertion is true. Thursday’s opening night proved handily that Sphere provides a show experience like none other. In terms of concert venues, we won’t put up any argument. But in terms of “spheres?” Well, there are plenty of those. In fact, the Earth is quite literally made of spheres.

Think back to your freshman year science class. You might remember a lesson that went something like this:

Everything in Earth’s system can be placed into one of four major subsystems: land, water, living things, or air. These four subsystems are called “spheres.” Specifically, they are the “lithosphere” (land), “hydrosphere” (water), “biosphere” (living things), and “atmosphere” (air). Each of these four spheres can be further divided into sub-spheres.

This revelation is not my own—the Internet remains undefeated—but as soon as I read that, I was convinced. Trey said there would be a theme, after all, so we’ve all been on the lookout for clues amid the garden variety mind-blowing elements at play in Vegas this weekend. On night one, I’ll admit, I was off the mark. The pursuit of clues and connections, to borrow another concept from the world of natural science, kept me from seeing the forest through the trees.

With one show worth of Phish Sphere data, my guess on night one was that it had a “time” theme, and I’ll still stand by that—the receipts are there—but it certainly seems now like I missed a “lithosphere” motif hiding in plain sight. From the obvious (“Dirt”, “Leaves”, “Farmhouse”) to the less obvious (“Blaze On” – “Climb that hill, stay on your feet”; “Lifeboy” – “Dangling here between the light above and blue below that drags me down”; “Maze” – “the cavern of shame and the hall of dismay”), to the visual cues (the landscapes for “Back on the Train”, the cars for “Tweezer”, the surreal forest clearing for the “Mike’s Groove” suite), and so on, a case could surely be made for night one as a “lithosphere/land” show.

While night one’s Phish thematics at the Sphere were relatively ambiguous in real time, the abundantly clear “water” theme on night two brought the whole picture into perspective. Whether by way of lyrics or aquatic imagery, virtually every song Phish played at the hydro-Sphere on Friday evening related to water.

The show began with a red-green waterfall cascading from the ceiling on “Free” (“we’ll be splashing in the sea”), then upped the rigging and took sail into “The Moma Dance” as a fisheye video feed floated above Trey AnastasioMike GordonJon Fishman, and Page McConnell. The party moved from sailing on the sea to dipping in the pool with “Axilla (Part II)” (“summer sitting out by the pool”). After dispensing with the roaring rock of the Hoist tune’s main segment, the band floated into the song’s pulsing outro and rode that current into churning waters as white bars overhead and all around placed a giant cube inside the Sphere and the gobsmacked crowd inside that cube. When the quartet finally surfaced from the depths and Trey repeated the outro’s “don’t shine that thing in my face, man” line, the crowd erupted in perhaps the biggest wave of applause and appreciation thus far.

A light and flowing “mercy” presented the Sphere with a unique perspective on the ocean, placing a downward-facing, birds-eye view above the audience’s heads as pastel birds flew underneath us overhead (you gotta look up to look down). For the “Bathtub Gin” that followed, the ocean view remained and a battalion of leisurely swimmers on assorted pool floats appeared all around the dome (we do love to take a bath), then morphed into spinning flower petals of rainbow color as the band ramped up to a thrilling peak. “Theme From The Bottom” took us from the ocean’s surface to its mysterious depths as we plunged deeper into a vivid underwater scene—complete with “schools” of Sims-like people swimming across our field of vision and a late cameo from the Earth Day 2022 whale.

To close the set, the band plunged deeper still, below the water line, for an utterly unhinged “Split Open and Melt” that toiled under menacing black hole oil spill visuals, sent sinister sounds swirling through the Sphere, and writhed in deep sea darkness for 16 dumbfounding minutes of the evilest Phish you could ever hope to see. A+ stuff right here.

After set break—during which an animated version of the Mondegreen art once again served as the intermission entertainment on the dome above—Phish dipped the Sphere back into the water with a massive, peaking “A Wave of Hope” jam that nearly passed the 20-minute mark as watercolor ripples rained down on the stage below. (P.S. I think I have a Jerry Garcia necktie with that print on it.)

Next up was “What’s The Use?” an always-welcome exchange of emotion and dynamics between the band and crowd. The Sphere turned this mesmerizing instrumental into a snowy, serene scene as their blue-hued likenesses loomed large above us, one of many moments on Friday night that quite literally took my breath away. Powerful stuff.

The ocean flowed from there into “Ruby Waves”, which featured another standout improv voyage that dredged the depths over abstract stained glass visuals. Coming up to the surface for air, a delicate, heartfelt “Lonely Trip” kept the water current running. This one remains my favorite entries in the post-2020 Trey/Phish repertoire—it’s the perfect mix of sentiment, subtle cleverness, and impactful songwriting, and the band’s playing on it matches that vibe perfectly. That one harmonic Trey hit as they moved into the final chorus was masterful—something simple but perfectly placed that makes an outsized impact on your soul.

Much like the physical lanterns that rose toward the ceiling during “Leaves” on night one, white jellyfish props ascended on either side of the stage for “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” as an underwater backdrop attempted to trick fans’ impressionable perceptions: Which one of these things I’m looking at is “real,” the jellyfish or the school of glowing white fish that seemed to swim through their tentacles from the massive screen behind them? The jellyfish remained for the soaring “Prince Caspian” that followed as the ruins of an underwater castle took over the room.

To close set two, the band pulled out a tune we’ve all been waiting to see in the Sphere, seminal Phish composition “You Enjoy Myself”. For the Sphere “YEM”, Phish placed the crowd on the dashboard of a Tesla and sent it through a carwash, giving us broad view of the suds and scrubbers above us. This “YEM” was particularly hot, Trey and Mike both flexing as they roared to chill-inducing peaks. Wash Uffizi, drive me to Firenze, amirite?

Then, there was the vocal jam. As “YEM” moved into its final section, I turned to my wife and said, “They can literally put anything up there for this part, but you know whatever it is, it’s going to be so weird.” Unlike my “time” theories from Thursday, this guess turned out to be spot on: As the vocal jam ramped up, the car wash dissolved away and a massive dog took over the dome and proceeded to lick us in slow motion for several solid minutes. Yep, that happened.

To start the encore, Phish delivered the “Wading in the Velvet Sea” we all saw coming, but thanks to the magic of the Sphere, this “Velvet Sea” had much more meaning than its surface-level water themes. As the band played, a slideshow of black and white photos of Phish through the years bubbled through the rosy waves above, prompting untold numbers of “awws” from below. As the song ended, all of the images flashed above the band unobscured—a heartfelt look back at the love and friendship that has helped this foursome endure through four decades and beyond.

With time for one more, Phish launched into a spectacular “Harry Hood” accented by a cascade of corkscrew strips that extended to the sky and beyond. Sure, there may not be a water element on this one, but I think we’re all content to let a beautiful “Harry Hood” just be a beautiful “Harry Hood”. The walk-out music soundtrack did bring the theme back home though, as fans exited the hydroSphere dancing to 1976 classic “Car Wash”.

Oh, the Phish. Always one step ahead of the rest of us, just how they like it. Earlier on Saturday morning, as I discussed theme theories with a friend, he referred to Phish as “my lifelong Saturday Times crossword puzzle,” and as MJ would say, I took that personally. It’s true—when it comes to this band, I willingly, gleefully let my mind race, let my imagination run. More often than not, I get it wrong, but the joy is in the pursuit, not the destination. There’s nothing in this world I’d rather overthink and be wrong about than Phish.

So… lithosphere, hydrosphere. That puts the biosphere next. If we’re right on the themes—and I think we are now, but who knows—tonight will be filled with the living organisms of the biosphere. Have fun and stay safe out there, you party animals.

View photos from night one of Phish at Sphere below via Alive CoverageRich Fury, and Rene Huemer.

Order your Phish Sphere webcasts for the rest of the run here to get in on the action from home. Revisit audio from Phish’s Sphere debut—and every Phish show since 2003—with a subscription to the LivePhish+ subscription streaming service. For more information or to subscribe to LivePhish+, head here.

[Editor’s Note: Live For Live Music is a LivePhish affiliate. Ordering your Phish Sphere webcast or LivePhish+ subscription via the links on this page helps support our coverage of Phish and the world of live music as a whole. Thank you for reading!]

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