At this point, it would just be silly to deny that Phish has hit a new stride in this era we call 4.0. Since returning to the stage in Arkansas on 7/28/21, Phish plays with a conviction and awareness that at any moment, the universe can throw us a curveball; they are playing every show like it could be their last one. With nearly 40 years of touring and hundreds of songs to take turns vying for our attention, Phish continues to amaze and inspire us all by only looking forward, eternally blazing on, growing, and improving with one even more ambitious set of music after another. Phish is in a state of pure creative flow, and that was on full display on this hot summer night in swampy southern Alabama.
Night Two of Summer 2022 begins with a new favorite “Sigma Oasis.” Choruses of “you're already there” send smiles around The Wharf Amphitheater, as our tribe of audiovisual-space explorers find their respective zones and prepare for spiritual liftoff via dance. The band runs through soaring melodies, nets wide open; eight minutes in they catch something inspiring. Trey plays a dark, droning chord, giving way to a jam that is as funky as it is groovy. Mike confidently turns the sails with affirmatively nasty bass lines, as Fishman finds a "2001"-esque pocket groove. Trey and Page color in the lines with well-placed sound effects. Cactus and Fish lock in for some soupy grooving, as Trey digs deeper for more melody. About 15(!) minutes into the deepest "Sigma Oasis" to date, Trey plays a bliss theme reminiscent of “I can see clearly now.” Reprises of “you’re already there” overlay the blissful theme as the 20-minute opener wraps up.
We’re already there, and without pause the band lets us know exactly where ‘there’ is. “Possum” takes the number two spot, highlighting the swampy boogie vibe that is brewing tonight at The Wharf. Page delights us with ivory tickling that evokes bits of Dr. John and Bill Payne, while Fishman keeps it loose and swinging.
This kicks off a *chef’s kiss* run through some of the band’s classics. A high energy "AC/DC Bag" follows, peaking around five minutes in when Trey locks into a fast paced and rousing theme, a bit similar to the yodeling of last night’s Quadrophonic Toppling segment of "Soul Planet's" jam. To everyone’s delight, the band charges ahead with “Reba.” The composed section of this live staple is executed to a tee, and the jam that follows is sublime. The band members savor the pianissimo and bask in the delicate interplay, with ethereal chords from Page, quiet but exquisite fills from Fishman, anchoring and calming bass playing from Mike, and gorgeous guitar melodies flowing out of Trey. The beautiful jam slowly builds to a gratifying climax, before the signature whistle caps it off.
Feeling relaxed and creative, the band wanes philosophical with a perfectly placed “Roggae.” The slower-paced number gives the crowd a chance to sway and reflect; the band patiently takes turns adding unique ideas into the brew, with drippy and echoey fills from Mike + power chords and their inversions making their way across Page’s full grand. The energy picks up with the fast paced jewgrass staple, “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own,” as we shuffle and bob to the eclectic first cover of the evening.
Up next is the Kasvot Växt earworm, “The Final Hurrah.” Getting down really isn’t optional at this point, as Mike monkey-bars up and down his fretboard with gusto. A good ol 'southern dance party ensues as sci-fi soldier soundscapes imbue one of the more notable "Hurrah’s" to date. Rolling with the funky, dancy, high energy vibe, Trey dives into the iconic and powerful opening to “Free.” The familiar words and melodies fire up the amphitheater, and the alien abduction of a jam that ensues is an appropriate victory lap for a killer first set. Standard funking from Mike and Fish, growling and echoing chords from Trey, and creative synth work from Page build into something new and exciting, and unlike what we may expect of a “Free” jam, cementing the band’s conscious commitment at this point in their career to ever-evolving and blazing forward into new and exciting unknowns. Around the five and a half minute mark, creative interplay between Trey, Mike, and Page steers into a key change; the ensuing jam is everything I love about Phish 4.0: with this must-hear “Free,” the band blazes through the cosmos, boldly and patiently.
The second set begins with another newer song, “A Wave of Hope,” from Trey’s Lonely Trip sessions. This version is standard but invigorating, and the choruses of “this too shall pass,” resonate deeply as we are reminded to savor every moment only while it exists. Next, the band drops into an always welcomed jam vehicle, “Mr. Completely.” They find their footing while settling into a euphoric major key zone, driven by inspired playing from Fishman. They masterfully steer through a handful of changing keys, until landing in a comfortable spot around 11 minutes in. From here the intensity builds and builds, the crowd dancing along vigorously. If you’re an aisle/concourse spinner, it’s your time to shine, baby.
As Trey commands with melodic and assuring runs, Fishman merrily builds with the intensity and more masterful synth work from Page keeps the snowball rolling. Pandora’s box is open and it’s too hot to stop. Scaling the musical mountain and capitalizing on the blazing heat they’ve unleashed, the band knows it’s time to burn the place to the ground with a searing cover of James Gang’s “Walk Away.” Fishman creatively integrates “Mr. Completely” drum fills throughout the mid set fiery peak.
Confident, relaxed, creative, and on top of their game, Phish blazes on with “Golden Age.” The loose and dancy energy sends a pulse of electricity around The Wharf as we head bob and egypt-walk---perhaps against our own wills---to Page’s casual but confident clavinet command. After singing through the “Love don’t you falter,” refrain, Trey invokes a gorgeous and simple ascending and descending theme that wraps the crowd in a warm hug of sound as the band relaxes for a moment. Then, eight minutes in, Trey signals ~tha phunk~ with a signature minor 7th chord. Mike and Page pick up what he’s putting down. The dark funk builds patiently and groovily, until unfolding three minutes later into a blissed out major key shuffle. Fishman fills the empty spaces with well placed woodblock hits while Page masterfully juggles several keyboard sounds. Patiently building for a few more delicate minutes, Trey leads the band through a soaring, melodic, triumphant peak.
We briefly simmer down back into the “Golden Age” groove, before we are submerged in a powerful “What’s the Use.” Masterful command of the range of dynamics is on full display, first in the piercing guitar melodies and synth work, but then even more so in the beautiful quiet. The rowdy crowd elects to fill the near-silence with enthusiastic cheering, even though some of us prefer to just savor the quiet and reflect. Nevertheless, a perfectly placed WTU provides a much appreciated moment of peaceful serenity.
The clock strikes funk o clock, and we are treated to a rare second set “Moma Dance.” In this reviewer’s opinion, "Moma" has really had a renaissance since Phish’s return last summer, and there were several "Moma’s" in 2021 worth the occasional relisten. Ever since the high energy and non-conventional Monkey Moma Man set two closer on 10-16-21, I have been manifesting a second set, truly type 2 jammed Moma. But in the meantime, this "Moma" was short and sweet, highlighted by upbeat playing from Mike, Page and Fishman around an A flat note that Trey holds for nearly a minute. Simmering down again, the band delicately treads through an appropriate “If I Could.” Indeed, tonight has left us feeling lifted up and spun around.
This swampy shindig wouldn’t have been possible without the sheer power of the rowdy roll tide energy of this southern crowd. “Run Like an Antelope” is the obvious set two closer. Consistent with the unyielding creativity and ambition of Phish’s playing tonight, this "Antelope" is chalk full of firepower like a dense bucket of crawdads. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (which is an excellent, hilarious, and profoundly spiritual film currently in theaters) is also how I would describe Jon Fishman’s unbelievably zen, polyrhythmic, too good to be true playing in this "Antelope." He seemed to be in a deep meditative trance, tapping into the power of every Jon Fishman in the multiverse and allowing that energy to simply flow through every fiber of his being into our universe. Trey reminds us all to “Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul,” vis-à-vis we ought to “run like an antelope out of control” and share one last square dance.
As the band exits the stage, crew members bring out the set of microphones designated for a capella numbers! I half-jokingly call a “Freebird” bustout. But I am more than happy to catch another version of the witty, Mariachi-laced “I am in Miami.” Finally, Trey revs up his axe with a gritty tone that can only mean one thing: Hendrix. Stop wiping the sweat off your face and get ready to drip a little more, because it’s the first “Izabella” since Charleston 2019 emerging for the last raging throwdown of the evening. A few thousand very satisfied individuals waddle out of the buzzing amphitheater as impromptu fireworks erupt somewhere in the distance.