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[We would like to thank user @Scissortail (Matt) for this recap. -Ed.]

“If you’re gonna take a risk, sometimes you’re gonna play shit. … But I don’t think our fans do happily lap it up. I think what happens is they get on the internet and talk about how it was a bad show.” – Trey Anastasio, circa 1996

Trey said the above in the documentary “Bittersweet Motel,” in response to a review that said he could urinate in our ears and call it music, and we would be there happily with tape recorders to capture the moment. I bring it up here because I take some exception to the general premise of Trey’s response.

I think the majority of Phish fans can be quite forgiving of a risk gone bad. What we don’t easily forgive is when Phish isn’t taking any risks at all.

(c) 2024 PHISH {|(Alive Coverage)}

That’s the Phish I thought had come to Mexico this year. The safe, risk-averse version. Wednesday night’s welcome set, and much of the following day’s first set, were just fine (I guess). We saw the greatest rock band in the world competently playing their great rock songs. That’s probably what most rock fans would prefer at a rock concert. But many of us have seen quite a lot of Phish shows, and we don’t keep coming back as often as we do to see four 60-year-olds roll comfortably through their catalog.

We come for the risks. We come to see four masters walk a tightrope together. We come to see them jump ship in the middle of the ocean, build a canoe out of seaweed as they’re trashed by the tide, and row it triumphantly to shore. Sometimes these risks turn out a little flat, but almost never are they devoid of interesting ideas and morsels of inspiration. And of course, sometimes these risks produce the most magnificent, awe-inspiring musical moments that mere mortals could possibly create.

That version Phish—the one we all come to see, the fearless voyagers—showed up around 9 p.m. on Thursday.

Remember in the movie Seven, at the very end, when everything suddenly clicks into place for Morgan Freeman—he finally figures everything out—and he yells into his police radio, “John Doe has the upper hand!” Right around the middle of the “Birds of a Feather” jam on Thursday night, that scene popped into my head. Just when we thought the mild-mannered, safe version of Phish was delivering a ho-hum run, something clicked into place. Something got figured out. At that moment, if I’d had a police radio, I would’ve shouted into it: “Phish has the upper hand!”

It was the turning point of that show. And luckily for all of us, it was the turning point of the entire run.

(c) 2024 {|Wombat Matt}The Mexico MonstersTM have been well discussed at this point. “A Wave of Hope” and its evocation of pulsating alien landscapes, awash in neon, with sprinkles of Miles Davis homage woven gorgeously through the center. “Chalk Dust Torture” and its dirty, sludgy darkness, conjuring images of a hellspun demon stirring the primordial ooze as struggling life forms fight their way into existence.

These two jams, to my ears, are nothing short of monumental. They required a different kind of risk than Phish has been willing to make with any frequency in the modern era. Whereas bliss has typically been the rule and darkness the exception, that equation was turned on its head this weekend. People have been mentioning 2003, some even daring to mention Big Cypress, as the forebears of what we have witnessed here. However you slice it, the fact remains that in the unlikeliest of settings, Phish has embraced the darkness. And it has been glorious.

And now we come to Saturday night’s show.

Once again, I do not prefer the early start times—although they did throw us a bone on that front and start an hour later than the usual run-closing Mexico show. We’re making progress.

Once onstage Trey picks up his guitar and immediately fires up one of the greatest riffs in his ample arsenal, and we’ve got it “Simple.” I have to admit, the moment he started it, I thought to myself, “Damn, they could take Simple so deep, but they probably won’t do any such thing with the first-set opener. I wish they would’ve saved it for set two.” But while this version doesn’t exactly go deep (as measured against the bar set this weekend) it covers quite a bit of interesting ground. After the song proper, Trey sprinkles his blissy trills, but very quickly makes a slight key change and we are off to the depths.

Trey is deploying an effect that slightly resembles a series of whale calls, with Page complementing on the Moog and the electric piano. At around the 9:50 mark, Mike suddenly seizes control and the vibe shifts from oceanic pleasantry to something more sinister. As it develops, Trey finds a riff with shades of “Tequila”—except if it was written and performed in a dark dungeon. It eventually resolves into a more traditional major-key space, which merrily rolls along until Trey leads an abrupt but quite nifty segue into “Sanity.”

(c) 2024 PHISH {|(Alive Coverage)}

“Sanity” is welcome any time at all, and is played standardly, although missing some booms and pows. “That’s what happens when you don’t have a setlist,” Trey quips at the end, then tells us that we look beautiful (still making up for that one time he told us we were average-looking or some such) and quickly busts into “Chalk Dust Torture Reprise,” a song I truly never thought I would see, and a pure delight in every respect. High fives and hugs ripple through the crowd. Trey starts cuttin’ up, singing “Here comes … another … 40-minute long … Chalk Dust Torture!” I love this so much, because it’s not very often Trey outright references Phish’s absolute badassery from the stage. To me, it’s Trey’s way of acknowledging, “Yeah, I know what we did. And I know it blew your f***ing minds apart.” Good for you, Trey. The victory lap was supremely well-earned. “And now we put it back in the vault for another 17 years.”

After telling us once again that we look beautiful, and some foreshadowing banter about the full moon, here comes “Wolfman’s Brother.” As is the standard procession with “Wolfman’s,” a funk groove breaks out post-haste, and Mike is absolutely feeling himself. He’s got that “Boogie On”-like effect cooking and he is leading the charge in every way. You really do love to see it. Eventually Trey takes over and leads the band on a traditional bliss journey to a peak that is quite lovely—and when bliss is the exception, not the rule, it makes those peaks all the sweeter, methinks.

We cool down with “mercy,” which is what it is. I am water. Setting sun. I see what you did, Trey. A standard “Rift” follows, and quickly gives way to “Bathtub Gin,” which to my ears is the clear king of this particular show and first in line behind the Mexico MonstersTM as highlights of the run.

Once again, after some fairly standard jamming out of the song itself, the band—as if propelled by some black magic this weekend—plunges into the darkness once again. This is a good time to mention how absolutely in command of their gear Phish has become. The way they’ve seamlessly and masterfully deployed their effects during this run to create transportive, evocative soundscapes—it seems like they’ve leveled up a notch or two. And they continue that trend here, to thrilling effect. Page is swirling. Trey finds a descending, menacing riff. Mike and Fish are relentless. The wall of sound begins to pulsate, to pound us into submission. Trey’s riff does a 180 and is now ascending, until he’s mashing pedals to create looping, otherworldly sounds. After a space exploration, Mike lets loose a bomb that transforms the jam into pure, unadulterated beauty. It’s not typical bliss stuff. It still has an edge. But it is truly magnificent. I could’ve lived there for many more minutes, but Trey abruptly kicks back in the “Gin” riff, and we’re home.

A standard “Cavern” closes what is undeniably the best first set of the run, and my thoughts turn to my poolside cabana neighbor who lost his shoes on night one, violating one of the most basic tenets of Phishdom.

Setbreak, in the food pavilion, a delightful mariachi band played. As I walked by they led a quite substantial crowd in a sing-along of “Sweet Caroline” and it was a beautiful moment. Phish Mexico rules.

(c) 2024 PHISH { Coverage)}

As set two looms, the jumbotron screens zoom in on the beautiful full moon, and the crowd is howling before Phish even takes the stage. Those howls intensify as the band takes to their instruments, and quite predictably—but no less wonderfully—kick into “The Howling.” I’m thinking, “Oh my god. What if they take this deep? Will we all take leave of our minds and turn into werewolves?” Alas, it’s a by-the-book outing that is not quite the overwhelming catharsis I felt the last time I saw it, but always fun dancing and howling at the moon together.

No Men in No Man’s Land” is up next, and yes, we are indeed happy that you’re here, Phish. It’s another launchpad for some funkiness, and once again Mike is the captain of the funk ship, asserting the leadership of his zigzagging bass lines. Soon, Trey once again deploys his effects deftly, swirling musical phrases around each other against the backdrop of a driving groove. The jam doesn’t exactly go down any alternate paths, but not every jam needs to. It’s danceable; it’s energetic; it’s fun.

Quite suddenly it resolves into “Ruby Waves,” and given last year’s absolutely stellar Mexico rendition, its appearance is most welcome. I don’t know why or how some songs lend themselves to dynamic and exploratory jamming, but “Ruby Waves” is obviously an inspiring launchpad for Phish over the last several years. This outing is no exception, joining “Gin” in the Saturday night winners’ circle. Again, Trey and Page are using their effects brilliantly, creating a droning assault that morphs into a plodding groove—which begins alternating between the effects-laden droning and the guitar-led riffing. Soon come the spaceship sounds reminiscent of the powerhouse Dicks ‘21 Simple - > Catapult - > Simple. Then, as in “Gin,” the darkness leads into the light. A gentle, contemplative space emerges, complete with the wub-wub-wubbles that recalled the section around minute 30 of the previous night’s “Chalkdust.”

When we dissolve into “Golden Age,” I know I’m probably not alone in thinking, well, it looks like they won’t make it three-for-three in deliberately creating Monsters. Alas. Still, “Golden Age” is a great song in general, the crowd likes to sing “Oh Oh,” all is well. After a major-key moment, we are treated to another mini-breakdown into darker tones, this one with a percussive feel. Not quite the Plinko of last decade, but in the ballpark. Quite unexpectedly, Fish starts the tumbling drum fills from “Ruby Waves” and the band segues back into it, finishing with one more chorus.

Ether Edge” is up next. I don’t think it’s a bad song at all. There are much worse landing pads. But more on that in a moment.

(c) 2024 PHISH {|(Alive Coverage)}

Twist” returns us to our regularly scheduled dance party. And, for such a short version, it kind of kicks ass. The typical jauntiness—once again!—turns downward to plumb the dark depths with a slinky, almost jazzy interlude. I wrote in my notes, “This sounds like the color maroon.” Interpret that as you will. As “Twist” winds down, “A Life Beyond the Dream” begins and is greeted by an audible groan from the crowd. (I wish people wouldn’t do that. Poor Trey.)

Look, I don’t think I’ll persuade a vocal segment of this fandom by saying that I think this song is beyond gorgeous. I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs Trey has ever written. I do think that the wrath it has received may have more to do with repeated clumsy placement than its inherent offensiveness to people’s ears. It should not be closing sets or appearing in encores. It should be a mid-set cooldown, which brings me back to “Ether Edge.” If I’m consulting on setlist construction, I’m losing “Ether Edge” entirely, replacing it with “A Life Beyond the Dream” in that slot, and I’m borrowing “2001” from the encore to fit in between “Twist” and “Possum.”

Sadly, Trey has not sought my counsel in these matters (yet), so we get what we get. “Possum” brings the energy up as it always does, Trey rips and shreds like the damn cock o’ the walk, and thus set two concludes.

More” begins the encore, and once again, I believe it’s a beautiful and unfairly maligned song. But with this song, even the most jaded, arms-crossed frowner can’t help but pump fists in the air as we vibrate with love and light. (Or maybe they remain arms-crossed and frowning, but I wouldn’t know because I am reveling in joyful release.)

2001” always gets a roar, and this one has what the kids call extra mustard spread on top. There’s not much else to say than it’s a spirited funk dance party, expertly weaving in the effects that have defined so much of this run. And as they did one year ago, Phish closes the Mexico run with a beautiful “Slave to the Traffic Light” that is as poignant and moving as ever.

And that’s the cherry on top of the best Mexico run Phish has ever played, hands down. While I think tonight’s show is the third best of the run, that is not to disparage it in any way. It’s just that the monumental moments from Thursday and Friday were the stuff of legend, and there can’t be three champs. Tonight the band was riding the high of those monumental moments, and even though they mostly continued to mine the darkness, it was also just good old fashioned fun. And in the end, what more could we ask for?

As always, thanks to all the staff at Moon Palace, thanks to the super fun DJs at the Niz-wook afterparties, thanks to all the sticker makers, thanks to everyone who makes Phish Mexico the magical fantasyland that it continues to be. Can’t wait to see ya next time.

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