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[This recap is courtesy of Silas Cole, user @ObviousFool (Instagram @nice_shades), thank you Silas! -Ed.]

There are many things that set Phish shows at Sphere apart from other Phish shows, first and foremost, the visuals. I will do my best to describe the visual accompaniments, but words cannot possibly do justice to the spectacular displays, so I’ll also provide pictures. I also found myself less immersed in the music, for better or worse, and this recap accurately reflects that.

When we first entered the room, we were greeted by an enormous 3.67-acre LED array with a resolution of 16000x16000---the highest resolution LED screen on the planet. Once we sat down, we noticed the glaring lack of a light rig or stacks of speakers, but hidden behind the screen and throughout the venue there are over 168,000 separate speaker drivers, amps, and processing channels, an auditory nirvana.

(c) 2024 Scott Marks

The pre-show music for these shows has been a collection of ambient tracks that Trey put together specifically for this venue and this run of shows. In an interview, he said “it’s a style of guitar music that I love creating, but there has never been an outlet before”, but I beg to differ. If Trey released an album of ambient instrumental guitar tracks, sort of like Maybe We’re the Visitors, I bet we’d all buy it and love it. So Trey, if you’re reading this, give us more!

There has been much speculation as to the theme of these four shows, and after the first show, there wasn’t a ton to draw upon. The best theories seemed to circle around an elemental theme - the first night could be Earth, with “Dirt” and “Sand”, but many of the songs in the set seemed to not align. “Back obviously on the Train” and “Run Like an Antelope” could help support the Earth theory, but “Tweezer” and “My Friend My Friend”? Why not “Mound”? not “Cavern”?

(c) 2024 Scott Marks

Everything on Earth can be divided into one of four major subsystems, which are named quite appropriately: the lithosphere (all the solid land in the crust, the semi-solid layer underneath it, and the molten core), the hydrosphere (all the solid, liquid, and gaseous water), the biosphere (all living things), and the atmosphere (air). Keep that in mind. And now, on with the show!

Night 1, the pre-show music continued as the band took the stage, then faded out before they kicked off the set. On night 2, the pre-show music continued again, but this time it was more familiar, and segued into the set opener, “Free.” The screen began to drip with rainbow colors, looking like a waterfall of paint was flowing into the venue, and we had our first hint at the theme: “splashing in the sea.”

“The Moma Dance” followed and a sultry dance groove formed while the screens showed a 360° live shot of the band and the crowd getting more down. This melted into an iridescent donut shape. With “the steady slap, the frothy cap“ and waves “pushing us further from shore,” “Moma” fits squarely in the hydrosphere.

Next came “Axilla, Pt. II” and sure enough, we’d all spent the day “sitting out by the pool.” This was the first jam vehicle of the night, and delivered us into a psychedelic swamp of effects and synths, with Page displaying utter badassery on the Moog.

(c) 2024 Silas Cole

“I am water,” Trey sang, solidifying (liquefying?) the aquatic theme with the next song of the night, “mercy." This is a gorgeous ballad, one of my favorites from the eponymous album, and it was beautifully done.

(c) 2024 Scott Marks

“Bathtub Gin” followed, and the screen displayed an overhead view of a pool party, with people floating on bright inflatables, not unlike the pool parties at the Moon Palace. As the song progressed, the people on the floaties began to melt together and out of focus, also not unlike the Moon Palace, creating a rainbow kaleidoscope for our visual delight. Five songs in, five water references. Water it is!

(c) 2024 Scott Marks

There have been many times at Phish shows when I felt like I was underwater, or in an aquarium. They turned Madison Square Garden into an aquarium twice (12/31/93 and 4/22/22), and both were revolutionary…at the time. “Theme from the Bottom” brought us to the bottom of the ocean, looking upward at the surface. Suddenly the screen became an underwater landscape, a kelp forest with swimming humans and fish and whales and shapes that seemed to morph into each other.

Nearly 75 minutes into the set, it felt like “Theme” could’ve closed, but Phish weren’t done. They dove into “Split Open and Melt” as the screen showed a circle of blue and red and swirling flames that continued to melt outward as the jam evolved. “Melt” was an outstanding set closer as the band fearlessly blazed a path through a dark dissonant jam, falling back into place seamlessly.

(c) 2024 Silas Cole

After about 15 minutes, the show continued with “A Wave of Hope”, as we were treated to more kaleidoscopic rainbows.

Now, CK5 is thusly named because he’s the fifth member of the band. His ability to manipulate the lights in sync with the improvisation of the band is unrivaled in the industry. One of the most common critiques I heard after night 1 is that at times, the visuals have distracted from the music rather than enhancing it the way CK5 does. This was less common on night 2, and during “A Wave of Hope” it almost felt like CK5 was running the videos. Clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, this jam delivered the meat and potatoes of the show. Trey led the way, blazing a path into a minor funk jam that evolved into a stellar groove.

(c) 2024 Silas Cole

Next was “What’s the Use?”, and the screens turned into a sea of stars, gently falling upon us. The seats at Sphere are equipped with haptic technology, so when Mike started laying on the low notes, we could feel it behind us, rather than in front of us. Shoutout to section 406 - everyone sat down and shared a truly magical experience. I’m used to Mike’s bass thumping my sternum, but sitting there looking up at the cosmos with Mike gently massaging our backsides was true bliss---an all-time version.

“Ruby Waves” followed and continued its streak as a top notch jam vehicle. Fishman took the reins and drove us through a rocking version as beams of light swirled above and transformed into a blurred cloudy backdrop of blues and greens.

(c) 2024 Silas Cole

“Lonely Trip” provided us a welcome breather after the wildness of "Ruby Waves," and this version was truly lovely. As the band launched into “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” the screen went dark and about a dozen giant jellyfish ascended from the floor of the venue. We returned to the bottom of the ocean and the kelp forest, but this time it was a night scene and more iridescent. Projections on the jellyfish made them seem to become part of the screen.

(c) 2024 Silas Cole“Prince Caspian” came next and brought us inside of a sunken building resembling the Coliseum. “YEM” arrived to close the set as the screen turned into a car wash, with the audience sitting in the front seat. Growing up in Vermont, “let’s get stoned and drive through the car wash” was not an uncommon after school activity. This was way better.

Trey’s solo came during the wax and wheel scrub, and the drum and bass jam accompanied the air dry. As we exited the car wash and entered the vocal jam, the entire screen appeared to become transparent with a puppy dog licking the outside of it in slow motion. This looped through the vocal jam, which was heavy on the slurping sounds.

(c) 2024 Scott Marks

“Wading In the Velvet Sea” can be a polarizing encore. It’s not high energy, but the emotional impact is immeasurable. Having experienced Coventry, every time they play this song I’m grateful that we have our favorite band back. This version was particularly emotional, as the screen became a red velvet sea, with photos of the band throughout their history appearing and disappearing. At the end of the song, all the pictures reappeared together.

And if you‘re one of the many who dreads a “Wading” encore, the “Harry Hood” that came next delivered the catharsis we so sought. While this version stayed squarely in type I, Trey was inspired, shredding through the jam and into one of the blissiest peaks in the Phish catalog. We all roared in delight as the band took their bow, having shared a truly incredible experience.

I feel truly lucky to have been able to attend the first two shows at Madison Sphere Garden, and I’m confident this will become a yearly run for them. I can’t wait to see what they can do with this tech. And if you have 2 Saturdays, please, please, please, let me buy it!

(c) 2024 Scott Marks

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