[Thank you to Phish.net contributor Dianna (@Dianna_2Ns) for this recap. -Ed.]
Last night, Phish treated fans to an absolute delight of a show as they literally went backwards down the number line to kick off their first night of four at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The band opened the show with some discordant sounds and eventually dropped into “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which was met with massive crowd cheers. This is the first time the band has opened a show with that tune since 9/22/99 at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, NM. The patience, focus and synergy that would be present throughout the rest of the show was really on display throughout this song, as Trey brought back “LA Woman” teases from last Saturday’s Forum show in addition to throwing in a few “Manteca” teases, as well. This jam starts dirty and stays that way, with Mike heavy in the mix, Fishman driving relentlessly and Page supporting Trey’s wailing with massive synth swells before the drop back into the song. After an impressive sixteen and a half minutes, the band comes to a stop before Trey takes the mic to assure everyone that, “We're not gonna hurt you... We just wanna have some fun…” before an absolutely epic drop into a cover of Prince’s “1999”—only the third time this song has ever been played live and 130 shows since the last time it was played (7/26/17 at Madison Square Garden during the Baker’s Dozen). Similar to 2001, this jam was lengthy and went Type II, with Page taking the reins for a good deal of it backed by fantastic interplay between Mike & Trey. Towards the end of this almost 15 minute spacey jam, Trey just lets loose, sustaining soaring extended notes before the band moves on to “555.”
It was at this point that many fans may have started to realize what the band might be doing. 2001, 1999, 555… It appeared that we were truly going backwards down the number line! This “555” jam also achieved Type II status, as it reached beautiful, blissed out, lofty heights before a bit of an abrupt, fumbled segue into “46 Days.” In a bit of an unusual move as the band had just played this tune at the last show, two nights prior in Santa Barbara, this scorcher reared its head once again to provide yet another gnarly jam, gritty from the get go. The playing from each individual member of the band throughout this dark and dirty jam is positively transcendent. Some serious shredding goes down before the band seamlessly transitions back into the song to bring this portion of the set to a close. The band takes a breath before dropping another bomb on the crowd with the 6th ever version of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23.” Trey nails his high note and the crowd is shaking their collective booty. “Twenty Years Later” comes next and within 5 minutes, the jam has also entered unrecognizable territory, like almost every other tune in this 6 song first set. With this jam taking a multitude of different, fascinating directions throughout the course of it, it is truly a spectacular ride worth taking and certainly the highlight of the first set.
Set 2 started with “Seven Below” like many of us guessed it would; however, what was not expected was the fact that this jam would break the 17 minute mark. Fishman’s absolutely unrelenting drumming is the backbone of this jam, driving the tune forward as Mike, Page & Trey continue to build this groove, layering on multitudes of compelling depth to produce a masterpiece of a jam. Spacey, driving, dancey, funky darkness with discordant evil jamming, Trey ripping & making his guitar scream. Clocking in at 17:24, this longest jam of the night is also likely the highlight of the set and probably even the evening as a whole. The conclusion of “Seven Below” is followed immediately by Phish’s debut of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” which was of course met by a deafening eruption of delight from the audience. Trey tackles this one head on, wailing in true Jimi-esque fashion. Lyrical sections “If all the hippies…” & “But I'm gonna wave my freak flag high” received jubilant cheers from the crowd before this jam also dives deep into murky darkness. This jam is HOT, with Fishman’s uncompromising propulsive drumming leading the way as Trey absolutely wails and does this Jimi tune justice. David Bowie’s “Five Years” came next, 5 years after it’s debut in this very same arena. Similarly splendid, cathartic & poignant, this version then leads into the first time “Two Versions of Me” has been played 11/27/09, a 435 show gap. While this delicate, tender tune starts out soft and sweet, the pace is quickly picked up and this Two Versions of Me jam (?!) goes Type II (?!?!?). At this point, it has become undeniably evident that this band can do whatever they want and it doesn’t matter what song they play, they can and will take anything out for a walk if and when they feel like it. Trey plays around with some effect and pedals as Mike starts off onto “NO2,” launching his drill into the air & utilizing it appropriately to make everyone in the venue feel absolutely out of their minds.
“Army of One” obviously came next, showcasing the Chairman of the Boards’ exquisite ivory tickling before the band tore into a positively rowdy “My Sweet One.” And then, unexpectedly -- "FIRST TUBE." The jury is still out as to whether this ordinal number fits in with the rest of the cardinal numbers throughout the show, but persnickety semantics aside, I can’t think of a more fittingly spectacular way to bring a set to a close. And why not throw another little Type II jam in there while we’re at it? YOU get a Type II jam! YOU get a Type II jam! EVERY SONG GETS TYPE II JAMS! Trey teases “Seven Below” real quick before getting back on track and making some gnarly noises. However, we weren’t done yet -- “Character Zero” shows up to properly end this countdown on a high note. The energy in the room during this Zero was immeasurable. So many arms in the air, everyone cheering & singing along. Not a toss-away “Zero” whatsoever. Every member of the band was giving their 110% throughout this one and the audience was dancing like their lives depended on it to match their energy. The catharsis that was achieved by yelling in unison was perceptible and felt so good.
And then, the number everyone was waiting for -- “Backwards Down The Number Line.” The crowd eruption during the “Take my hand and let’s take a ride… Backwards down the number line” lyric was both unprecedented and unparalleled. The jubilantly joyful nature of this jam had smiles on faces beaming from ear to ear, as Trey sustained yet another extended note, showering the crowd in bliss before peaking the tune and bringing it to a close. An impeccably executed “gag,” this show had everything you could want. And what more perfect of a cherry to plop onto this extravagant first night sundae? Acapella, of course!
The band starts singing “Grind” which seems normal until they change the lyrics from “I have lived for…” to “And we have played…” and proceed to name every song in the setlist, including “Grind Two” (Or is it “too?”) which is currently listed as “Grind 2.0” on LivePhish. They then go on to explain, “For a grand total of 4,680 digits…” which of course got folks pondering the significance of that number, especially after a graphic containing those numbers, an image of a roulette wheel with the ball on 12 & the words “Start counting your winnings now!” was released via the band’s Instagram page. While many are trying to do their best to figure out what this could mean, I’m just happy to have had that show on the first night of a four night run and cannot WAIT to see what other tomfoolery the band has up their sleeves for the next 3 nights.
If you enjoyed reading what I have to say about Phish & want to hear more of it, I’ll be joining the lovely folks over at Helping Friendly Pod on Sunday, 10/31 at Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas for a live streamed event where we gush about how amazing our favorite band is and make fruitless guesses about what the big Halloween surprise will be. It should be fun!
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