Phish | photo by Doug Interrante
Phish plays to the Phaithful with a crowd-pleasing setlist at the Mann
Written with my friend and seasoned Phish fan Pat James
The second night (June 29th, 2016) of a double header Phish performance at the Mann Music Center was not only highly anticipated by the throngs of Delaware Valley Phaithful, but also viewed with cautious optimism, as an ominous forecast threatened to pour heavy rains and storms on the thousands of lawn and terrace attendees. Those present at the Mann shows a couple years ago will recall a similar event, where all those on the lawn were directed back to their vehicles until the storm had passed over. Perhaps coincidentally, the Mann Center remained out of the storm’s path, and the good times only rolled on from there. Sensing the anxiety from the unpleasant forecast, Phish provided its fans with an absolute treat in the first set, with many familiar favorites mixed in with covers, rarities and brand spanking new material.
A tight and energetic “Wilson” opened up the first set (with a brief “Character Zero” tease in the warm-up moments). Trey Anastasio seemed loose from the onset, with some nimble guitar fills during the Gamehendge classic. Next up was Son Seals cover “Funky Bitch,” which continued the great energy from the first song. This Mike Gordon-sung tune had the band in sync early and in my opinion portended well for the rest of the evening (a personal favorite). “No Men In No Man’s Land” is a funkified fan-favorite and provided the framework for the foursome’s first jam of the night. Keyboardist Page McConnell explored both his keyboard and organ set-up and Anastasio led a melodic and thoughtfully composed guitar solo. At the conclusion of this song, Trey addressed the Mann crowd and commented on how much the band enjoys playing under the impressive wood canopy (sure beats the E-Centre — and no I’m not giving credence to whatever bank has the current naming rights to the Camden amphitheater).
A change of pace came in the way of “Roggae,” which allowed drummer Jon Fishman’s intricate playing to come to the forefront amidst the pauses and sustained notes of this swaying composition. “Roggae” came to beautiful guitar-driven crescendo that sees Trey playing fewer notes than normal, but in a purposeful and crisp manner. Second cover of the evening was “Nellie Kane,” a Hot Rize cover that sees the band transitioning seamlessly to the bluegrass genre. This tune is always a welcome first-set addition, with Fishman as the engine, providing a driving snare beat along with the nice vocal harmonies of the other members.
“Gumbo” is a set one mainstay and the crowd-pleaser featured a Page solo, always fun (especially for those Rageside). “Birds of a Feather” was the first time the band seemed to get momentarily derailed, but did manage to catch themselves in the midst of a temporary lull to recapture early set energy with a pulsating rock ’n’ roll instrumental section of the song. “Sleep Again” put a smile on the true Phan’s face, as the Trey Anastasio Band song hadn’t been played with Phish since 2010. “Things People Do” was a new song that served as a nice complement to “Nellie Kane,” bookending a nice run of songs with two bluegrassy tunes on either end. “Limb By Limb” is a tried and true Story of the Ghost number that stayed loyal to its major chord progression by providing a blissful jam that didn’t stray too far from its core.
“Split Open & Melt” came next, seeing the band dive a bit deeper into the darker corners of its jamming repertoire, followed by the rare instrumental “Oh Kee Pa Ceremony,” and finally capped off by “Suzy Greenberg,” a Trey/Dude of Life song that is a fixture of many legendary Phish sets, and an appropriate cherry on top of a mostly cohesive and highly energetic first set.
Set two had much to live up to, and fortunately for all it did not disappoint. For the uninitiated, Set two commonly sees the band getting into darker and more experimental territory with their improvisational jams. The second set frequently has fewer songs, yet they stretch on for as long as 20:00+ minutes in length. “Fuego” was the first song of the set and essentially became the night’s longest sustained musical performance (discounting the extended vocal jam at the end of “YEM”). This is a song from Phish’s most recent studio release, and the band clearly has grown comfortable and confident in their ability to explore the depths of this new favorite.
“Runaway Jim” is another classic and beloved Phish song, and perhaps got the warmest reception of the night. “Gotta Jibboo” is an upbeat boogie woogie song that had a nice tempo and complemented “Runaway Jim” very nicely. “Breath and Burning” is a new composition that was debuted a couple days earlier in the tour, and this time the song was placed in the middle of the second set, displaying confidence in this songs ability to become a summer tour mainstay.
The final three songs were a juxtaposition between new and old, with “Timber,” “Slave To The Traffic Light” and “You Enjoy Myself” all having been performed by the band since the mid to late 80’s. “Timber (Jerry Garcia)” is a song that Phish has essentially made its own, and is on many a Phish fans bucket list of must-see songs in the live setting. “Slave To The Traffic Light” is a great song that starts with a mellow guitar melody that eventually gets to soaring highs.
Finally, those participating in pre-show parking lot festivities beforehand all thought Philly was going to be the city where Phish dropped its first “YEM” of the summer. The de facto Phish anthem was (as always) welcomed with open armed excitement, although the weirdly cool vocal jam in lieu of guitar solo was a head scratcher that I need to revisit a couple times before I really formulate an opinion.
Show closer was a triumphant “Quinn the Eskimo,” a Bob Dylan cover that always seems to find its way into the encore slot. All in all, a great night that set the table nicely for night two at Mann and also for those making the trip up to Saratoga for a three night run at SPAC.