Who could have predicted a show that was made entirely of songs about animals? Many people did, and with last night's show, we finally uncovered the complex equation that reveals Phish's Halloween plans, once and for all. The answer is: they're fucking with us. They are always fucking with us.
If you can believe it, I actually didn't realize that the set was all animal songs until deep into the first set. My excuse is that I was just really into the music, man. But with "The Dogs" opener, clocking in at about nine minutes, we knew we were being subjected to another elaborate plan. The "Ocelot" brought us further into the animal kingdom, and "Turtle in the Clouds" gave us some much needed on-stage choreographed dancing.
By this point in the set, we were wondering if we were going to get another thematic show, with serious improv, like 10/28/21. But on this night, the service was to the bit, the bit led the music, and although we didn't see the levels of improv we saw on the other nights, it gave us a show with 25 songs and 201 minutes of music, and the kind of show you're not likely to see again. And you can always tell, when the band is doing a bit, when they know what's in store and we don't, they absolutely love it. They were relishing it. All night.
This tour has obviously been highlighted by incredible improv. We saw glimpses in "Run Like An Antelope," one of the most fiery versions we've heard in a while. I was expecting "Camel Walk" to get out there as well, like the version from The Gorge earlier this Summer, but it was a "pre-Gorge" standard version, before jumping into the deep funk with "Wombat." This tour's textures and sonic palette are perfect for this song, which was really well received by the grooving I saw.
Are they going to play "Guyute"? They're going for it? Alright, let's go. A really respectable version, last played in late 2019. The real shenanigans started with "Big Black Furry Creatues From Mars." And the first "Shaggy Dog" since 2012, my first time ever seeing that song.
I also got my first "Dog Faced Boy," another reminder that we were at a special show. On a night like last night, we know that this community, the band and us, are in on it together. The in-jokes, the shared experience, the predictions, wrong (almost always) and right, all came together in this show.
But the games weren't over, not even close. "The Sloth," then a "Regular" version of "Llama," and a "I Am the Walrus" to close the set. Although we didn't get a lot of high-powered improv in the first set, we did get 13 songs, a lot of them rare. What will the second set hold?
First of all, a LOT more songs. A quick "Dogs Stole Things" (first since 2019), and then into the biggest jam of the night, "Your Pet Cat." In a jam like this, with Trey and Page pushing the synths and space sounds, I find myself thinking about what this means for Halloween. What will they play? What does it mean? In the middle of the jam, they shifted into a major key blues jam, which is not where I expected the jam to go. The "Your Pet Cat" > "Runaway Jim" > "Piper" was the highlight of the show from a jamming perspective, although they didn't go too deep on any of the jams. This show was all about the songs.
After a relatively short "Birds of a Feather," we heard what we all long to hear at a show. We heard...an Oom Pa Pa. This "Harpua," the first one since the Baker's Dozen, finally revealed the mysteries of Halloween. Trey said it directly — we're fucking with you. Did Harpua may have embedded clues about what will happen tonight (including a shout out to Jseus Christ Superstar)? Possibly, but we all know one thing for sure — they would not say that to us directly. The shenanigans continue. Keeping us on our toes, keeping us guessing, keeping us coming back and wanting more. Is there another band in the universe who can still thrill, entertain, confuse their fans like Phish?
And after Trey saying that it doesn't matter, directly, we heard it this time through the sublime release of "Bug." Many of us thought this would close the set, but the band wasn't finished with the gag. "The Lizards" and a nice, mellow "Farmhouse" closed out the set.
Sometimes what you come for, is not what you end up getting, but what you do get, you enjoy and know that you're not getting another live music experience like this. There's mystery, there's confusion, there are laughs, there's a lot of dancing, and a lot of ecstatic release from all of us. And although we didn't get the levels of improv we've all become used to on this tour, last night was in service to the bit. As for tonight, there are eight vertices, maybe, or nine cubes? Eight circles? Who cares, let's just do it one more time.