John Fishman’s syncopated marching band drums put a second line shuffle into the feet of the gathering masses. A blast of confetti ascended from the crowd. Page McConnell’s toy train whistle Hammond B3 organ hopped, Trey Anastasio’s guitar squealed and squawked, and Mike Gordon’s bass, as it would all night, both drove the rhythm and held it down.
For the first time in five years (and the first time outside of a festival or TV-production setting in 16), the Phish circus had returned to Austin. The general admission floor area, which had been about half full just 10 minutes before, reached capacity as the band welcomed sunset at the Austin360 Amphitheater Tuesday night. The packed floor of fans rippled in a wave. It was “Party Time.” Quite literally. The Vermont-based quartet opened their night show with the lyrically spare dance-provoking tune they first introduced to live audiences in 2009.
The band, which began their tour last week, turned backward from there, reeling off several older tunes from the 80s and 90s. “Free” offered the crowd an early, rapturous sing-along, and undoubtedly many of the old-school faithful credited the band’s breezy tune with bringing a gentle wind that swept over the crowd.
Phish has been playing together for more than 30 years, and they probably never imagined as college kids they would be singing the words to “Haley’s Comet” (“Kind of Cadillac rainbows and lots of spaghetti, and I love meatballs so you better get ready”) when they were in their 50s. The lyrics are even sillier now than they were written, but there was no self-judgment on the smiling faces of the joyful band members, who bring serious chops to bolster and outshine their absurdist wit.
The slinking funk of “Wolfman’s Brother” and the electrified hoedown of “Possum” continued the nostalgia trip, with McConnell and Anastasio both jokingly referring to the Austin show as a homecoming for the guitarist (who was born in Texas, where this reviewer saw his first Phish show in 1995, but will be forever connected to Vermont).
The Sunday schoolish bounce of “Devotion” to a dream and the calypso-tinged, Gordon-led “Sugar Shack” gave the band a chance to show off some new material, before the band turned in a scorching “Run Like an Antelope.” The first-set closer featured one of the biggest builds and releases of the night, and gave Anastasio, who recently wrapped five dates playing lead guitar for the Grateful Dead, plenty of space to dazzle with his super honed playing. The close to the first set was as electric as any I have seen in years.
After a 30-minute set break, the band returned for a 90-minute second set, with Anastasio picking up where he’d left off in the first. He tapped into some funky hybrid of John Fogerty and Jo Walsh as he led the band through “46 Days” into “The Dogs” and back into “46 Days,” leaving audience members to stare at each other in grinning disbelief.
The second set featured two very new songs, the change-of-pace sentimentality of “Shade” (played live for only the second time) and the Southern rocking, reggae bobbing “Blaze On,” played live for only the third time. After a tranquil “Wading in the Velvet Sea” (the audience seemed to dig the few ballad interludes), the closing trio of “David Bowie,” “Suzy Greenberg,” and a punch-to-the-head “Tweezer Reprise” twisted the giddy crowd up and spun it out under Phish illumineer Chris Kuroda’s legendary torrents of dazzling purple, teal, green, and white lights, the splashes of colors lighting the faces of the delirious faithful.
The encore cover of the ageless Rolling Stones “Loving Cup” seemed fitting for a band that has been together since 1984 and on this summer night in 2015 showed no signs of slowing down.
(*A note about the venue: It was my first time to see a show at the amphitheater. I was skeptical, but I loved it. The configuration had general admission on the floor – great for those wanting to dance – and two levels of seats, followed by a lawn that much smaller and more manageable than I expected. I walked to each part of the venue, and all seating areas had good to great sound and excellent sight-lines. I’ll be back.)[youtube=][youtube=]
Bouncing Around the Room
Water in the Sky
Devotion To a Dream
Run Like an Antelope
46 Days -> The Dogs -> 46 Days
Waiting All Night
Wading in the Velvet Sea
Encore: Loving Cup