Phish performing at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin in July of 2019. - photo by Graham Washatka
Legendary Vermont rockers Phish returned to Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin after nearly a four year absence to play a trio of unforgettable shows, capping it all off with one of the most memorable performances in the bands’ illustrious history on Sunday night.
The career-spanning set of shows saw the group dip into their massive catalog of material, playing songs from their inception in the 1980s, to songs off their most recent album, 2016’s Big Boat, as well as material from virtuosic guitarist Trey Anastaio’s solo career, including cuts from his newest project Ghosts in the Forest. The band even revisited tracks from their famed 2018 Halloween show, where they covered an entire album by a little known Scandinavian prog rock band, Kasvot Växt, which turned out to actually be Phish; yet another piece of lore “Phistory”. For more information on the Kasvot Växt Halloween prank, please visit your local search engine and prepare to “faceplant into rock”.
To say that Phish has an elaborate catalog is clearly an understatement, which is why so many phans turn out show after show, following the band from town to town. You really never know what you’re going to get, and they have a knack for always leaving you wanting more. Heading into the Alpine run, which would be the bands’ 18th, 19th, and 20th performances at the iconic Midwestern venue, no one knew quite what to expect, but everyone knew Phish would deliver.
And boy did they ever.
While Friday’s show could be considered more of a straight-ahead rocker, with funk-tinged dance parties like Sand, Tweezer, Wolfman’s Brother, No Men in No Man’s Land, and powerful stadium rock anthems like Free, and 46 Days, Saturday’s performance was a bit more whimsical, with uplifting moments during songs like NICU, Ya Mar, Halley’s Comet, Runaway Jim, and the peak heavy Back on the Train. Case in point regarding the band’s versatility; two nights, two completely different vibes.
Then came Sunday.
Sometimes after you see a Phish show, you leave the venue repeating the same phrase: wow. This was one of those shows. As the first set began with The Landlady, you had the feeling that the night was going to be special. What followed was nothing short of one of the most impressive, and intense Phish concerts in recent memory, and perhaps ever.
The show was filled with bust outs like Olivia’s Pool, which had not been played since 1997, and Spock’s Brain, which has been on the shelf since the year 2000. Other rarities including one of the oldest songs in the Phish arsenal, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Avenu Malkenu, and Pebbles and Marbles peppered the first set, as a rollicking cover of Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times finished the first set with fever pitch.
The second set couldn’t come soon enough, and when it came, it quickly turned into something very special. The second act began with Mercury, one of the newest songs in the Phish catalog, which gave way to Ruby Waves, a track off the aforementioned Ghosts of the Forest project. The Ruby Waves jam was nearly 40 minutes long and contained the full palette of Phish textures and colors. From blissful peaks, to dark and down freak-outs, this jam had it all. And this is the beauty of Phish; after ¾ of an hour of one song, the audience still wanted more.
The set continued with other rarities like Swept Away > Steep, off 1996’s Billy Breathes, Icculus, Buffalo Bill, and a unique You Enjoy Myself, which contained the songs Catapult, and Contact, dedicated to a couple who Anastasio met in his hotel lobby. The band returned after a short encore break to play the catchy tune More, as the run finished with a blistering performance of Tweezer Reprise, giving closure that song’s counterpart from Night 1.
As the lyrics to More say, “I’m vibrating with love and light, pulsating with love and light. In a world gone mad, a world gone mad, there must be something more than this”. Now, I don’t know what “more” there is to all this, but every single time I see a Phish show, I feel like I’m pretty darn close to the answer. And for that, I am very, very thankful.
Thank you, boys! We’ll see you next year!