Phish Wow With Visually Stunning 1st Show At Las Vegas Sphere

JamBase’s Nate Todd recaps his experience at the first night of the long-anticipated run.

By Nate Todd Apr 19, 2024 5:52 am PDT

The Sphere is here, and it’s spectacular. One of the most cherished aspects of a Phish concert is being able to share a common experience with the community. That camaraderie was upped during the kickoff to Phish’s inaugural four-night run at the Sphere in Las Vegas, everyone experiencing the band at the state-of-the-art venue for the first time.

Getting the lay of the land was important. There was an undercurrent of anxiety, eclipsed by the sheer excitement of this new way of seeing Phish.

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As such, “Everything’s Right” was an apt opener, squashing any anxious feelings. However, sound was fickle. At times there was a panning effect, like listening to a record with headphones. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. They will surely dial in, but there was a learning curve, and although there was incredible thought and creativity put into every detail, they were throwing things at the wall of the great dome and seeing what would stick.

Phish’s performance was nonetheless tight, beginning with a substantial rendering of “Everything’s Right.” The visuals for the Sigma Oasis cut were reminiscent of the 1980s arcade classic Q*bert. The improvisation began in a decidedly funky, minor key realm. Keyboardist Page McConnell communicated through growling clavinet and Mike Gordon stomped on squishy bass.

Of late, the quartet has eschewed straight forward 4/4 funk, finding texture in herky jerky sequences that delineate the smoother stretches, the latter beginning with Page moving to the washy Fender Rhodes, toggling things back to a major sequence. Guitarist Trey Anastasio reeled of melodic but shreddy runs, McConnell joining him in harmony — all atop the rock that is drummer Jon Fishman. A jump back into the “Everything’s Right” chorus and conclusion brought the first Sphere song to an end.

Next, “Back on the Train” provided the first full wrap-around visual of the Sphere. The juxtaposition of a beach with a pastoral setting flashing by was enhanced by bendy, loopy, chicken scratch from Anastasio.

The half step kerrangs of “Wolfman’s Brother” came next. The eye candy on the classic was a stained glass effect, giving the room the feel of a cathedral. “Wolfman’s” was explored thoroughly as well. Page beginning on a hollowed out Clavinet and Fish rolling the snare, accented with booming fills. A major slant followed, washing over the Sphere in waves, meandering back into a spacious minor sequence that brought the tune full circle.

Fish then sprinkled in the hi-hat signaling “Maze.” The drummer appeared in an impressive strip above the band before the other members were peppered in as they negotiated the Rift cut. Page carved out percussion organ ahead of Trey taking to the front of the stage to show off some dance moves. Above, images of the band split like a shuffling deck of cards.

“Leaves” followed with lanterns taking flight from the floor on either side of the stage, floating upward and mingling with those on screen and a rising moon. The lanterns then descended and touched down in the sea./p>

The Trey Anastasio/Page McConnell January standout “Life Saving Gun” popped off next. A deluge of Phish ephemera populated the screens, ElectroLux, whales, umbrellas, megaphones, sandwiches, microscopes and finally, Phish TV.

The full-tilt boogie of the improv was electrified by McConnell on the Moog One, Gordon thumping on the five-string and Anastasio weaving a lattice on the Languedoc. The jam flattened out but retained its teeth, Mike played with the “Crosseyed And Painless” bassline ahead of descending rhythm work from Trey and and balls of energy emanating from the Moog One once again.

Upon “Life Saving Gun’s” conclusion, Trey remarked, “Jon Fishman, percussion rinse. I like any song with a Jon Fishman percussion rinse,” referencing a line from the song. Fish replied with a comedic “ba doom ching.”

“That wasn’t a joke. Inappropriate rim shot,” Anastasio added, before noting how the Sphere looked from the band’s perspective.

Things came back down to earth with “Dirt,” grounding the spacious dome for a moment. The cover of the poignant song’s home, 2000’s Farmhouse, flashed above in a bit of foreshadowing. The quartet then jumped into “Carini,” which featured a colorful house of mirrors commanding the screen. The quick rendition of the favorite wrapped the first set.


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Read on after The Skinny for the rest of the recap and more.

The Skinny

The Setlist

Set 1: Everything's Right, Back on the Train, Wolfman's Brother, Maze, Leaves, Life Saving Gun, Dirt, Carini

Set 2: Sand > Tweezer -> My Friend, My Friend [1] > Mike's Song > Lifeboy, Weekapaug Groove, Blaze On [2] > Fluffhead

Encore: Farmhouse [3], Run Like an Antelope

The band took the stage while the pre-show electronic music continued. During Back on the Train, psychedelic images of passing countryside were displayed behind and above the band, rotating in opposite directions in different sections of the dome. Trey teased Mercy, Mercy, Mercy in Wolfman’s Brother. During Maze, psychedelic live images of each band member appeared, stacked on top of each other. These images then fragmented and spread out, dancing and turning throughout the jam. During Leaves, several giant paper lanterns appeared, flanking the stage, while the dome showed a multitude of paper lanterns floating over water, with the moon shining above. During Life Saving Gun, the dome displayed stacks of old-style televisions with rabbit ears, with each television showing a live shot of one of the band members. These TVs moved and rotated as the jam progressed. After the song, Trey said that he “loves any song with a Jon Fishman percussion rinse,” and told the crowd they should see the Sphere from the stage. During Dirt, the dome showed a forest view, looking upwards through trees at a purple-hued sky. During Tweezer, a field of multi-colored cars appeared behind the band, changing in size and shape and with their headlights blinking on and off in patterns, while other cars drove past overhead. My Friend, My Friend included live spotlight silhouettes of the band members projected across the entire dome and Egg in a Hole quotes from Mike and did not contain the “Myfe” ending. The projections during Mike’s Song made it seem as if the venue was outdoors, with the band playing in front of a body of water with a rotating sculpture on the far shore. During Lifeboy, the sun went down and a number of other rotating sculptures lit up in the sky, creating a golden star-scape. The sun then rose again during Weekapaug. Blaze On’s lyrics were changed to “dancing in the Sphere.” Farmhouse began and ended with Trey on acoustic guitar, as well as images of a farmhouse in a field under a night sky filled with stars and aurorae. This show was connected to the other three with each night’s setlist tied into a state of matter. This performance’s matter type was solid.

The Venue

Sphere [See upcoming shows]

18,600

The Music

8 songs / 8:04 pm to 9:33 pm (89 minutes)

10 songs / 10:11 pm to 12:17 am (126 minutes)

18 songs
18 originals / 0 covers

1998

7.72 [Gap chart]

None

All

Farmhouse LTP 07/29/2023 (28 Show Gap)

Tweezer 25:15

Dirt 4:39

Junta - 1, Lawn Boy - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 1, Rift - 2, Hoist - 2, Farmhouse - 4, Big Boat - 1, Sigma Oasis - 2, Misc. - 4

The Rest

81° and Fair at Showtime

Ocelot (Koa 3)

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Visit JamBase’s The Skinny Hub
More Skinny

“Sand” got the second set in the desert off to a galloping start. The visuals for the Farmhouse track brought to mind what silicon dioxide looks like underneath a microscope. The cascading movement of the dots made the stage look as if it was falling.

The opening strains of “Tweezer” then barged into the Sphere. The visual motif here was cars. As Phish drove through the jam vehicle, headlights flashed on and off — sometimes looking like sinister eyes peeking from the darkness. Trucks also dive bombed from overhead, soaring above cars that would pop out, revealing Nevada vanity plates that read “Phish 2024.”

The musical motifs of the Sphere “Tweezer” bubbled then percolated then took a darker shade, washed with roaring auto-wah from Trey ahead of a descent into robotic, industrial madness — from which emerged “My Friend, My Friend” in a smooth transition.

A highlight of the visual aspect of the show accompanied the subsequent “Mike’s Song,” full on Lord of the Rings vibes with mountains framing the edges of the Sphere and trees going from autumnal hues to verdant brilliance. A gyroscopic tower was the centerpiece throughout, growing then receding.

This “Mike’s Jam” contained “Lifeboy” and continued on into the familiar “Weekapaug Groove.” “Blaze On” then streaked through the space, both musically and visually with a colorful display arcing down into the stage and Trey not missing an opportunity to change up the lyrics to “dancing in the Sphere.”

The opening strains of “Fluffhead” filtered through the dome next. The band was once again featured on the screen, but cut up into strips like venetian blinds. “Fluff” was highlighted by excellent McConnell keyboard work on both Wurlitzer and piano. The second set came to a close with the live favorite.

Phish returned to begin the encore with “Farmhouse,” which saw Anastasio playing acoustic guitar to get things underway. Yet another visual highlight, a backdrop of the iconic Barn framed the stage as the Vermont hills rolled in the background and the northern lights danced above. Anastasio switched from acoustic to electric seamlessly to conclude the tune.

The first night of the landmark Sphere run wrapped with “Antelope,” boasting needlepoint diamond embroidery visuals that wowed over the old school, reggae-tinged rocker.


Phish continues their Sphere run tonight. Watch livestreams via LivePhish.com.


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