Phish Brings A Sea Of Spectacular Visuals To 2nd Sphere Show

A water theme emerged during the visually amplified second show of the four-night run.

By David Onigman Apr 20, 2024 9:05 am PDT

I received an email at the start of this week, “Your Phantasy Flashback Email for April 15,” and inside it was sure to let me know that a Phish show I attended, April 15, 2004, in Las Vegas, was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Woof. As many Phish fans know, that run of shows was a bit brutal, with the band not sounding or looking its best, to say the least, and ultimately led to the decision for Phish to break up and never return.

Well isn’t it a gift that it was not meant to be, Phish returned in 2009, with a healthy and sober Trey Anastasio, and for the past 15 years, hasn’t looked back. What struck me most receiving those flashback emails (they kept coming the next two days) is how Phish in 2024 is a band I can truly be proud to be a fan of, always trying to push the envelope to not let things become stale, continuing to pursue original songwriting, experimenting with new sonic landscapes, and, of course, leaning heavily into the production elements of the show.

Whether it be the always innovating lighting designs, fully staged rock operas, “The Beacon Jams,” and now these shows at Sphere, Phish — and specifically Anastasio — continue to invest and experiment with the entirety of the rock show.

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For a band that does not do a whole lot of press these days, Phish seemed to be sitting for a larger-than-normal set of interviews the week of the shows, and the theme that began to emerge was an interesting one: the band seemed to be raising expectations even higher than they already were, content with throwing out the PR playbook of under-promising and over-delivering.

There were numerous times in the first set of Thursday’s show where I was most certainly not 100% sold on Phish’s decision to lean so heavily into the stereo/surround sound and depart so aggressively from the sound engineering strategy that U2 had employed during their residency. During night one I felt there were numerous parts of the show where the stereo panning felt clunky at best, and at worst a bit distracting, making it a challenging listen that I felt also took the crowd energy out of it.

I am pleased to report that I felt like this risk paid much stronger dividends on night two with the awkward moments becoming increasingly more rare. One thing I am sure of, I admire and appreciate the production risks they took in employing the sonic approach, and with the kinks mostly worked out, the risk certainly seems to have paid off.

As the band took the stage to a pre-recorded track that resembled the jam section of “Free,” it seemed likely “Free” would indeed open the show. There was a quick premature firing of the first video queue before Free, but even with the errant early flash, the reveal of psychedelic descending waterfalls wowed the crowd and started things off with a stronger and more awe-inspiring showing of the Sphere’s capability than “Everything’s Right” did on night one.


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“The Moma Dance” utilized a fisheye-style video effect on a rotating 360° shot that included fans in the pit as well as the band. While the band struggled a bit in the intro to sync up with each other, they locked in by the time the verse came around and managed to stay in the pocket with each other for the majority of the rest of the show. This improved chemistry from opening night continued and led to an ensemble that felt more at ease with the massive displays surrounding them throughout the night.

A nearly 18-minute “Axilla Part II” followed. One of the sonic challenges on night one included not always being able to hear Trey’s guitar clearly. Not tonight, and certainly not during this fascinating jam that includes Trey utilizing some reverse delays, some David Gilmour-esque tones, and a section that felt inspired by “What’s The Use?” Floyd tones from Trey.

As a simpler water background filled the dome as the band started “mercy,” it became apparent that night two’s theme seemed like it had a close relationship with water. With the first two songs taking place on boats, “Axilla Part II” starting with summer sitting out by the pool, and “mercy’s” first opening line of, “I am water,” the band had gone easier on the fanbase in trying to determine what the central theme of the night was. Though a newer ballad, the crowd cheered numerous times throughout “mercy,” a true testament that the audience was more engaged and a more active participant in the show on night two.

As “Bathtub Gin” started another interesting thing happened, the visuals seemed to better lean into Phish’s sense of humor. There was audible laughter and huge smiles from the crowd as the screen became an overhead view of a wave pool with people floating on pizza slices, donuts, pineapples, and plenty of other devices. It was an absurd visual and it just sparked joy.


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“Theme From Bottom,” much like “Axilla Part II,” provided extended jams in not-always-expected places. The band felt entirely locked in and you could hear every instrument crisply and clearly as they dropped a killer “Theme” jam as the dome transformed into a kelp forest, with schools of both fish and humans. In the, “Yep, he’s feeling it department” Trey wove in part of “Dave’s Energy Guide” flawlessly.

The mind-bending set closer “Split Open and Melt,” was paired with simple visuals as the start of the song was the stereo/surround sound action, which certainly needed to be experienced in the room for the full effect. It was a great use of the Sphere’s technology.

Since this was another extra-extended first set, I had to quickly run to the restroom. For The Skinny, we were asked to focus on things you can’t always discern from watching a livestream and to add extra context to what it’s like to be there. Here’s one thing – out in the concourse during the show, you are completely disconnected from what’s happening inside. The video screens do not display the show, you cannot hear what is going on – Trey’s recorded guitar loops are still playing over the in-house PA, it was quite a different sensation of walking out of the main area and immediately not being able to hear what’s going on anymore.

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

The Skinny

The Setlist

Set 1: Free, The Moma Dance, Axilla (Part II), mercy, Bathtub Gin, Theme From the Bottom > Split Open and Melt

Set 2: A Wave of Hope, What's the Use? > Ruby Waves, Lonely Trip, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing -> Prince Caspian, You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Wading in the Velvet Sea, Harry Hood

The band took the stage while pre-show music similar to a Free jam played, which continued until they began the song and waterfalls of colored light suddenly cascaded from the top of the dome. During Moma, a moving, 360-degree live shot of the crowd and band was displayed, with psychedelic colors and effects. During mercy, the dome displayed an overhead view of a sparkling ocean, with small birds in pastel colors flying over the water. During Gin, the entire dome became an overhead view of a large wave pool, filled with hundreds of people on food-shaped inflatables drifting and spinning. During the Gin jam, the images of the bathers became blurred and abstract, forming a neon kaleidoscope effect. During Theme, the entire dome became an underwater seascape, with kelp forest, fish, human swimmers, and light from the surface shining down from the top. Theme also contained a DEG tease from Trey. At the start of ASIHTOS, eight jellyfish puppets were raised on each side of the stage, while the dome remained dark. Once the jam began, the light on the dome came up to reveal another underwater seascape, whose plants and fish became luminous as the rest of the light dimmed again. During Caspian, this seascape changed to a view from within the columns and arches of a sunken monument. As YEM began, the entire dome became the view from inside of a car as it entered a “Tunnel of Luv” car wash, with the stage appearing to sit on top of the middle of the dashboard. The car progressed through the wash as YEM continued, with Trey’s solo during the wax and wheel scrub, and the bass and drums as the car was dried and exited the wash. Suddenly the car view was gone, and it appeared that the dome was clear, with a puppy licking it from the outside, in slow-motion, for the duration of the vocal jam. During Velvet Sea, the dome appeared to be covered in flowing red velvet, with photographs of the band throughout the years appearing and disappearing among the fabric. By the end of the song, the entire dome was covered in photos. Trey teased The Secret of Life (The Dead Milkmen) in Hood. 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 liquid.

The Venue

Sphere [See upcoming shows]

18,600

1 show
4/18/2024

The Music

7 songs / 7:57 pm to 9:24 pm (87 minutes)

9 songs / 9:59 pm to 11:47 pm (108 minutes)

16 songs
16 originals / 0 covers

2000

5.19 [Gap chart]

None

All

Prince Caspian LTP 10/10/2023 (14 Show Gap)

A Wave of Hope 19:32

mercy 5:57

Junta - 1, Lawn Boy - 2, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 3, The Story of the Ghost - 2, The Siket Disc - 1, Undermind - 1, Misc. - 5

The Rest

79° and Mostly Clear at Showtime

Koa 1

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More Skinny

An almost 20-minute reading of “A Wave Of Hope” set the stage for one of my biggest Sphere highlights and that was “What’s The Use?” The visuals – the sound – the swells of cheers from the crowd, it all just worked perfectly. Stunning. Worth the price of admission on its own.

Though well played, there was a bit of a lull of energy in the “Ruby Waves”/“Lonely Trip” sequence. The incline of the seats and the overwhelming sensory experience that is the Sphere leads to a lot more stand-up/sit-down energy than your typical Phish show. Looking around at any given time there were large sections of people sporadically sitting down just to rest their legs and perhaps their brains for a bit.

The visuals accompanying the subsequent “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” reignited the energy in the room. The use of physical props, as the band did in night one’s “Leaves,” was reprised with the use of floating jellyfish during “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing,” it was a lovely addition to the visual landscape but not as compelling as its implementation for “Leaves.”


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A gorgeous underwater sunken monument of some kind wowed the crowd and got the audience more engaged for “Prince Caspian,” all while leading into what we didn’t know we needed so badly, an in-car point-of-view psychedelic carwash with a live “You Enjoy Myself” as the soundtrack.

As any adventurous teenager knows, just a regular ‘ol carwash under the right circumstances and some good tunes on your radio is quite fun! This was no regular carwash and the visuals here cemented the fact that not only sonically had Phish better worked out the kinks of using the Sphere, but stronger and more creative visuals also were employed on night two.

If the video presentation continues to improve over the course of two more nights, it will be a sight to see, that’s for sure. Oh yeah, and when the carwash was done, there was a massive puppy licking the screen in slow motion, an absurd and fitting choice for the absurdity that is the “You Enjoy Myself” vocal jam. Much like the visuals in “Bathtub Gin,” the programming this evening leaned more into Phish’s sense of humor yielding positive dividends for the audience.


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After a quick accidental replay of the car wash scene, the screen was draped in red velvet for “Wading In The Velvet Sea” and a collection of photos of the band from over the years filled the screen. I found myself brought back to how my week started, with those emails reminding me of the 20-year anniversary of Vegas 2004. The juxtaposition of a thriving band always pushing to try something different never felt any stronger than seeing those images of years past appear and disappear on the screen as I contemplated the alternate universe where Phish disappears after Coventry and never plays another show.

Having wowed with the visuals of “Caspian”/“YEM”/“Wading,” our eyeballs were mostly given a rest as the production staff let the music do the talking for the encore-closing “Harry Hood.”


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


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