Phish Keeps Sphere Residency Rolling Into The Atmosphere In Las Vegas

Dazzling improvisation and mind-blowing visuals came together in a big way during the band’s third night of the four-show residency.

By Scott Marks Apr 21, 2024 8:53 am PDT

My first time seeing Phish in Las Vegas was in 2004. I was excited to get out of the Northeast in the middle of April and was a little less seasoned and a little less wiser — my apparel of choice for those shows was a pair of Birkenstocks – something I came to regret after all of the walking from my hotel to the Thomas & Mack Center that weekend — than I am today.

Those shows (April 15, 16, and 17) would end up being the beginning of the end of the “2.0” (2002-2004) era of Phish. Fast forward to this weekend to where the first show of Phish’s Sphere run was coincidentally the next day in the calendar (April 18). I had a real pair of shoes this time and a full understanding of how lucky we as a community were to have the band back healthy and happy for 15 years and how fortunate I was to be back in Las Vegas and in the door for these incredibly high demand shows.

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The first two nights of this Sphere run have been nothing short of legendary concert experiences. Phish is the second band to take the stage at Sphere after U2 finished a massive 40-show residency and the experience has been beyond my wildest dreams. Depending on who you ask, you’ll likely get a varied response to what kind of theme the band has been playing around with (elements, geosphere, etc.) as the first night had an earth/biosphere feel with song choices like “Leaves,” “Dirt,” and “Sand” and Ashford & Simpson’s “Solid” (with “solid as a rock” as a lyric) for the post-show music. Friday had a water/biosphere theme with most of the songs either being about water or having water imagery. Which brought us to Saturday night.

Set one opened with “Set Your Soul Free,” clocking in around 13 minutes — the Live Phish track has a longer timing but includes the pre set recorded music being played similar to the first two nights as the lights went dark and the band came out on stage — and immediately jamming right out of the gate. No theme was apparent at this time with four square and rectangle images, with one of each band member, loosely making up a square and revolving around on the inside of Sphere. “Tube” followed with tarps on each side of the stage being removed to have glowing tubes raised into the air (paper lanterns and jellyfish had appeared on Thursday and Friday respectively) and was stretched out for several minutes before Trey brought the tune back home to the melody. The setlist would stay in the early ’90s with “Stash” following and the tubes staying aloft for part of the song.


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The fourth-ever “Pillow Jets” was next up for the set. One of several songs to debut during guitarist Trey Anastasio‘s Denver shows last June, Saturday’s version was extended to close to 16 minutes and left the song’s musical structure — also known as going “Type II” — with Trey and bassist Mike Gordon leading the way in front of a lush landscape of grass and trees.

One of my favorite early sights of the night was seeing the trees consistently illuminated through light bursts that spread from the trunks through the extending branches. “Steam” gave the first hint of the night’s theme of “atmosphere” and shifted into a bit of funk with Mike leading. Mike and Trey briefly teased the jazz classic “Manteca” toward the end of the song. A beautiful “Mountains in the Mist” was next with images of tree filled mountains and clouds as an accompaniment. The visual highlight of the set came after “Mountains” with “Taste.” Almost immediately after the song began, a series of orange illustrations from long-time Phish artist Jim Pollock appeared in a rotating crown around the stage before the entire sphere was covered in rows of Pollock’s artwork. Several of the images inside Sphere were from the original Live Phish releases — which featured Pollock’s work — from 2001-2003.


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“46 Days” closed the set with images of the band with a nod to the December 31, 2019 clones set (Trey still in green and drummer Jon Fishman in red, but keyboardist Page McConnell and Mike switching with McConnell now in yellow and Gordon in blue).

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

The Skinny

The Setlist

Set 1: Set Your Soul Free, Tube, Stash, Pillow Jets, Steam, Mountains in the Mist, Taste, 46 Days

Set 2: Sigma Oasis > Fuego > Golden Age -> Twist, I Am Hydrogen > Chalk Dust Torture > Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

Encore: A Life Beyond The Dream [1], Tweezer Reprise

During Tube, the dome seemed to fill with soap bubbles which reflected the venue and drifted in front of a nebula of changing colors. During Pillow Jets, the view became that of a grassy path through a grove of trees under a starlit sky. Travelling down the path as the jam progressed, the grass and trees became tinged with glowing, multi-colored light, which periodically intensified and erupted from the ground through the branches, creating a firework effect. Mike and Trey teased Manteca during Steam. During Mountains in the Mist, the dome made it appear as if the venue was nestled in an evergreen-covered mountain range, with mist shrouding the sky from view. During Taste, the entire dome appeared to become covered in turning rings of Jim Pollock illustrations from the covers of the Live Phish CD releases, rendered in gold and black. During Sigma Oasis, the dome became a cloudscape, with trees, birds and sea creatures made out of bubbling clouds. During Fuego, a spotlight was used to create a silhouette of the band, with the image then recreated across the dome with effects added to make the band appear as flaming shadow people. During Twist, the dome became filled with multicolored letters tumbling before a backdrop of pulsing red circles. I Am Hydrogen was performed in a show without Mike’s Song and Weekapaug Groove for the first time since October 31, 1987 (2,024 shows). A Life Beyond The Dream featured Trey on acoustic guitar. During Tweezer Reprise, the dome again displayed images of cars, this time tumbling into the distance. 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 gas.

The Venue

Sphere [See upcoming shows]

18,600

2 shows
4/18/2024, 4/19/2024

The Music

8 songs / 8:03 pm to 9:34 pm (91 minutes)

9 songs / 10:10 pm to 11:48 pm (98 minutes)

17 songs
16 originals / 1 cover

2004

8 [Gap chart]

None

All

I Am Hydrogen LTP 07/26/2013 (32 Show Gap)

Fuego 29:24

I Am Hydrogren 3:14

A Picture of Nectar - 3, Billy Breathes - 1, Farmhouse - 1, Round Room - 1, Fuego - 1, Kasvot Växt - 1, Sigma Oasis - 3, Misc. - 5, Covers - 1

The Rest

88° and Clear at Showtime

Koa 1

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More Skinny

A relatively short “Sigma Oasis” started the second set, compared to some of the +15-minute versions from the last few years, with gorgeous cloud images covering Sphere and a turtle (a nod to “Turtle in the Clouds”), a bird and a seahorse occasionally appearing as well. A monster “Fuego” made up for what “Sigma Oasis” lacked in depth with the second-longest version ever trailing only last summer’s 30:04 masterpiece from the Madison Square Garden run.


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Mike was a huge focus during “Fuego” with his bass coming out of various pockets of Sphere and a dominant force in much of the improvisation. There were a few shifts in the deep jamming before Trey finally brought the song back with the “Fuego” melody and some vocals before briefly going back into a jam. TV on the Radio’s “Golden Age” was performed next and was the first cover of the weekend. The subsequent “Twist” featured letters moving around the sphere and occasionally forming words along with “WOOOO,” essentially giving the song’s lyrics a bit of a visual life for the audience. “I Am Hydrogen” slowed the tempo down and was a huge surprise, appearing in a show where the usually accompanying “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove” were not played for the first time since October 31, 1987. A late set “Chalk Dust Torture” went deep before giving way to a song outside the atmosphere in “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”

For the second time this weekend, an encore started with Trey on acoustic guitar with “A Life Beyond The Dream” before he switched back to electric for the show ending “Tweezer Reprise.” The cars from Thursday night’s “Tweezer” reappeared and were descending throughout the sphere.


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


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