Phish Brings Sensational Sphere Run To Impressive Conclusion

The band’s long-anticipated run at the state-of-the-art venue wrapped with another visually stimulating and musically satisfying performance.

By Andy Kahn Apr 22, 2024 9:49 am PDT

“Doing the four nights, we had a lot of discussions about it, believe me. This is our choice – to put on four unique nights and there’s a theme that runs through them that was kind of important to us too.”

The above quote comes from Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s interview with CBS that was taped in advance of the band’s now-complete four-show run at the Las Vegas Sphere. Much has already been written and much more will rightly be written about Phish’s groundbreaking debut at the state-of-the-art venue, which concluded with a fourth and final concert on Sunday night.

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The images and videos shared from U2’s initial 40-show residency at the Sphere showcased the potential of the venue’s unprecedented visual capabilities. Those shows were repeated from night to night, pairing the same stunning visuals with a similar setlist of songs. As expected, Phish lived up to Anastasio’s quest to present four unique nights, harnessing the domed room’s innovative technology and establishing a truly new way to experience a +40-year-old band.

“[T]here were ideas on what the thematic narrative that was going to run through the four nights that went on for a month,” Anastasio explained to the AP ahead of the run. “Then we landed on one. Then it was what songs we’re going to play, what the (visual) content was going to be, how literal we wanted to make it. The answer to that is not very literal. Our fans are really smart and really involved, and we wanted to take a night or so for people to figure out what we were doing, plant a lot of Easter eggs and things like that. But it’s a never-ending daily improvement.”

According to NOAA:

“Everything in Earth’s system can be placed into one of four major subsystems: land, water, living things, or air. These four subsystems are called ‘spheres.’ Specifically, they are the ‘lithosphere’ (land), ‘hydrosphere’ (water), ‘biosphere’ (living things), and ‘atmosphere’ (air).”

Phish’s first Sphere show’s setlist incorporated land elements with songs like “Dirt,” “Leaves” and “Sand.” Night two was filled with water songs like “Theme From The Bottom,” “A Wave of Hope,” “Ruby Waves,” “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” “Prince Caspian” and “Wading in the Velvet Sea.” The setlist on the third night was infused with airy songs like “Pillow Jets,” “Steam,” “Mountains in the Mist” and “I Am Hydrogen.”

The fourth and final Phish Sphere show explored living things by selecting “Plasma,” “Evolve,” “Down With Disease,” and “Light” and perhaps drawing the four spheres together with “Ether Edge.”

Most of the focus on Phish’s Sphere run will deservedly be on the mind-blowing visuals that accompanied the band’s playing but what should not be lost is that much of the success of the successful run was due to Phish’s splendid performances throughout.

The Sphere shows were bolstered by Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell largely matching the massive visuals with music that was equal in stature. The room encouraged improvisational curiosity throughout the run, further evident on Sunday night with three +15-minute songs in the first set and a 34-minute “Down With Disease” quickly followed by a 22-minute “Light” in the second set.

One of the 15-minute songs in set one was the opener, “Plasma.” Similar to night two when pre-recorded audio sounding like “Free” was played on the PA before Phish launched into “Free,” a recording that was “Plasma”-esque was heard as the band came onstage ahead of dropping into the song proper. A towering blue pillar arose on the dome behind the band demonstrating the massive scope of the venue.

A song whose title could be applied to many aspects of Phish’s Sphere run, “Evolve,” landed in the second slot. The title track and lead single off Phish’s forthcoming studio album was played at a show encapsulating not just the evolution of the band but of the live concert experience overall. Abstract graphics appeared on the dome, as they would for much of Sunday’s concert.

“Ghost” followed and was another entrance to quality first-set improvisation. Neon-outlined robot figures loomed over the band as they fell into a groovy jam, steadily flowing and gradually intensifying. Lights beamed from one of the giant robot’s eyes, piercing into the crowd while the “Ghost” jam surged.

As Trey mentioned in the above quote, the approach at the Sphere was “not very literal” and the robot-paired “Ghost” was an example of opting for interpretation. There were instances during the Sphere run when the visual component leaned more toward the literal, like Sunday’s “Divided Sky.” The dome turned into a glorious and evolving cloudscape shifting in color as Phish worked through the composition. Trey appeared to take particular note of the moment during the song’s silent pause, grinning widely as he looked around the circumference of the round room.


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In another interview Trey gave to the Washington Post before the Sphere shows, he talked about his experience seeing one of U2’s Sphere concerts and was asked about “hero shots” of Bono and the Edge. Trey threw a little shade at the Irish rockers.

“It suited Bono because he is that kind of star,” Anastasio said. “But that’s not me. I don’t do that. And same with Edge. There’s one song where he just rocks into the camera. He steps forward and he’s 800 feet high on the wall. I’m not going to do that.”

While not exactly the same type of “hero shot” seen at U2 concerts, there were several instances during Phish’s Sphere run when the band was projected onto the dome, including Sunday’s performance of “Shade,” which saw Trey play acoustic guitar as a projection of his silhouette loomed over the stage.


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The first set continued with the fifth Phish performance of “hey stranger,” as fluttery trails of light burst across the dome. The last song of set one was “Character Zero.” The frequently called-upon closer was once again a rocking punctuation to the set, paired with intense spiraling visuals layered under negative images of the band, like a jarringly left-handed Trey.

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

The Skinny

The Setlist

Set 1: Plasma, Evolve, Ghost, Divided Sky, Shade [1], hey stranger, Character Zero

Set 2: Oblivion > Down with Disease, Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Light > Ether Edge > Piper, First Tube

Encore: More > Slave to the Traffic Light

The band took the stage while pre-recorded music similar to Plasma played, before beginning the song. During Ghost, the neon-colored outlines of three giant robots appeared to tower over the band, with their facial expressions varying and their arms and bodies swaying slowly. The three robots were then replaced by one massive robot, with spotlights utilized to make it appear as if beams of light were coming from the robot’s eyes, before the original three robots returned for the remainder of the jam. During Divided Sky, the dome became a view of a sea of clouds, with patches of blue sky above. As the clouds moved, their appearance varied from purple sunset hues to dark and stormy, with the movement stopping and all of the color fading during the pause before returning for the rest of the song. Page teased Linus and Lucy at the end of Divided Sky. Trey began Shade on acoustic guitar. During Shade, an eclipsed star was shown behind the band, with its corona of changing colors visible and a silhouette of the band in the center. During Sea of Stars, the dome became filled with a curtain of gold-colored four-point stars, which twinkled and waved in front of roiling clouds. During 2001, the dome became a starfield before being illuminated by replicated images of the stage lights. Mike teased Plasma during Light. During Ether Edge, a string of umbrellas with colored drops trailing beneath were raised to either side of the stage. The umbrellas were lowered again during Piper. During First Tube, the dome again became a starfield, this time with a ring of stars centered above the stage slowly swirling. As the second “verse” of First Tube began, a white vortex appeared in this area. As the stars in its orbit began to become multicolored, the vortex pulled in their light and created flowing, rainbow-hued ribbons that grew as the jam progressed. Prior to More, Trey thanked the production team behind the Sphere shows, and said that he thinks the band will return to the venue. After Slave, the band gathered at the front of the stage to take bows and have a picture taken in front of the crowd. 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 plasma.

The Venue

Sphere [See upcoming shows]

18,600

3 shows
4/18/2024, 4/19/2024, 4/20/2024

The Music

7 songs / 8:02 pm to 9:17 pm (75 minutes)

9 songs / 10:55 pm to 12:10 am (75 minutes)

16 songs
15 originals / 1 cover

2007

7.82 [Gap chart]

None

All

Shade LTP 08/01/2023 (29 Show Gap)

Down With Disease 34:08

Shade 4:49

Junta - 1, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 1, The Story of the Ghost - 1, Farmhouse - 1, Joy - 1, Big Boat - 1, Sigma Oasis - 1, Misc. - 7, Covers - 1

The Rest

85° and Fair at Showtime

Koa 1

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Geometric shapes engulfed the dome as the second set got underway with “Oblivion.” A sparse jam developed as the band settled into the final Sphere set. The biggest jam of the night was saved for the ensuing “Down With Disease” that unfolded over 30+ minutes of inspired improvisation.

“What we’re trying to go for at the Sphere is, I’m gonna use the word psychedelic because it was so psychedelic yesterday,” Trey told SiriusXM. “A slight step forward in the psychedelic live jam music experience.”

The visual accompaniment to Sunday’s “DWD” was every bit psychedelic. Wavy weirdness that matched the peaks and valleys of the jam. The second part of the jam landed on a sequence with rhythmic choppiness demonstrating the tightness of the four musicians, resembling a stop/start section but without ever pausing. As the jam progressed and intensified, so did the vibrantly colored abstractions on the dome, leading one to wonder if the music was controlling the images or the images controlling the band. A significant step forward in the psychedelic live jam music experience.

Along with “Divided Sky,” the second set’s “Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1” and “2001” leaned more literal with their captivating accompanying imagery. The former featured a swinging little jam while the Sphere turned into the world’s coolest planetarium.

The crowd roared when Fish kicked into the “2001” beat. The night’s only cover was a tribute of sorts to Phish’s longtime lighting director Chris Kuroda. The dome showed what resembled a digitized version of the lights on Kuroda’s usual physical lighting rig. The few lights used onstage at the Sphere were synchronized with the digitized lights allowing for Kuroda’s luminescent “2001” cues to be seen in a new but familiar way.


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Phish dove back into an inviting jam out of the subsequent “Light.” A kaleidoscopic sky consumed the dome while the band nimbly progressed through focused, melodic and purposeful exploration.

Physical props were incorporated at various points throughout the Sphere run, which continued Sunday during “Ether Edge.” Large umbrellas were raised to flank either side of the stage, blending with the geometric scenery shown on the dome. The umbrellas emerged again during the “Piper” that followed. Projections of the members of the band wrapped around the dome over an ever-shifting palette of cascading colors. Kuroda’s stage lights were prominently part of the “Piper” presentation, dazzling alongside the towering spectacle encapsulating the room.

Phish’s final set of their first Sphere run came to an end via a blistering “First Tube.” The momentum-building instrumental was paired with visuals simulating outer space, as a spiraling black hole hovered over the stage before breaking open into a circular rainbow vortex.


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The crowd roared in appreciation when Phish came back out for the encore. Trey paused to thank the many people involved in planning and pulling off the Sphere shows. The guitarist profusely thanked Abigail Rosen Holmes, who served as show director and co-creative director for Phish’s Sphere run and was responsible for running the visuals during the concerts. Trey also thanked the team at Moment Factory who helped produce the shows as well.

After thanking other members of “the world’s greatest crew” and the Sphere/MSG staff, Trey notably mentioned that he hoped the band would return to the Sphere for more shows in the future.

The encore began with a rocking rendition of “More” joined by colorful wavy lines creating a moving abstract painting around the band. There was one more song on the setlist for Phish’s first Sphere run as “Slave To The Traffic Light” put a poignant cap on the night. A song first played by Phish in 1984 served as the final statement for Phish’s first visit to the concert venue of the future. The visuals shown during “Slave” were reminiscent of the visuals shown during the “Everything’s Right” that was the first song performed by Phish on night one of the Sphere run.

Recording the significant achievement and momentous occasion, the four members of Phish assembled together onstage to have their photo taken in front of the Sphere crowd. As has been alluded to before, seeing the healthy, happy and genuine smiles on the faces of Trey, Mike, Page and Fish onstage together in Vegas two decades almost to the day since the debacle in Vegas in 2004 should not be taken for granted.

Phish’s willingness to push the boundaries of the live music experience is an experiment going on for four decades now. It is possible both because of their willingness to explore new territory and the willingness of their fans to go with them.

“Most importantly,” Trey said Sunday from the Sphere stage, “Thank you all for going on this journey with us.”


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