Welcome To Munchkinland: Phish Begins Two-Night Benefit Run At SPAC

The band celebrated The Wizard Of Oz and also turned in top-shelf jams in the second set.

By Ben Greenfield Aug 26, 2023 8:41 am PDT

On Friday night, Phish played the first of two shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in Saratoga Springs, New York to benefit flood recovery efforts in Vermont and Upstate New York. The show, which was webcast for free, with The WaterWheel Foundation collecting donations to assist the recovery, was Phish’s first at the venue since 2019. Fresh off an excellent summer tour, the band was firing on all cylinders, playing an exceptional pair of back-to-back 20-minute jams, peppering Wizard of Oz references throughout the concert, and treating the crowd to fine versions of new favorites and old classics.

The evening kicked off with a by-the-numbers, rocking take on “Kill Devil Falls.” The two-slot “Moma Dance” provided the first preview of the explorations that were to come, as the band changed key, allowing guitarist Trey Anastasio to fire off a run of riffs before turning to a major key for a few fleeting moments of bliss. The “Ocelot” that followed had a bit of extra feline energy.

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Next came a solid take on “The Wedge” and an excellent version of “Mull,” powered by drummer Jon Fishman‘s nimble work on the hi-hat. “Punch You in the Eye” had been missing for nearly a year — its 37-show gap marking one of its longest absences in the last three decades. It did not suffer for the time away; hopefully it will return soon.

“Sand” was where the band took the evening to another level. Midway through the jam, Trey began playing a familiar riff: “We Welcome You to Munchkinland” from The Wizard of Oz. Though the lick initially sounded out of place in “Sand,” the jam slowly evolved to match the lick, reaching a beautiful — and very un-“Sand”-like — peak. The band played a rousing version of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” to close the set.

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

The Skinny

The Setlist

Set 1: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance, Ocelot, The Wedge, Mull > Punch You in the Eye, Sand, Rock and Roll

Set 2: Evolve, A Wave of Hope -> Simple > Fuego -> Chalk Dust Torture

Encore: Wading in the Velvet Sea, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

This performance was a benefit for Vermont and Upstate New York flood recovery efforts and was a free webcast with all proceeds via donation going to those efforts. Coinciding with the 84th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz being released in the United States on the date of this show, Trey teased We Welcome You to Munchkinland (or It Really Was No Miracle) several times in Sand as well as at the end of Chalk Dust Torture, Fish wore his hair with a single pigtail sticking out of the front of his head like a munchkin for the second set, and We Welcome You to Munchkinland was the postshow music. Trey also teased Dave’s Energy Guide in Sand.

The Venue

Broadview Stage at SPAC [See upcoming shows]

25,100

22 shows
7/27/1992, 7/10/1994, 6/26/1995, 6/19/2004, 6/20/2004, 8/16/2009, 6/19/2010, 6/20/2010, 7/06/2012, 7/07/2012, 7/08/2012, 7/05/2013, 7/06/2013, 7/07/2013, 7/03/2014, 7/04/2014, 7/05/2014, 7/01/2016, 7/02/2016, 7/03/2016, 7/02/2019, 7/03/2019

The Music

8 songs / 8:06 pm to 9:21 pm (75 minutes)

7 songs / 9:57 pm to 11:26 pm (89 minutes)

15 songs
14 originals / 1 cover

2005

9 [Gap chart]

None

Punch You in the Eye

Punch You in the Eye LTP 9/3/22 (37 Show Gap)

A Wave of Hope 22:12

Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S. 6:02

A Picture of Nectar - 1, Rift - 1, The Story of the Ghost - 2, Farmhouse - 1, Joy - 2, Fuego - 1, Kasvot Växt - 1, Misc. - 5, Covers - 1

The Rest

71°F and Cloudy at Showtime

Koa 1

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More Skinny

As Phish took the stage for the second set, Fishman was sporting a munchkin-esque spike in his hair. The band played a pleasing version of “Evolve” before launching into “A Wave of Hope.” If “Wave” were a baseball player, it would currently be in the midst of one of the greatest hit streaks in history — there are few songs in Phish’s history that have as reliably delivered exceptional jams as this tune has over the past couple years. And the band knocked this version out of the park, reaching a blazing peak over Trey’s looped staccato bends. And it just kept going, weaving from side to side, through jazzy corridors and funky trenches.

Why play just one epic jam that stretches past 20 minutes when you can play two? The band launched into one of their greatest versions of “Simple.” This one quickly found its way to an ethereal space, bolstered by bassist Mike Gordon‘s inquisitive bass lines and Trey’s textured soundscapes. Once again, the band continued in exploration mode after the initial climax, somehow seamlessly connecting the dots between a stomping death march and a buttery major key jam.

A jagged, deconstructed “Fuego” jam followed. The fifth and final song of the set was “Chalk Dust Torture,” which reached a frenzied, demented space, as Trey wowed the crowd before teasing “We Welcome You to Munchkinland” one last time.

The encore gave the audience its first breather in hours, by way of “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” with keyboardist Page McConnell on lead vocals. A rollicking “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” closed out the evening. As the band left the stage, the original version of “We Welcome You to Munchkinland” played over the loudspeakers.

Phish returns to the Broadview Stage at SPAC on Saturday night. The gig will once again be webcast free on LivePhish.com and Phish’s YouTube channel.

Watch night one at SPAC below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVpsiMBHL-s&ab

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