Charging into Charlotte to light a Friday night fuse, Phish unleashed a summertime blizzard of ecstatic jams and deep dance funk into the warm Carolina air. It was a gargantuan gearshift show, like spinning a radio dial with each station on overdrive, blasting a cosmic overview of American musical styles overflowing with joy and dedication. A bladder buster show, with no downtime to sneak away to the bathroom. A stunning example of what practicing musical ESP for 36 years can create. They evolved, devolved and revolved each song into deconstruction and recombobulation, reimagining and reinventing the tunes in real time.
Opening with the sunny day reggae of The Mighty Diamonds' "Have Mercy", they kept a lid on the heat to start, the best way to quickly lead to a boil. After the appetizer, they carved into a meaty slice of "Gotta Jibboo" to get the crux of the biscuit served hot. Rising up to huge peaks, the screaming guitar and pounding drums produced an enormous energy that felt like a third set from the last show. The distorted guitar onslaught of "Free" tore free from its moorings like a tiger let loose from captivity into the wild.
Norman Blake's buoyant bluegrass standard "Ginseng Sullivan" kept the dancers akimbo with a typically atypical change in style and substance. Delicious barroom piano got the juices flowing and led to the brontosaurus "Tweezer" to send the whole scene completely over the top. Halfway through they landed on a bouncy bass riff that lifted the mood straight into the sky, a euphoric life-affirming groove that sent all the arms in the air and smiles skidding off faces onto the floor.
Things took an unexpected morph into just the third ever performance of "Passing Through", previously played only on Halloween & New Year's Eve 2018, a jaunty tropical melody that wrapped up with heavy guitar stylings. The set soared on with Cyril "Dry Bread" Ferguson's eternal happy maker "Ya Mar", the third cover in the first seven songs, though the last of the evening. The sharp puncturing guitar bursts of "Mercury" led back to a short burst of "Tweezer" before the massive funk distortion of "Say it to Me S.A.N.T.O.S." ended the first set a with glorious outburst of spirited intensity.
The second set opened with an expansive, explorative 20-minute search for "Runaway Jim" which found the dynamic beauty of "Scents and Subtle Sounds" flying back into the freezer for yet another shot of "Tweezer". "Sand" piled up to a volcanic eruption that rained down as reflective ash in the contemplative keyboards of "Lifeboy." They swam into the subdued swing of "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing" before a twisted "Taste" served up a smorgasbord of sweet, salty, sour and bitter before settling on umami to complete the feast.
The deeply psychedelic churnings of "Twenty Years Later" were followed by "Possum" to end the set, with the mellow marsupial meanderings leading back into "Have Mercy" before building up the tension to a huge release. The encore of "More" left everyone "vibrating with love and light" before "Tweezer Reprise" froze the evening in the annals of time as another incredible night of music celebrating the sights and sounds of Vermont's phinest.
- Paul Kerr
- Photos by Jerry Friend