Phish Brings 'Chilling, Thrilling Sounds' to Two-Night Philadelphia Stand: Concert Review

There’s something momentous about a Philadelphia Phish concert. Sixty miles span the distance between Princeton, N.J. -- frontman Trey Anastasio's childhood hometown -- and the City of Brotherly Love, so proximity alone was enough to prompt hugs and other hippie sentiments at the Mann Music Center for the Performing Arts. But the band's two-night Philadelphia stand -- Tuesday, Aug. 11, and Wednesday, Aug. 12 -- brought so much more to longtime fans. That was evident from the very start, when Anastasio was handed a replica Flyers jersey with the Phish logo on the front. Soon after, it became a set decoration adorning Anastastio’s chair. Its unspoken promise: The guitarist and singer would not leave Philly empty-handed.

Geography is actually a thing for Phish, as the band has a knack for regularly throwing a song onto the setlist that's synonymous with the mood of the evening or their locale. Los Angeles brought the old-school “Slave to the Traffic Light,” while Philly kicked off with “Crowd Control.” Clearly, word had reached the band backstage that the crowd outside was breaking down barricades and trampling over security to get into the venue.

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They weren't gate-crashers, per se. Rather, Phish fans looking to secure their seat or spot on the lawn, find their friends and mentally prepare for take-off. Almost as soon as the show began, the aisles filled to capacity and the laid-back ushers allowed fans to roam, noodle dance and enjoy every bit of space in the pavilion. In another show of lax security, the following night saw many fans in the parking lot light fireworks as Philadelphia police officers turned a blind eye to the shenanigans that inevitably come along with this traveling circus.

During the two shows, Phish offered up some key bust-outs, like a rare cover of Little Feat’s “Skin It Back,” which the band dusted off for the first time in three years. Other tour debuts included “Vultures,” “Dog Faced Boy, “Taste,” “Scent of a Mule” and the a cappella barbershop quartet tune “Grind.”

Phish also covered a few classics, like The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” during which keyboardist Page McConnell cleverly changed the line “New York Station” to “a Philadelphia Station” to the delight of the audience "Sprach Zarathustra” (better known as the theme to Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001); a jammed-out version of the Talking Heads’ “Cities”; and a raucous take on the Rolling Stones' “Loving Cup.”

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For the uninitiated, one thing to know about Phish is that the group and its following have a sort of secret language -- where dedicated fans participate in crowd chants, claps and “woos” as cued by the musical benchmarks in the songs. The group experience -- while mired in a mass of marijuana smoke and body odor (made worse by humidity) -- is inviting, friendly and strangely addicting. It comes full-circle in a song like the energetic “Character Zero,” which had the entire venue rocking, and “Bathtub Gin,” in which frontman Anastasio sings, “Here comes the joker, we all must laugh/ 'Cause we’re all in this together and we love to take a bath.” The capacity crowd finishes the line for Anastasio, who backs away from the mic before even singing the final line of the song.

In fact, Philly fans witnessed a semi-new antic that is now part of the band’s repertoire of whimsy: original music inspired by the 1964 Disney album Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, which Phish debuted on Halloween in Las Vegas in 2014. The band played “Martian Monster” in the first set on Tuesday, but the rocking instrumental kept reappearing throughout the two-show run. Landing high on the psychedelic scale, McConnell triggered samples of spoken-word lines -- “Your spaceship is about to blast off” and “Your trip is short” -- throughout the shows, each time inspiring a huge reaction from fans. The band weaved in and out of the song in the first set and even brought it back in at the end of “Free” and then teased it again in “Birds of a Feather” on Wednesday to bring it full circle.

Indeed, Phish is known for such cosmic improvisational jams, and the group did not disappoint throughout the two-night run, with one exception: the Bob Marley-esque “Farmhouse” and a poorly placed set-closing “Backwards Down the Number Line.” Anastasio and company made up for it by playing memorable versions of “Stash” and an epic five-song second set on Wednesday consisting of an incredible major-key blissful jam in “Bathtub Gin." “Scents and Subtle Sounds” followed and saw the band struggle a bit with a transition in the composed section of the now rarity. They closed with tour staple “Harry Hood.”

In the end, Phish played for over six hours over the course of the two shows, leaving the Philadelphia faithful completely satisfied and raising expectations for the band’s final six shows to a fever pitch. Phish will close out their summer tour with Magnaball, a three-night festival in Watkins Glen, N.Y., next week: Aug. 21-23.

Set Lists:

Aug. 11, 2015

Set one:

"Crowd Control"
"Martian Monster"
"Axilla"
"Skin It Back"
"Martian Monster
"Vultures"
"Dog Faced Boy"
"David Bowie"
"Farmhouse"
"Scent of a Mule"
"Ghost"
"Grind"

Set two:

"Fuego"
"Rock and Roll"
"46 Days"
"Taste"
"Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)"
"Sand"
"The Horse"
"Silent in the Morning"
"Cavern"
"Backwards Down the Number Line"

Encore:

"Julius"

Aug. 12, 2015

Set one:

"AC/DC Bag"
"Free"
"Ya Mar"
"Sample in a Jar"
"Cities"
"Stash"
"Birds of a Feather"
"The Line"
"It’s Ice"
"Character Zero"

Set two:

"Bathtub Gin"
"No Men in No Man’s Land"
"Twist"
"Scents and Subtle Sounds"
"Harry Hood"

Encore:

"Loving Cup"

Phish photographed by Rene Huemer.

Phish - Philadelphia's Mann Music Center for the Performing Arts,
Aug. 11-12 Album Review
4 STARS

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