Phish Kicks Off Tour at Berkeley's Greek Theater

A year to the date of Phish’s last appearance in the Bay Area, the Vermont foursome opened the second leg of its summer tour at Berkeley’s Greek Theater on Thursday night.

Phish’s set slightly resembled last summer’s Shoreline stop (“The Divided Sky”, “Halley’s Comet”, “Down With Disease” and “Maze”), but the playing—and of course the atmosphere—were far superior this time around.

Many fans expected a bit of rust to have gathered since Phish’s last performance on July 4 near Atlanta, but the band was on point all night, foreshadowing what promises to be a historic week of shows, with two more at the Greek followed by two in Telluride, Colorado early next week.

Opening the night with a buoyant “Possum” and leaping into the funky “Wolfman’s Brother”, the 90-minute first set was paced well, with the awkward stop-and-start transition from “Halley’s” into “Sample in a Jar” standing out as the only gaffe.

After a run of the band’s shorter, sing-a-long numbers (“Sample”, “NICU”, “Bouncing Around the Room”), Phish closed its first set at the Greek since a scorching tour closer in 1993 with “Run Like an Antelope”, one of four songs in Thursday’s show that the band also played that August night in ’93.

“Antelope” has become a go-to first-set closer this summer, finishing off five of the 19 opening segments thus far. Deservedly so, as it’s one of the finest examples of classic Phish: a jaunty opening section precedes a build to a roaring crescendo, finishing off a batch of 10 songs that were enjoyable, yet not terribly adventurous.

The musical bravado that was Phish’s calling card in the mid-1990s surfaced on occasion in the second set, most notably during the set-opening “Disease.” The 15-minute romp featured excellent interplay early in the jam between Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell, as the latter traced piano themes around the guitarist’s leads, before moving to the organ as bassist Mike Gordon took the reins, pacing the song with bouncy runs that drummer Jon Fishman augmented nicely, never drawing attention away from Anastasio’s soloing, instead locking into a solid groove while finding spaces for tom-tom fills and cymbal splashes.

Certainly, this “Disease” was the highlight of the evening, as it was the night’s most venturesome offering. Quality takes on “Free”, “Alaska” and “Back on the Train” followed before Fishman led the band into a mid-set “Maze”, which featured formidable solos from McConnell and Anastasio.

“Joy”, the title track from Phish’s 2009 studio album, offered some space to breathe and rest before the double-punch of two of the band’s heaviest hitters: “Tweezer” and “Fluffhead.” “Tweezer” saw Anastasio scatting over a snappy Gordon bass riff and built to a fine peak before mellowing and sliding into the twists and turns of “Fluffhead.”

Arguably Phish’s most difficult composition, “Fluffhead” is an intricate weave of themes and sections that ends with a searing Anastasio solo, and it proved a fitting end to a second set that featured just about everything that Phish faithful long for—precision, humor, and (occasional) transcendence.

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