“Hartford is a sacred place, magical things happen here,” whispers a hippie girl as she hands me a red solo cup of what appears to be pond water. We’re standing under a violent sun in suffocating heat, surrounded in every direction by rubble and stickered-up vehicles. She continues: “This is a potent frog extract that will aid in the decalcification of your third eye.” I’m so thirsty that I ignore the last statement, plugging my nose and chugging it down as a hot breeze envelopes us with dust. The Hartford police usher us toward the venue and we head in.
We are greeted by a statue commemorating Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, so beloved by this region, and out of the corner of my eye I swear I notice the ice inside the monument is clanking together.
Phish comes out to a massive assemblage of delighted and somewhat distracted concertgoers, and then they are bathed in blue light. Blue---the color of anticipation! Page's organ starts us off with a very welcoming, "Cars Trucks Buses," an homage to the signs of highway stops across America, cars this way, trucks and buses that way. Joints are handed every-which-way.
"Breath and Burning" makes its first appearance since Mexico 2020, a controversial bust-out, but regardless of any reaction, it'll be over soon. The "B&B" is shreddy and has a tiny peak---let's call it a hill. As this tour unfolds, Phish has been granting jamminess to songs that have not traditionally had jams, at least of late, and there's nothing controversial about that. It is followed by "The Final Hurrah," which elicits big cheers for the command "Taste the humidity," because everybody's crotches are clammy.
The band then drops into "Free," as a crack in the heat allows a breeze to flow in. The audience becomes a glittering ocean of gem-tones, whirling and splashing with neon foam, until I come-to and I realize it's just a bunch of sweaty shirtless nerds flailing their limbs with selective regard for tempo. The big reggae energy of "Yarmouth Road" hits in a downright summery way---is this a beach show? Is Phish coming to us live from the glamorous beaches of Hartford, Connecticut?
An average-great "Plasma" oozes into "Sigma Oasis," which leads us into a dank and dewy cave of sizzling and crackling synths, scrambling sequencers, stalagmites dripping with bass lines, and a major-key Trey, like a light at the end of a funky tunnel. We emerge with a big, white-light peak and we really are in the Sigma Oasis, but then, we were already there. This is biggest "Sigma" since Orange Beach.
When you're tripping on frog extract at a Phish concert, you truly believe that the band is singing directly to you. What are they prescribing with "Limb by Limb"? A Taste for Cannablism? Objectively speaking, Phish plays on a normal stage, sometimes under normal lighting, shredding palatable musical interludes, and then they sing such insane things. And we are taken far away as the notes seem to twirl in the breeze. The set closes with an average-great "Sand." I become paranoid that the audience is all hired actors and that the band is using them to spy on me. I have myself to blame!
SET BREAK IS WEIRD.
Thankfully my ego-death-spiral is interrupted by cheering and blue light and Jonny strikes up with the band with "A Wave of Hope," quickly becoming a favorite of the hand-sanitizer-and-toilet-paper-tunes of Trey's time in lockdown (AKA the Lonely Trip album). This too shall pass, they tell me encouragingly. But before I could be comforted by Page and Trey's iridescent solos, elegantly buoyed by Mike, an extraterrestrial spacecraft appears above the stage exuding bright beams. Small doors flip open and from them emerge shiny moving walkways carrying petite-but-menacing beings. Fish is desperately trying to push them back up into their vessel by departing from his human metronomic role and drives the jam into a zone where murkiness and bewilderment can thrive, and Mike is right there with him, but the aliens are not deterred!
The donuts start peeling off of Fish’s dress.
Trey musters threatening tones from his rig and shoots back at them! Page compliments these with traditional keyboard sounds, then almost seems to duck down to reload, and then reemeerges with darting synths. Lights are flashing wildly as the band becomes one big flagellating multibeast, pulsating and whirring, as the aliens realize that the love-and-light-and-breeze band that they had planned to conquer was actually murderous and untamed. The aliens try to leave but Trey won't let them get away. He destroys their craft like a boardwalk carnival ride being slapped by chaotic tsunami waves mercilessly until it finally crashes into the ocean.
As soon as the last alien is destroyed, the effects are shed from Trey's guitar, and he takes an incendiary minor key solo across a landscape of driving psychedelic krautrock. The aliens came in evil. Phish gave them evil right back. If you only listen to one track from last night, check out the one where the band saves humanity.
I’m beginning to feel normal again. This too shall pass, they tell me once again, as I was beginning to hope my mind was stuck forever tripping frog balls.
I start scanning the ground for discarded poisonous amphibians, perchance to lick. That was the longest "Wave of Hope" ever, eclipsing the one at Deer Creek by about 4 minutes.
The band segues into "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing," as a local confirms for me that Hartford is not a beach town, and that Hartfordites (Connecticutensians?) travel hours to Rhode Island for seaside sun. I ask another question and realize I've been talking to a pole. And yet here we are again splashing in the sea. Instead of simply taking a vibey victory lap after a 23 minute jam, the boys start tearing it up. Mike and Fish lead the way for some sexy exploration, with Page adding lots of color and light, and it becomes clear that the band had quickly rigged some of the electronics from the spaceship into their onstage gear and were letting it rip. It culminates with Trey articulating their discoveries and creating a wholly new little major key ditty.
After 18 minutes the band finds its way to "Blaze On," which grooves in a "Blaze On"-structured groove for a few minutes until Trey hits us with a buttery, sustained note, and then starts slathering and lubricating our already-whetted ears, and the form of "Blaze On" starts to slide apart from the corners that kept it in place. More butter, some sugar, add vanilla with golden honey synth rays. The concoction onstage heats up and starts bubbling over and burning. Mike throws a few peppercorns on the fire and the meal is briefly ablaze. These three first songs of the second set jammed out make for about 2,700 seconds of recommended listening.
It could’ve gone so very far but after 13 minutes they segue into "The Wedge." I look at the jumbotron for the first time and see Gritty riding the rail. Whether I've stopped tripping remains unclear. And because I requested to review this show I essentially willed-into-existence a cool-down-and-light-up first "Farmhouse" of the tour. And by the way, if you don’t want Phish to play "Backwards Down the Number Line" then you should stop singing along and hugging each other and punching your fists in the air, and all the other things you guys do to show that you actually love "Number Line."
The band leaves the stage and we collectively wonder how much more music we'll be treated to in the encore. We're rewarded with an average-great "Tube," followed by an average-great "First Tube." TWO TUBES. Last time they were together was 2009! (Tube-thousand-nine?)
The concert ends in an ovation of Trey holding up his you-know-what while everyone cheers. Hartford is a sacred place, magical things happen here.
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