Review by Shawn Perry
Whenever Phish comes to town, there’s a sudden urge to drop a line in and see what you can catch. In Nashville for the start of their 2023 Fall tour, the Vermont quartet seemingly conspired to flex their nerves for the first date of the three-day run. Meanwhile, the non-stop party kept rolling on Broadway without so much as a flinch. Phish heads and country-loving bridal showers make for odd and twisted bedfellows if you’re taking notes.
Anxious, balloon-sucking phans filed onto the floor and lower levels of the Bridgestone Arena. The upper reaches of the 20,000-seat venue were largely empty save for those ambitious enough to make the climb. Maybe a couple hundred or so. At least, they had plenty of room. Unlike below where the faithful were delightfully packed in, excited to be part of the show. Surveying the range and breadth of lighting, how could they not be.
Once the clock struck 8:00, the lights lowered and Phish shifted right into “Julius,” with its “Don’t take another..” leadup that got swallowed up by Fishman’s drumroll into the chorus. All at once, the place was jumpin’ where it would stay lit and on pace for the next 80 minutes. Trey Anastasio’s soaring leads, Page McConnell’s tumbling piano following along, and Mike Gordon and Fishman’s flawless rhythm setting the foundation, there was no other place to go except up, up, and away.
“Back On The Train” gave everyone a few minutes to catch their breath before the groove of “The Moma Dance” set the floor ablaze in flying glowsticks, all captured as props in the sweeping spots and twinkling neons. If you weren’t moving your hips at this moment, as most everyone within view appeared to be doing, then your heart marches to the drum of a different beat. “Axilla I” elicited the expected frantic response, but it was quickly curbed by the space cadet cadence of “Maze” and the swig-swag of “Wolfman’s Brother.” A barreling “My Soul,” “Destiny Unbound,” and “Character Zero” brought the first set to a rousing close.
The second set snuggled everyone right into a group hug with “Gotta Jibbo.” A new one called “Oblivion,” written by Anastasio and longtime songwriting partner Tom Marshall, breezed through with McConnell’s keys driving the boat as big balloons were passed up to the stage for inspection. A salty run through of the Rolling Stones’ “Torn And Frayed” allowed Anastasio to play one of the night’s most harrowing solos. The band tripped through “The Light” and “Fuego” and fell right into the rollicking “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” The whole room mused, “This is what space smells like” and howled “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, heigh-ho!” to the end the set.
The encore blasted off with “Bouncing Around The Room,” giving way to a chunky “46 Days” before easing into a smooth Page McConnell-led “Run Like An Antelope.” The finale erupted into a joyous babble to end the first of three nights in Nashville. Out on the streets, T-shirt vendors and Mojo peddlers were hiding out. We forgot to buy an official poster or pin and were greeted by clusters of horse-mounted unforms and nitrous oxide enthusiasts. It was like some shady, cosmic standoff. That would grow into a bigger problem on Saturday and Sunday. The shows, however, carried on without much incident. Phish phans are, by and large, an agreeable bunch who know when to get out of town. Especially if the next run of shows is in the next state over.