On the heels of their 13th studio release, “Big Boat” (September 2016), Phish kicked off their fall tour with a two-night stand (Oct. 14-15) at North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina. As with any tour after a new album, Phish took the opportunity to test the waters with newer material on and off their latest record—and encore sent contributing photographer Tom Dorgan to capture it. Not only did fans get nine songs off of “Big Boat,” we also heard a few tunes that didn’t make the album.
Whenever Phish—made up of Trey Anastasio (guitar, vocals), Jon Fishman (drums), Mike Gordon (bass), and Page McConnell (keyboard)—debuts new songs, they remain in heavy rotation throughout the first few shows of the next tour while the band finds where they fit within overall shows and future sets. Is it a better first set song? Or could it be jammed out a bit more and fit better in the second set? The first set of this tour opener at North Charleston was no different.
Friday started off with a bang and debut of “Petichor”—at least, it was an inaugural performance by Phish as a band. Originally written as a symphony piece composed by lead singer Anastasio, anticipation was high for how they’d pull it off in a live setting … and they did not disappoint. “Petichor” clocked in at just over 18 minutes, the longest song of the night, and they nailed its complexities, transitions, and symphonic nature without actually having an orchestra.
They then went back into their more than 30-year catalog with “Ghost” (“Story of the Ghost,” 1998) followed by “Heavy Things” (“Farmhouse,” 2000). They dug back into “Big Boat” with “Home,” penned by McConnell, and eventually wrapped up the first set with “More.”
Set two kicked off with the last track we’d hear from “Big Boat” for the night; “No Men in No Man’s Land” has already become a familiar number since they introduced it on tour in July. However, one of the highlights was “Down With Disease” (“Hoist” 1994), which took a dark and dirty turn to transition into fan-favorite “Cities” (a Talking Heads cover). “Cities” also featured Anastasio on Marimba Lumina, a MIDI controller that lets a musician play via a control surface based on the layout of a marimba.
Other highlights from Friday included a Stevie Wonder original “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Harry Hood” (1985), before closing the night with a three-song encore (see the official set list at the end of this article).
Night two saw more from “Big Boat,” such as “Blaze On”; an upbeat tune debuted on last summer’s tour, it gets the crowd moving. It’s October, so it seems only appropriate that Phish incorporated a dark and funky “Martian Monster” at North Charleston. Phish first played it at their Halloween show in 2014 as part of their “musical costume,” wherein they often dedicate the entire second set to cover an album or concept. “Martian Monster” is played with sound effects and narration from the 1964 Disneyland album “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.”
Some other “Big Boat” tracks that made it onto Saturday’s set list were “Waking Up Dead,” collaboratively written by Mike Gordon and Scott Murawski, and “Things People Do.” The latter’s album version was the original demo recorded on McConnell’s iPhone sitting on a Wurlitzer piano in his living room. “Let Me Lie,” a song from Anastasio’s solo work (“Bar 17,” 2006), came up before eventually getting to another newbie by Fishman “Ass Handed” that clocked in at about a minute.
“Mercury” started off the second set, a newer song that came out on last year’s tour but missed the cut for the new album—according to Anastasio in a recent interview in The Wall Street Journal. North Charleston also got a first listen of “I Always Wanted It This Way” from “Big Boat,” a synth-heavy tune with potential to become a jam vehicle, before going into another relatively new ballad “Miss You.” A traditional version of “Fuego” (2014) transitioned into a stellar “Sand” (“Farmhouse”). Things slowed back down with 2009’s “Joy” before launching into a raucous “Possum” (1985) to end the set. The band wrapped up the two-night run with a spot-on encore of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 hit “Good Times, Bad Times.”
Friday, Oct. 14
SET 1: Petrichor, Ghost, Heavy Things, Home, Poor Heart, Bathtub Gin, 555, Horn, More
SET 2: No Men In No Man’s Land, Down with Disease, Cities, Roggae, Twenty Years Later, Light, Free, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Harry Hood
ENCORE: Winterqueen, Tube, Rocky Top
Saturday, Oct. 15
SET 1: Blaze On, What’s the Use?, Martian Monster, Devotion To a Dream, Waking Up Dead, Timber (Jerry), Things People Do, Let Me Lie, Maze, Lengthwise, Maze, Ass Handed, Carini, Wolfman’s Brother
SET 2: Mercury, Twist, I Always Wanted It This Way, Miss You, Fuego, Sand, Joy, Possum
ENCORE: Good Times Bad Times