24 Songs and a Monster Chalkdust Torture Keep the Energy Flowing at Phish’s First Night at SPAC

Phish made their triumphant return to SPAC for the first time since 2014 and brought with them a boatload of energy for a top show of tour thus far. The rain and tornado warnings peppered the pre-show with downpours and lightning, but a break in the weather gave the fans a chance to stroll Shakedown in the West 50 lot and catch up with friends new and old before heading into the venue for the band’s only three-night run on the east coast, and it’s a highly anticipated run at that.

Opening the night with “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan,” “The Birds” and “NICU,” Phish brought in the high energy from the outset, followed by “Cities” > “David Bowie,” which recalled the Ventura 98 “Bowie” > “Cities” > “Bowie,” if slightly short on replicating the magic from that sandwich.

“Free,” “Uncle Pen” and “Halfway to the Moon” followed, which kept the energy rolling prior to “Let’s Go,” the sole debut of the night and a new tune penned by Mike Gordon with the most promise thus far. It could easily stand out as the single off the forthcoming Bob Ezrin-produced album expected later this year. First impressions and a few relistens give a JGB funk vibe mixed with Gordon’s “Andelman’s Yard”; fans will definitely be clamoring for “Let’s Go” throughout the tour.

“Waiting All Night” dropped the tempo down slightly before a 10-plus minute “Bathtub Gin” took the reins and stood out as a highlight Type I jam of the set. A brief “Golgi Apparatus” seemed to be the set closer, but Trey let the crowd know “We’re gonna do one more,” leading into the perfect set closer, “The Squirming Coil.” A better first set in terms of song selection and maintaining energy could not have been scripted. Any dwelling on the memory of the storm that preceded the show had effectively been erased.

The new light rig for Phish this tour is an upgrade visually and aesthetically, and it will get even better given how lighting designer Chris Kuroda evolves through each tour. The depth of the screens plus regular lighting mixed in accents the band in a different manner but accompanies the new material perfectly.

#Phish @magicofspac Night 1

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The second set of SPAC didn’t wait to get rolling, jumping out with “Sand” > “Carini,” two songs that signaled a stepping off point for Type II jamming. It was the “Chalkdust Torture” though that reigns supreme as the jam of the night and thus far of the tour, clocking in at more than 22 minutes and featuring intense, exploratory jamming, Trey on the Marimba Lumina, Mike on keys and a tone that derives from the drive-in set at Magnaball last August. Phish picked a great song to get weird during, rivaling the Randall’s Island “Chalkdust” from 2014 and creating its own moniker “SPACDust” almost immediately.

Trey on the Marimba Lumina during a huge Chalkdust Torture jam at #SPAC #phish

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A mellow “Prince Caspian” and “Bug” followed and while not nearly as high energy as the 45 minutes that preceded, there was no drop off from the crowd response and thus, no complaints. “Shine a Light” by the Rolling Stones made its first debut of the tour, as did “My Sweet One,” thanks to a banner hanging in the balcony before the song. Trey pointed to the fans and led the band into the bluegrassy love song for a short two minutes. “Sleeping Monkey,” always welcome, teased Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” in the intro, and eventually jumped into “2001” out of the blue, dropping funk late into the set ahead of a set closing “Fire.” The band returned to the stage to close the show with “Character Zero,” not relenting on the energy one bit.

Phish is having a lot of fun at SPAC, and it was only the first night. Given the extensive song selection already this tour, rare covers, new Phish songs and tour debuts, we could be looking at the best three-night SPAC run since 2012, if night one is any indication.

Setlist via Phish.net

Soundcheck: Alaska, Let’s Go, Unknown Trey Song, Unknown Mike Song
Set 1: Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Birds > NICU, Cities, David Bowie, Free, Uncle Pen, Halfway to the Moon, Let’s Go[1], Waiting All Night > Bathtub Gin > Golgi Apparatus, The Squirming Coil
Set 2: Sand > Carini > Chalk Dust Torture[2] > Prince Caspian > Bug, Shine a Light, My Sweet One, Sleeping Monkey > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Fire
Encore: Character Zero