Last week, Phish made their long awaited return to the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre, better known as The Greek, and as expected, turned out three great nights of playing in one of northern California’s most reputable and intimate venues. Sitting at the crown of UC Berkeley with its iconic columns and a long history of incredible performances, the 8500 phans who got to witness magic incarnate once again danced and left floating on cloud nine, enraptured in jam and joy. Having only played the venue four times ever as Phish and this being their first return since 2010, anticipation, excitement, and downright giddiness were palpable across message boards as the mid-April dates drew closer. Although the shows were slotted for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the events sold out within minutes of going on sale and the aftermarket was flooded with requests and even some begging from phriends trying to get themselves and others to The Greek.
Following back-to-back great nights in Seattle, day one in northern California for The Phish from Vermont finally arrived and getting up to the venue in the late morning, it was no surprise to see a line already formed by those committed to catching history from the rail in the general admission venue. Equally as expected, the line for the limited-edition posters had already formed, but only at a fraction of the entry point.
With a staunch curfew of 10 pm, the Grecian bowl advertised doors at five with a start of six, and surprisingly, for most of the early afternoon hours, the line remained quite tame and short. The majority of those living on California time really didn’t start amassing until between three and four, and when they showed up, the line grew quickly and extended down the street far out of eyesight and glowed with conversation, color and more donuts than an early morning office party.
With sun shining through intermittent cloud cover, the vibe among the gathered was light and bright, smiles and signs of affection seen from every angle as new friends were being made and familiar faces reconnected. When the line started to move, the early entry lottery winners were first and numbered 500, followed by ADA guests, and then the general masses, all of which seemed content and unhurried, pleasantly making their way up the switchback ramp before descending onto the floor of the amphitheater.
As the clock ticked down, show time was quickly approaching and the endless stream of attendees showed no gaps or signs of slowing and as six finally came and went, it was apparent the band was going to push in order to allow for the droves still outside of security to get in before unleashing night one. The word came down that 6:30 would be the time to get things going, but with still person after person steadily streaming in, the band held out until 6:45.
With plenty of daylight left, the band walked on under purple lights and the gray pillared backdrop under a deafening roar of excitement. With grins as wide as the open sky, each of the four members took time to survey the audience, looking for familiar faces and taking in the beauty of the scene along with the grandeur of the welcoming fanfare that seemed to roar for more than a minute. Getting comfortable and making sure that everything was a go, the four hosemen of the harmonic locked eyes as Anastasio silently counted off the opening number, the crowd waiting in silent anticipation of what would be the first tune on such a special night in such a special place. With a final flick of the wrist to establish the meter, the band sped into the first day with a tune devoid of regret: “The Curtain With”. As the all too familiar opening ramp fired up, the fanbase lost their marbles and let the band know that they were ready to throw in. Besides “The Curtain” being an elusive finding in the band’s canon, a performance alongside the accompanying “With” would further stoke the fires of excitement, as these renditions are even more of a rarity, and within that context of scarcity, this would mark the first performance of the extended piece in 117 shows since 2019. From a global perspective of the west coast spring tour, this would also represent the only significant bust out. All of this combined, certainly reinforced that the band was as keen to how special their return to Berkeley was as the crowd did. Although the tune got off to a bumpy start, the group finally settled in and achieved the (un)expected, garnering a huge wave of thanks from the charged onlookers.
Without a pause or breath, Anastasio ground out the opening chords of “Carini” and from an overview of the well packed basin, the whole placed swelled and turned under the hard edge. With the opening stanza, Trey called an audible to Dick’s legendary naked dude who had passed away the previous day from his battle with cancer, dedicating the associated tune with “One for Frenchie here, one for Frenchie”. Two and a half minutes into this one, the band finished the lyrics and left the remaining open ended eight to draw this one out. From resonate effects to some great tempo shifts and original melodies, “Carini” took on a few different faces, beginning in shadow and transitioning into light, a perfect juxtaposition as the sun continued to lower towards the horizon.
The change in feeling resulted into the perfect setup and segue for the sweet sounds of “All of These Dreams”. With many singing along on the ballad, this infrequent piece showed through Phish’s talent at swinging the spectrum from arena rocker to sensitive reflection. McConnell took a delicate solo albeit a bit short lived, but in the end the lucid promise got its message across and the audience remained engaged and thanked the band accordingly. Beaming with both an inner and outer joy, Anastasio paused at the microphone: “Thanks everybody. This is really something else, this place!”, breaking up in the end in laughter as the crowd cheered the frontman on.
With some minor tuning, Anastasio leaned in again and stated, “Try this out” as the band started in with the familiar “Stash”. The midsection really put Gordon at the forefront of the mix on his new Serek bass. His new stringed extension sounded oh so sweet and he was obviously digging stretching it out. The jam breathed well and the acoustics of The Greek had the bowl running over with clear and distinct textures, a great opportunity for the focused listener to turn inward and take in each player’s contribution without being overwhelmed in over stimulation. Although there was no big finish here, it was still a solid twelve-minute version.
“Halfway to the Moon” put McConnell in the spotlight and was perceived by many as his nod to “Frenchie”. Getting the keyed treatment between stanzas, McConnell hit all the lyrics with Anastasio contributing back up harmonies. The end rollicked along and had The Chairman of The Boards up and down the eighty-eight of the grand piano as Fishman shuffled, popped, and filled, pushing his bandmates on for more.
Next up, Gordon’s solo endeavor “Mull” made its eighth appearance in Phish setlists and for anyone who is a “Mike Fan”, this one tickled the inner cactus. From a thick and pronounced low end to quirky lyrics presented through Gordo’s unique voice, this one was very danceable and gelled into the groove early. Supported solidly by McConnell and Fishman, Anastasio got in a bit of an acrobatic workout as Gordon fretted away up and down the neck.
With the final crash of “Mull”, the band continued the upbeat feeling with “Undermind”. Yet another relative rarity, typically only played a handful of times each year, the calypso vibe had everyone smiling and shaking their groove thing. In syncopated symbiosis, Fishman oscillated between toms, snare, cymbals, and cowbell, all four appendages working in unison and independently, boggling the ear as the eyes widened mesmerized. McConnell got thick on the Clav and Gordon oft afforded the higher registry while Anastasio chopped and bent notes, all to the pleasure of the house.
“Theme From The Bottom” served as the set closer and gave the hopeful one last chance at the band achieving liftoff. The lyrical read was flawless and the band moved into the instrumental a little unsteady but quickly found confident footing. Anastasio’s playing was emotional with intent and led the tune in an unhurried fashion that had the quartet hitting the big notes in unison. Although this one seemed to be cut a little too short for the liking of many, this may have been in an effort to conserve time for set two with the impending curfew drawing ever closer.
With a thirty-minute intermission and the night fully upon the sold-out crowd, the band returned to the stage to cooler temperatures, a bit of precipitation, and everyone fully prepared to have their faces melted and their minds marveled. “My Soul” got everyone back on their feet and dancing again. McConnell took the first lead, keeping it bluesy for several measures before rolling out the rapid fire while the rest of the band hung back. Anastasio was up next and got the front row throwing their hands in the air in revival.
With an abrupt rockstar finish, JEMP made the jump and slid right into “Tweezer”, stimulating the crowd to egg them on to greatness and greatness is just what the phaithful got, nearly forty-four minutes of it. Beginning with a quick read of the lyrics and Gordon’s first use of his latest sonic addition, the Nixa Wobbler from Andy Graham, the band got right down to business early on. Starting off with some backbeat breaks by Fishman and bluesy fills from Anastasio, McConnell laying in some funk structure while Gordon rumbled, “Tweezer” got going in all the right ways. The first transition lightened as McConnell revolved from synth to classical in the grandest fashion, the rest of the group laying back, Anastasio utilizing a muted wah. The jam hinted at “Sneakin’ Sally” about ten minutes in, and although it would have been happily received, The Greek was content to let the jam jam on. As the “Sally” potential faded into the rearview, Gordon slipped into some sick envelope action, setting up Anastasio for some grimaced rock star directive, filling the night sky with a multitude of bent and elongated notes that just had everyone calling out for more. Sixteen minutes in, straight fire morphed into ethereal echo and the participants began to levitate under the psychedelic slip of Kuroda’s light orchestration. McConnell moved to the synth lab while Gordon and Fishman held steady, Anastasio seeking his spot in the mix. Finally locking in on a theme, the four moved ahead for multiple measures before disintegration once again set in and remnant potentials of “No Quarter” came and went. At twenty-four minutes, tripping the light fantastic was no longer an option, but rather the status quo and it was obvious that the band was tapping into IT. With slowed drum fills and haunting reverb that shook the visceral dynamic, the four headed dark creature was audibly upon us all and with every passing moment, it grew and grew, devouring every soul in its path, feeding and breathing and feeding more, each participant eager to give themselves over to its insatiable appetite. When it swallowed everyone in the room, twenty-nine minutes in, the comforting, exciting nightmare was over and the band came back to the “Tweezer” theme. This too served only one as a momentary marker of recognition, reminding those lost in the flow what song we were amidst. Touching on some Plinko-style before moving into some defined pauses that afforded the audience to contribute cheers around the backdrop of a very danceable groove, Gordon returned to the Wobbler for this section, adding to both his own noticeable delight as well as those close enough to detect it. At thirty-five minutes, the band brushed up against the celestial briefly before retreating back to the comfort of the well-oxygenated dance groove, this section showing off the fun and pop of Anastasio as McConnell smiled along with his prestidigitation. At forty minutes, the feel was one of elation and embrace, the band blooming over and over again, caressing the crowd in purity and gratitude, and like an old friend, the listeners intently reciprocated.
When the level of emotional connection seemed as if it could go no deeper, without a cue or clue, the band elevated it all and slipped into “Simple”, lighting the fuse that sent a visible wave throughout the audience. Singing along with the band on the anthemic choice, the crowd contributed to every word. At the final read, the band pulled back and softened, opting again for texture vs onslaught, feeding the ears with pleasure for a few minutes. Comfort achieved, the band once again began to morph and shift, getting spacey with sporadic cycles of dissonance and alien speak, eventually transporting all passengers off world. Eleven minutes in, “Hold Your Head Up” and a Fishman moment seemed on the horizon, but quickly faded into a jam that contained ingredients of “Piper”. This crescendo grew over many minutes and had Anastasio fanning the flames into oblivion.
At minute eighteen of the whole goodness that was anything but simple, the mood shifted and dissolved, until the familiar riff of “Rock and Roll” fired up the whole dance machine once again. Singing right along with McConnell, the audience exploded every time he belted “her life was saved by rock and roll”, fueling the band and ramping up the good vibe even more. The closing theme was nothing short of incendiary and had the whole of the band giving it their all.
Returning for a double encore, “Miss You” got the opening slot and was considered by many to be another nod to “Frenchie”, once again reflecting how much the band and the phanbase are intertwined on a deeper level than just fandom and worship. Following the poignant eulogy, the band finished night one with a tight rendition of “Sand” that contained as many well executed bells and whistles as other moments earlier in the night, including the obligatory big finish that gives one that final kick in the pants.
Spilling out onto Gayley Road post show, the positive vibe and revelry continued as patrons were met with food, drink, and vendors of all sorts. Pleasantly, neither the staff of The Greek nor the Berkeley police department showed any signs of duress or intent to hastily usher phans off campus and it was aspects like this that made the vibe of the event perfect and reminded attendees just how special the music scene in The Bay really is.