The crowd went into night two of the four-night Vegas Halloween run with high expectations. After night one of the run, where the setlist literally went “backwards down the number line," the rumors swirled that there would be another theme---colors? Animals? Fans were caught up in a Lost-like mythology trying to decipher the number 4680, the total of the numbers from the prior night's song selection, in hopes that the band was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the Halloween surprise. Fitting, since hordes of fans descended on the nearby Meow Wolf, which itself is an augmented reality mystery within a a psychedelic playground.
Alas, it was not to be. There was, of course, a surprise "Olivia's Pool" opener, the first since July 2019, which led to immediate flurries of speculation. Texts, tweets, and mid-song banter were flying. “It’s names! "Suzy Greenberg"! "Esther"! "Tela"! "Brian and Robert"! After a mostly standard "Olivia’s Pool," Trey stepped up to the mic and quoted the “Little Squirrel” callback --- Hello! / Hi! / How are you? / Good! / We hope you have a good time! / Thanks! --- before dropping into Axilla (Part II). When the crowd heard the first lyric, "Summer..." there was a healthy cheer, audible on the LivePhish recording. Other than a mid-song Trey flub from which the band masterfully recovered, "Axilla" was mostly standard. I say mostly with a giant, bold asterisk because, of course, the show note here is really in the trippy coda: the thirty-second-ish "Don't shine that thing in my face man, I mean it" outro lasted a little longer. Except, when I say a little longer, I mean a lot longer. Clocking in at TWENTY-ONE MINUTES, this is the most exploratory "Axilla" by an order of magnitude in Phish history. And as the song crossed 20 minutes, it recongealed into "Axilla's" outro.
From the embers of this "Little Squirrel" sandwiched "Axilla" came the screaming intro of "Mike's Song." This, of course, reignited the speculation, "If Axilla is a name, this could still be an all names show!" But by the mid-song jam, such heady analysis fell by the wayside in favor of a beautiful "Mike's" jam. Punctuated by "Martian Monster" teases at the front end, the heavy distortion gave way to a beautiful, trippy exploratory jam. By about eight minutes, we'd left "Mike's" territory entirely. And for about three minutes, we're in an airy, fun, bouncy pop song, before echos of the "Mike's" theme began to re-emerge.
As "Mike's" came back into focus, those infamous power chords then led into the descending notes that dropped predictably into the beautiful spaciness of "I Am Hydrogen." The drum beat to "Weekapaug Groove" followed, naturally, alighting the venue with energy. Sometimes, "Weekapaug" is merely the closing chapter to "Mike's Groove," but sometimes it just... hits right. This version goes off-script and reaches several peaks. By about three and a half minutes, we're out of the standard "Weekapaug" theme. Trey did a great job at bringing these warm, majestic jams full circle before returning to the main theme. We're then guided back into "Weekapaug" and, once again, into "Little Squirrel," which had Trey and Mike smiling and laughing.
Trey opted for "Shade" in the next spot. A beautiful ballad in its own right, this fairly standard version served as a breather between the scorching "Weekapaug" and what was to come next.
The Page-led "I Always Wanted It This Way" has made its way into a somewhat regular Phish rotation a few times each year. The background synth provides a cosmic radiation that is noticeably louder in person than on, say, a webcast or a re-stream on LivePhish. It shakes your body with its low tones. At about six minutes into last night's version, things started to heat up. Fish assaulted us with a high-hat heavy beat, providing nonstop groove, and a warm and welcoming pocket for the listener. Around nine minutes in, rock-star Trey began dropping big guitar-rock whale calls, and the band swelled around him, forcing the whole set into a massive cacophony and a peak that drained us of whatever energy we had left. Trey then climbed the fretboard to higher notes until settling in to familar power chords and trills, and we all collapsed into exhaustion at setbreak, fully satisfied.
I'm still in the post-show glow, and I don't want to violate the 72-hour rule with any dramatic proclamation, but that was one hell of a first set.
Set Two opened with six minutes of the still-makes-me-chuckle "Ass Handed," and this even went "type II" before eventually dropping into what everyone seemed to want, and many knew was coming this run at some point, "Tweezer." This version did not disappoint, with a straightforward opening but quite a deep groove and pure "type I rock-and-roll" start to the jam. The jam mostly stayed on theme until the final five minutes or so. It's going to be great on the re-listen! What really got the crowd going during it was when Trey and Page's loops coalesced into a climbing four-note theme as the song wrapped up. A beautiful interlude gave the space for Trey to lead into "Funky Bitch," which reignited the crowd. The bounce of the auditorium was perceptible and Mike, as per usual, killed it on bass and vocals.
Now, this is going to earn me some hate, but this was the strangest "Reba" I've ever seen. I'd argue it was placement, as this would've been a good time for a breather. Perhaps the crowd was getting tired? "Reba" just seemed oddly placed---the crowd watched transfixed and without much movement through not just the song, but the composed part. In fact, it wasn't until a full 11 minutes in that the gorgeous "Reba" found its legs and delivered that reliable jam. Thankfully, it provided one of the funniest moments of the show, when the closing coda saw the lyrics replaced with "Little Squirrel" quotes and then ended with "Ass Handed" lyrical quotes. It's always fun to see the band laughing and having fun.
"Sand" was up next. By eight minutes, the "Sand" structure had been abandoned entirely and we settled on a lightweight, major key jam, which was hard not to love. That jam lasted about four minutes before dropping back into Tweezer, or maybe just a "Tweezer"-like jam, but it then rolled along nicely until it found itself in that Trey-high note, Page synth territory. This jam dropped effortlessly into a great version of the title-track from their pandemic record, "Sigma Oasis." Although it might've been an apt set-closer in another universe, in this one, we got the first "Walk Away" since November 2019, and it roared the set to a fantastic close.
Other than an oddly-placed "Reba," this set was more than solid.
The band rejoined the crowd to play Julius in a spot where it's typically comfortable. It's a standard, relatively brief version, but you had to know that "Tweezer Reprise" was waiting on the other side. "TweePrise" is funny in that it's almost always the same and yet virtually every single performance is so incredibly dense in energy. This version was no different. Thus, show two of the run concluded, more-or-less cementing the Vegas '21 run, just halfway done, as a run-to-remember.
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