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Phish jams for 3½ hours in Sphere show — PHOTOS

Updated April 19, 2024 - 7:00 pm

You can’t phool Phish fans. You have to respect a band whose devotees can pick a newbie out of a crowd of, oh, 20,000.

That was evident as I approached a couple of fans attending Thursday’s opener of Phish’s four-show run at the Sphere. I asked Mike Corsini of New Jersey and Brian Mason from Berkeley what they thought of the show as the band took its midshow break.

“I’ve seen a few dozen shows, thirty-ish,” Mason said. “This is your first?”

“Yes!” I offered.

“You’ve never seen Phish,” Mason said, reinforcing the reality. “Wow.”

“Some people here have seen hundreds,” Corsini cut in. “But this is just blowing me away. This place is way cooler than I expected.”

Phish follows U2, of course, as the second announced act at the Sphere. Every Phish experience is to be different, with a unique set list and accompanying production wizardry each night. There’s no question the beloved jam band out of Burlington, Vermont, can meet that objective.

Phish has produced an experience that unites its devoted, international community and those who are curious to see what a graybeard jam band can execute inside the Sphere. A lot, to put it mildly. Immediately you understand that singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman are not necessarily in this for themselves.

“You should see it this way, it’s pretty cool,” Anastasio said of his spot on a square platform in the middle of the stage. The band seems tiny, from the venue’s 300 level, but its impact is massive.

What Anastasio sees from the pilot’s position are tens of thousands of fans swaying and bouncing, as an involuntary response to the surrounding experience. You can’t help but perform this Phish shuffle during the show. It is remarkable to watch folks in the packed venue in their own, insular experiences, sharing the love with everyone.

They also offer to share what might be in their pockets in this joint. But as this show unfolded, I felt using mind-altering substances was largely a waste of time, money and lung capacity. The audio-visual production creates such a heightened sensation you don’t need herbal assistance. At least, I didn’t (although succumbing to a contact high at a Phish show is a real thing).

At various moments, the Sphere felt like a massive music hall, then an outdoor festival venue. Wayward, adventurous jams were followed in sync by the swirling graphics and wild patterns produced by multimedia production company Moment Factory. Chris Kuroda, the band’s veteran lighting designer, did not miss a step or beat during the band’s legendary musical forays.

Every number featured some sort of visual delight. A long thread of vintage TVs descended on the band. Dozens, then hundreds, of multicolored, 1990s-era cars splashed across the screens. You feel twinkling stars at night, the bright daylight sunshine over a virtual, indoor lake. A dozen lantern balloons rose from either side of the stage during “Leaves,” a wonderful moment in the first set.

Phish, customarily, split the night into two sets. The break seemed to defy traditional time measurement. Maybe it was 20 minutes, or 30, or an hour. No one seemed to care about time or space. Dozens of fans wafted though the concourse even as the band returned to the stage for its second 18-song set of the night.

As I’ve said about the Sphere since it opened, it’s a lot. A lot of walking. Time. Money. Stamina. Music. Adventurism. Audio-visual stimulation. Standing. All of that is baked into the Sphere, which not in the least a benign experience.

Alexa Tetzlaff, an attorney from Denver, long ago reached triple-digits in Phish shows.

“I’m pushing 300 shows, and every show is different,” she said. “The Sphere is unbelievable. It is truly incredible. Experientially, this is an incredibly unique experience. Clearly they are experimenting with technology, the sound and light, and the response of the crowd — For sure, this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.”

Just desserts

Nodding to a long-running friendship with the band, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream promoted the appearance with a series of Phish Food images on the Exosphere. The band and company founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were neighbors “in the woods” of Burlington, Vermont, as the Ben & Jerry’s website states. They collectively created the concoction of chocolate ice cream with gooey marshmallow swirls, caramel swirls and fudge fish. Those inside the venue had to be craving the sweets by night’s end.

Cool Hang Alert

An favorite CHA destination, One Steakhouse at Virgin Hotel, is ramping its live-music program with “Lounge Sessions Live.” This has it all. Lounge. Sessions. And also, Live.

The music runs from 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays at the restaurant’s lounge, with Jackie Wiatrowski, Serena Isabelli and Caroline Baran in rotation.

Wiatrowski was a cast member of the “Elvis Presley Heartbreak Hotel In Concert” show at Harrah’s and is an accomplished singer/songwriter/classical pianist.

Isabelli blends pop, rock, hip-hop and Motown covers along with originals.

Baran is an “American Idol” top-20 finisher and a multi-talented musician. More singers are to join this triumvirate. No cover. Tips are encouraged. And watch for the occasional Irish tavern tune from celebrated tar-bender and media darling Johnny O’Donnell.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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