Monday 04/22/2024 by phishnet


[This recap is courtesy of Mark C. Lynch, dot net user @Mondo_Butts, and he (and we) would also like to thank his friends users @FunkSuckle, @andrewfreeborncreative, @Sarahlyn710, @phishbiscuits11, and @juju.campbell90 for their support and input. -Ed.]

I woke up Sunday morning tired. Saturday night took a toll on me. Night 3 at the Sphere was a late one that spilled into an even later night hugging the tables. I woke up in a little bit of a fog. Grabbed some coffee and prepped for a work meeting I had scheduled. Coincidently, I spent a couple hours reviewing VFX for a TV show I work on. Later that night I found myself recapping VFX on a much larger scale. Soon thereafter, I realized it would be nearly impossible to accurately describe them in words.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

With work done I was able to prepare: a shower, a hearty lunch, exactly 300 dollars on blackjack and another 200 on New Orleans. I would eventually lose it all; but I still had Phish, and that was okay by me. I met with my usual cohorts about 6pm and we made our way toward the venue. It’s a relatively short walk from the Venetian where I was staying. We passed a number of smiling staffers holding signs reading Sphere this way. Of course we had to snap a few picks in front of the glorious Sphere before entering the venue.

At 7pm sharp we found ourselves in the gorgeous red-donut filled lobby, leaving plenty of time to cool off, hit merch and relax to Trey’s ambient background guitar that played continuously in the lobby throughout the whole weekend. One of my friends was pinched by security going in - “They took my Dunkaroos, but left my fruit snacks and gushers?” Other than that, the staff in the venue were extremely nice. Suspiciously nice…

The cheers from the crowd in the lobby reverberated through the multi level waiting room. I love a united cheer of anticipation. Cheers for making it in the venue and warming up the voice box for more cheers to come. We ran into some new friends we’d met at the hotel. It's a big, small Phish world. You meet one person in an elevator or at the merch stand or in the hotel, and you see the same person for the rest of the weekend, and maybe the rest of your life.

© 2024 Scott Marks
© 2024 Scott Marks

Colors of the rainbow cycle like a screen saver on the screen as the arriving crowd dripped with anticipation. Sunday I got the pleasure of sitting in section 101. Page side, close to the edge of the LED - Light Emitting Diode - A semiconductor device that emits light when an electric current flows through it. Close enough to see into the 256 million rendered pixels the Sphere screen boasts, and close enough to get a good view of the band. I had a prime view of the visuals on Mike's side that would eventually cascade all the way up to what feels like infinity.

Section 101 was in stark contrast to where I sat for Saturday night. I'm fortunate to have gotten two wonderful but opposing views on the two nights I attended. From the 400’s the show became more about the sound and visuals, with the band and CK5’s presence taking a back seat. From the 100’s you realize right away why you came to the Sphere: Not just for the visuals, but for the impeccably crisp musical performance in a brand new setting.

Phish emerged from the little “Truman Show” door behind the stage promptly at 8pm. The prerecorded track hinted at “Plasma,” and sure enough that was the opener. “Plasma,” starts a bit reserved at first, but would soon switch gears to the parallel major key. About ten minutes in, Page and Mike started in with a bit of cow funk, and after a clean peak they switched back to a minor, and Page took the piano groove as the band built a bit, then returned to the head of the song and finished off in 14 minutes. On the screens a spiraling tower of light beams rose up behind the band, twisting and culminating in what looked like a thin chandelier shooting straight up into the darkness of the auditorium.

Next up was the recently released first single from their upcoming studio album, “Evolve”. It was a pretty confident call preshow seeing as they hadn’t played it the first three nights. “Evolve,” while incredibly moving, has a pretty strict type 1 formula and didn’t deviate from that Sunday night, clocking in at a solid seven minutes in length.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

The visual component for “Evolve” from my vantage point looked like neon iridescent donuts moving through a blood stream. It had a strong blood vessel feel to it. These were the first visuals to go fullscreen, lighting up the arena giving everyone a clear look at the dancing fans. A common theme for the night, illumination.

A relatively slow tempoed “Ghost” would take the third spot. The band took a few swings here and would help solidify my feelings that the visuals were taking a backseat to the band from my vantage point. At this point, I was locked into the band's stage performance and surprisingly not the visuals.

Although, the “Ghost” visuals here were quite compelling. Unique to the rest of the shows, three voodoo-esque robots appeared looming and towering over the band and crowd. The outlines of the robots were simply constructed with neon glowing sticks. They moved slowly, adjusting their facial expressions as they went, sometime’s appearing to lean down over the band, keeping a close eye on the audience. Towards the back end of the “Ghost” jam, a larger robot emerged, its eyes projected spotlights onto specific sections in the crowd, highlighting a few lucky groups. Spot lights reminiscent of the main character in the movie Iron Giant. The song’s length made me think the visuals overstayed their welcome here a bit. 18 solid minutes for “Ghost” and our robot friends.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

After the song ended the screen cut to its familiar blue glow. To my left I could make out 4 tiny broken pixels in the LED. A small but very rare flaw in the technical side of the venue.

Divided Sky,” came up in the cleanup spot. This was the first song I ever heard live from the band, way back in the summer of 95 at the Nissan Pavilion in Virginia. The screens illuminated with the obvious coupling here, the sky. A blue sky with large cumulonimbus clouds circling the venue. While the song began in color, it would eventually change to black and white. When the song hits the section where the band freezes, and the music stops, the clouds and visuals also froze. Trey couldn’t freeze for long, and used this time to take it all in. He looked like a kid in a candy store, smiling from ear to ear as the crowd cheered with intensity the moment deserved. “Divided Sky” finished up beautifully at 14 minutes in length.

Shade,” the first ballad of the night, was up next. Trey started out acoustic much like “Farmhouse” from night one. With his electric strapped to his back, and his acoustic locked into place on a stand, he was able to swing his electric around just in time for a soaring solo. A very cool parlor trick. The shade visuals gave a little shout out to the solar eclipse, when a close up version seemingly appeared behind the screen out of nowhere.

The next song, “hey stranger,” I had yet to catch live so that was a real treat. After a morning re-listen I actually think this may have been one of the highlights of the first set. Simply due to the enormity of the Sphere screen, all the visuals are jaw dropping, but at times the visuals here seemed a bit underdeveloped. It reminded me a little of an early 2000’s screensaver or laser-light planetarium shows with small trails of thin lasers shooting about in all directions. These stayed on for the entirety of the 10 minute “hey stranger.” The music emerged the winner in this battle against the AV component.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

During “hey stranger” my buddy stepped outside to get a recommended Sphere hotdog, and when he came back into the show holding said hotdog Phish launched into "Character Zero." I know “Zero” is one of his favorite songs. “Needless to say, it was the best hot dog of my life,” he said.

Character Zero” finished out the first set in electric fashion. Four boxes rose on the screens above the band. Each member being projected into each box, Their images flashed and pulsating in different colors, and much like nights prior they were never crystal clear. But added a nice assist to one of Phish’s catchiest rock songs. “Zero” clocked in at 7 minutes.

“That’s it everyone, we’ll be right back.” Set one ends just past 9:15.

The discussion at setbreak around the water cooler, or drinking fountains in the lobby rather, was a bit tepid. The general consensus seemed the best of the night was yet to come. We would have to wait till the second set, and one song specifically for me would define Phish’s greatness to a tee.

Set two starts up at about 9:55. “Oblivion” premiered in 2023 and has only been played ten times now according to the .net archives, but it’s a song that feels like it’s been around for much longer. With a baseline reminiscent of a Hall and Oates tune, this song is quickly becoming a fan favorite after its colossal 22 minute version in Nashville last fall. This one falls well short, and is finished before it really started at 7 minutes in length. A great example of the “you never know” aspect of a Phish show. Visuals to open the set consisted of a matrix of light with blue beams crisscrossing and connecting to cover the totality of the screen. Complicated patterns uniting like an erector set of light.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
Down with Disease” was a no-brainer call for the Sunday Sphere show. It was also in my opinion the highlight of the show. There are quite a few sections and ideas in this one, and quite an awesome use of the pinpointed spatial audio previously discussed. Sounds over here, sounds over there, sounds down low, sounds up high. Culminating in an incredible bit of improvisation that transitioned perfectly into the finale of the song. This is the must listen to of the night. I love how the whole thing was explored and executed. “DwD” clocked in at a hefty 34 minutes, and was quite the event on its own.

Accompanying the “Disease” were the most psychedelic visuals of the night. Colors cascading like water lit up the arena. A color pallet that reminded me of those old grindhouse “feature presentation” intros you may have seen opening a Tarantino film. It would eventually morph into a black oily liquid oozing out of the LED orifices.

Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1” followed, drenching the fire DwD started. But despite the drastic change in tempo, this explored and expanded a bit too. Delving into something reminiscent of a “Dark Star” jam from the Dead’s repertoire. This was a moving rendition, especially when surrounded by a literal sea of stars. The four cornered stars aligned on the screen and soared upward into the night. Further and further up, disappearing into the infinite, millions of miles away. We’re all here together and the weather’s fine.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

Hints of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” began to fill the room. Off to space we go. The Sphere dance party was about to blast off. Visually “2001” absolutely worked for me. The lights from Kuroda’s AUX rig were mirrored onto the starry landscape all over the dome. Images of the lights flashing were everywhere. Meaning the timing of the lights with the band on stage were finally in sync with the visuals that surrounded. This really heightened the timing and accuracy of the climaxes throughout the song. While not necessarily as good as say the Hollywood Bowl “2001,” it was unbelievably special in this venue. A song I’m sure every fan was hoping for when they announced this run back in Fall of 2023.

It was during “2001” my foodie friend sampling the seemingly few but quality food options at the Sphere, told me about consuming the mini churros with caramel sauce during 2001. “Needless to say it was the best churro experience of my life” he described.

Light” would turn out to be the second longest running song of the night, clocking in at 22 minutes. What looks like translucent blue doilies plaster the screen floating and shape shifting. A pinwheel of color spins on top the shapes. Alas, we eventually got woo’d as the frenetic start and stopping of the music took shape. As things slowed down, Page switched over to the Rhodes and what sounded like “No Quarter” was a sure bet to come next, but instead, the band kept pushing further and further into the “Light.” Somehow my eyes suddenly get distracted by a lone balloon being punched around in my section during the peak of this jam. A very foreign accoutrement in this venue; but nice to see the balloon get a little run here.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

“Ether Edge” took the edge off a bit, bringing everyone back down to ground after a fantastic four song run. Here we got our first use of physical props alongside the displays, as giant umbrellas are hoisted up by ropes that snuck down through a trapdoor in the top of the sphere. The ropes lowered all the way to the ground, pulling up several massive umbrellas with strings of circles dangling below, creating from my angle the feeling of bubbles, or jellyfish rising from the sea. Very cool mix of physical props, visuals and music all in one. During this song I looked to my left and my friend was cry-laughing tears of joy as the tears fell into his souvenir Sphere light-up cup of Diet Pepsi … What a softy.

Just then “Piper” began to rev its engines. The lyrics start too soon for me here, I liked the old slow builds but take what I can get as I always love the musical and lyrical chaos that ensues. If we gotta get there a little quicker these days, that’s okay by me. Powerfully played with so much energy, this “Piper,” clocking in at 10 minutes, was a heater, and my second favorite performance of the night, followed closely by the predictable closing song of set two.

First Tube” is the perfect ending to this set. A strictly rehearsed version that allowed for the visuals to get in sync again. Before I knew it the 8 minute “First Tube” was over, culminating in a huge black hole spiraling on screen over the stage in all its glory. Truly stunning. The band took their bows to the incredibly rabid crazed fans screaming and hollering with thanks and gratitude. End set two a few minutes past 11:45.

© 2024 Scott Marks
© 2024 Scott Marks

Three minutes later the band was back on stage for the encore. Trey spent several minutes listing all the dedicated crew members that put so much time into the epic run. The audience responded with more glowing applause, while the behind the scenes guys finally got their official shoutouts, including one that I recognized, Jason Colton of Red Light management, who along with my good friend Andrew were responsible for my ability to witness this event. A very special shout out and thank you to them.

More” was the first song of the encore pounding in a little more of the light theme throughout the night. Vibrating with love and light. We sure as hell were. The coupling with “Slave to the Traffic Light” was a perfect way to end this jaw dropping experience. The visuals incorporated were a call back to the opening visuals of the run. Towering pillars cascading up and down every which way but loose… And then just like that, it was over. Twelve minutes past midnight.

Is everybody OK? How do we go back to living our mundane lives after such an experience!? Sunday night at the Sphere was the culminating experience in the ongoing tale of the world’s most entertaining band in the (now) world's most entertaining venue: The Sphere. The bar for entertainment has been raised astronomically to a whole new level far surpassing the already high expectations. The good thing is, they will be back again, and hopefully more people who didn’t have a chance to make it this run will get a chance to make it to the Sphere in the future.

After the show we were herded back to the Venetian like cattle. I was grateful this was where I had chosen to stay so I could quickly get back up to my room overlooking the Sphere. I requested the view so I could keep a close eye on it. My cohorts and I ordered room service and took to the post game tape review. What's better than Phish at the Sphere? Nothing… But roomservice Spaghetti definitely helps!

Last thought: The Sphere is a remarkable milestone to add to the Phish lore. I'd argue almost as significant a milestone as other shows I was lucky enough to attend - Big Cypress, the Hampton reunion, and Gamehendge NYE come to mind. Yep, it's that big. And I'd be willing to wager this milestone will soon become a tradition, as alluded to in Trey’s thank you at the end of the show. It’s crazy to think what this band will be capable of doing in this venue years into the future. The spectacle that is Phish mixed with the spectacle that is the Sphere, was nothing short of jaw dropping.

Be kind, be happy, be thankful, and be well. Oh, and if I don't see you… good afternoon, good evening, and good night.

© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography
© 2024 Stephen Olker Photography

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, comment by phootyjon
phootyjon We’re all here together and the weather’s fine. Indeed. Well done, my phriend.
, comment by Phoshguy31
Great question. That run was life changing. What do we do now? Great review, great show, great run, great life.
, comment by BestBandEver
BestBandEver Best review of the run! Glad your friend had both the best hot dog and the best churro experiences of his life during the best Phish experience of many people's lives.
, comment by mosesbrown
mosesbrown @Phoshguy31 said:
Great question. That run was life changing. What do we do now? Great review, great show, great run, great life.
One might say a Life Saving Run....
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