Phish returned to Hersheypark Stadium on Wednesday for the band’s second of two concerts at the Hershey, PA outdoor stadium. Following a Tuesday performance that many found lacking, the Hershey run emerged as a tale of two shows with spirited improvisation throughout Wednesday’s show as well as a handful of standout jams.
The laid-back, fun energy that is Phish was evident right from the start with a relevant cover of Hot Chocolate‘s “You Sexy Thing”— we are in the land of chocolate, after all. The gang bounced right out of the gate with the funky, wah-infused rhythm, establishing what would wind up being the thematic chocolate coating of the evening.
“Wombat” was up next, Jon Fishman stumbling initially with the song’s absurdist lyrics before finding his footing and syncing up with the rest of the group on the funky vamp. Trey Anastasio led the band early on with tubular effects as the rhythm section synced cohesively. Although not typically a launchpad for improv, this “Wombat” locked into a top-down groove that launched into outer space. The band’s ability to lock into improvisation of such substance so early in the night was merely a harbinger of things to come.
Speaking of harbingers of things to come, Trey couldn’t resist adding a quick tease of “You Sexy Thing” to what was previously developing into a dark “Wombat” jam. The guitarist went a step further, however, and also mashed up the lyrics to “you sexy wombat”—much like the “story of Sally in the alley” from night three at Deer Creek.
After welcoming everyone back to “the land of chocolate”—which could be construed by fanatics as another Simpsons reference—Trey gushed, “this is way more fun than being locked in my man cave for a year and a half.” The crowd jovially agreed.
Trey’s preceding reflection on the past 18 months only made the booming intro to “Free” all the more satisfying as the band laid into the riff. During what would be the second consecutive 10-minute jam of the first set (and only the third song), fifth man Chris Kuroda‘s lights descended like a swarm of UFOs on the quickly developing space funk coming from Mike Gordon and Page McConnell.
Phish – “Free” – Hershey, PA – 8/11/21
[Video: Burt Tuckingham]
As dark clouds continued to line the rollercoaster-dotted skies in the background, the music continued to adopt auras of gloom as the band launched into the tour debut of eery singalong “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing”. On this, the fourth song of the first set, Phish’s ability to jump right back into that hallowed improvisational space became undeniable—and for anyone who attempted to deny it, the ensuing “Halley’s Comet” surely shut them up.
Phish – “Halley’s Comet” – Hershey, PA – 8/11/21
[Video: Burt Tuckingham]
The entire first set so far had seen Phish continue to carry over residual energy from one jam to the next. This 15-minute rendition of “Halley’s” would serve as the highlight of a first set uncharacteristically heavy on full-band improvisation.
The “Halley’s” jam took a turn toward the darkness as the gorgeous sunset turned to cloudy night skies. Seemingly summoned by the eerie ambiance, a giant murder of crows flew behind and around the stage in formation during “Halley’s” like something straight out of Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds. You never know what is going to inspire Phish’s musical decisions during a show, but more on that later.
After pushing further and further into the cosmos, the song eventually landed in the Phish debut of the “Lonely Trip”, the title track to Trey’s 2020 quarantine LP. Though some may argue that a strong jam was cut short for a ballad, the deep space segue into the song came off with Stanley Kubrick-like precision. The song itself is among the strongest from Trey’s 2020 bag, and it quickly found a warm, welcoming home with help from Mike, Fish, and Page—a beautiful addition to the rotation for more intimate moments at future shows.
Phish – “Lonely Trip” – Hershey, PA – 8/11/21
[Video: kembra allen]
Bringing audiences back to Earth, the band fired up “Gotta Jibboo”, which benefited from the inertia and some excellent sustain from Trey but didn’t travel far before the band pulled back into “Meat”. The start-stop rhythm of the Gordon-led track was one that kept the whole band on its feet, allowing yet another opportunity for Trey to tease “You Sexy Thing”. Opting for a winding victory lap after a wild first set, Phish closed the frame with a thumping “Maze” that moved swiftly toward a frantic peak.
Returning for set two, Page ever-so-delicately tickled out the opening notes to “Theme From The Bottom”. The band started small and built from the ground up, enjoying the full scope of the ballooning energy before emerging on the other side with “Birds Of A Feather”.
Though there’s no way of knowing for sure if the ominous murder of crows during “Halley’s Comet” inspired the band to play “Birds of a Feather” during set two, the dark jams that later enveloped the sprawling, nearly 20-minute rendition certainly speak for themselves. Phish was decidedly back in that sacred spontaneous territory, where everyone sees the path forward and where they fit into the quest.
Fishman’s drum whisps glided forward under compressed leads from Trey. Meanwhile, Page explored his Hohner and Wurlitzer and Gordon got down low with his dirty, buzzy tones. No member of the ensemble gathered dust as the song continued to develop into another multi-sectional jam that reached out into further atmospheres. Though the extended improvisation wasn’t necessarily “evil,” as the kids say, it was definitely weird.
Pulling us back to reality was the cool-down “Bug”, which allowed ample space for its patented billowing Trey/Mike interplay.” Light” was up next. Overhead, Kuroda arranged his own light in an arrow-like formation that appeared to point the band toward its destination. That destination, it turned out, was a celebration, as Anastasio guided the group into a synthy “Party Time” featuring a full-band “Sexy Thing” tease and a Fishman sampler pad “Yeah” for good measure.
The band tapped back into the momentum that pervaded the first set as they rode straight into “Ruby Waves”. Page once again stepped to his trusty Wurlitzer as the band pulled back on that throttle. After the ensuing 16-minute exploration—yet another improvisational highlight worthy of revisiting—the band hit the afterburners with “Chalk Dust Torture”.
After Trey initially stumbled on the lyrics, it appeared he ultimately leaned into his error by outright changing the song’s lyric density as if he was Bob Dylan finding a new way to sing “Like A Rolling Stone” after 20 years. Though this “Chalk Dust” far more compact than its hulking cousin from Georgia, there shone in it a brief moment of 1.0 Trey as he stood there in his baggy shirt, ripping a fiery solo, and taking the band by the horns before fitting in one last “You Sexy Thing” tease and quote as the band wrapped the second set.
Returning to the Hersheypark Stadium stage one last time, Phish opted for “Show Of Life”. The Anastasio/Steve Pollak (a.k.a. The Dude of Life) collaboration would be a great encore singalong if anyone actually knew the words. At any rate, the sentimentality was there as the band and the fans enjoyed one last breath of the sweet, sweet Hershey air before Phish brought the show and the run to a raucous end with the Kasvot Växt rocker “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”.
Next up, Phish travels to Atlantic City, NJ this weekend for a three-night run of concerts on the beach. For a full list of tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Phish | Hersheypark Stadium | Hershey, PA | 8/10/21
SET 1: You Sexy Thing, Wombat, Free > A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Halley’s Comet > Lonely Trip  > Gotta Jibboo, Meat, Maze > You Sexy Thing
SET 2: Theme From the Bottom > Birds of a Feather, Bug > Light -> Party Time > Ruby Waves > Chalk Dust Torture
ENCORE: Show of Life > Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.
 Phish debut.
This show featured the Phish debut of Lonely Trip. Wombat had quotes and teases of You Sexy Thing, changing the lyrics to “You sexy wombat.” Meat had teases of Let’s Go Blue and You Sexy Thing. Party Time had a tease of You Sexy Thing. Chalk Dust Torture also had a tease and quote of You Sexy Thing.