7 min read

Sphere Night 2

Sphere Night 2

Phish's performance on April 19, 2024

Viva Las Vegas

In Las Vegas class and status are highly visible because everything has a price. Prices vary, not by city, town or neighborhood, but by building. And yet the slot machine players all have the same slouch and blank stare regardless of whether you are in Caesars, Bellagio, Horseshoe, Cosmopolitan or Ellis Island.

Public spaces seemed to be unpleasant by design. The streets between casinos were dirty. Sidewalks along shoulder-less 8 lane mega-roads felt unsafe. There is no shade. In Vegas, you are worth what you can throw away and you get what you pay for.


I visited Vegas to watch Phish play their second concert at one of the most hyped venues to open in my lifetime. Page, Jon, Mike, and Trey have been playing music together since 1983, the year I was born. I have been listening to everything these guys have recorded for the past quarter century.

Theirs is a kind of music with a high learning curve. It is steeped in lore. It rewards careful study. It encourages compulsivity. I've listened to their entire online catalogue chronologically. It's all very normal.

The venue's ownership and the band have a longstanding relationship. The Sphere is owned by the same entity that owns Madison Square Garden, where Phish has held court nearly every New Years for the past thirty years. The same entity also owns the Beacon Theater in New York, where Phish's leader, Trey Anastasio, held his own residency.


I did not expect to land tickets. Back in December when queue positions opened on the ticket website my friends were both above the 20k mark. The Sphere holds around that many so their situations were terminal. But my opening queue position was 1,723.

Our group chat was frantic as I watched my position descend. 1703. 1492. 907. 562. Gifs were coming in hot. 292. 142. Suddenly a seat map appeared. The interface was similar to picking seats for an airplane. Occupied seats were in gray, open seats in blue.

The first set of blue seats I clicked on were over $1000. Not those. I found another set of three – closer to the front. $87. Sold.


Our seats were under the overhang in section 103. We had a blocked view of the giant screen, but we also couldn't really see about 15k of our fellow concert goers. The result felt like being in the lower pavilion of SPAC or even the back of a smaller venue, like Beacon Theater.

The lights went down. The band took the stage. Suddenly a pink and blue waterfall cascaded down the screen behind the stage. There was a collective twenty-thousand person gasp of astonishment. Aside from one's knowledge of physical reality, there are no visual cues that you are looking at a screen. The visual was unlike anything I have ever seen. At my age, novelty is rare.

In a typical Phish setup, the band members are surrounded by amps, speakers, and a lighting rig. But the Sphere setup was minimal. The stage featured four musicians and their instruments. There were six towers of movable lights and a fence of LED's behind the band.

The sound is disconcerting because there are no visible speakers and yet it is everywhere. We sat Page-side (rage side) and I felt like my head was inside Page's baby grand piano. I could hear every single crash and clang of Fish's immense drum kit. There used to be a "Turn Mike Up" movement in the Phish scene in protest of his relative place in the band's mix. This night his bass was omnipresent. Trey's creative guitar playing and tonal virtuosity was on full display.

There were many moments of auditory delight during the show. There were single notes that just sounded so good it was impossible not to smile, laugh, or exclaim.

The first two songs, Free and The Moma Dance were great. The visuals were stunning. But I found myself most awed by the clarity of the sound.

The third song in the first set was Axilla (Part II), which is an old song that went out of favor for many years and has recently become a mainstay in the bands current repertoire. The song gets pretty dark. It ended with what I called in my notes an "incredible jam."

The band next played Mercy to let everyone catch their breath. Trey's vocals were great.

Next came Bathtub Gin, which the band released on Youtube, so you know they feel good about the performance. The visual on the screen was an endless sea of people relaxing in inner tubes. In my notes I wrote "nice Mike and Page jam."

After that we got Theme from the Bottom. The entire Sphere transformed into an underwater scene.

The band closed set one with Split Open and Melt. One of my show mates turned to me at the start and said, "This is going to get really weird." And it did.

The next set began with A Wave of Hope and my show mates and I decided to check out higher levels of the Sphere. This kind of stressed me out because I tend to be a rule follower. But it was cool to see the show from a different vantage point. If you hold your hand at about knee level, that's sort of how the stage looked from the 300 section. In contrast the screen extends far beyond a human field of vision. We made it back to our seats for the end of A Wave of Hope — a musical highlight for me.

Next up was What's the Use? —a song I'd never been particularly excited about. However, during our pre-show discussions I expressed a desire to hear a song I'd previously underestimated and leave with a newfound appreciation. That's exactly what happened with What's the Use? In my notes, I wrote, "So good."

Next came Ruby Waves, a newer song that has become canonical. Most of the great Phish songs have fixed opening and closing sections. The middle of the song is reserved for improvisation. At the start of the middle section I noticed some guitar techniques that reminded me of my favorite version of Harry Hood (last 6 minutes or so), played back in 2019. I recorded, "Fishman hero work" in my notes. He had this improvisational section where he repeated a fill, but in each repetition each sound was made by a different piece of drumming equipment.

One piece of improvisational technique I noticed was that when a band member begins an end section it takes a few measures for the entire foursome to get into alignment. Maybe it takes three or four measures. I noticed that the band always plays at least one more repetition of the closing measure after they have synced up. I take it as a sign of their commitment to craft.

We got an unremarkable Lonely Trip followed by a jammed out Song I Heard The Ocean Sing. Then we were treated to a Prince Caspian which involves Trey strumming open G and C chords. It is amazing how much he can get from so simple a chord pattern.

At this point the show has been incredible. I was not expecting anything else and then Trey played the unmistakable opening to one of their oldest songs, You Enjoy Myself (YEM). For a long time, YEM was my favorite Phish song. I hadn't dared hope for a YEM.

What made this YEM really special was that my show mates were the guys who initially got me excited about Phish over twenty years ago. I have such a distinct memory of sitting in my room at our house on 1320 Cambridge Street listening to YEM from July 30, 2003 – my first Phish show. I remember my friend, who was sitting next to me at the Sphere, sitting next to me in my room and literally crying at the beauty of this song.

YEM starts with a fast guitar arpeggio. It then drops into an ambient space punctuated by an unmistakable cymbal beat – tik-a-tik-a-ta tik-a-tik-a-ta. At just about 3 minutes in Fishman signals the end to the ambient section with one beat on a wood block. Two lights on stage flashed on that beat. All the tension from the ambient section was released like a coiled spring and it was perfect.

As an encore we were treated to a gorgeous Wading in a Velvet Sea. As soon as Velvet Sea ended, Fishman let off the unmistakable bongo opening beat for Harry Hood – MY FAVORITE.

The only negative thing I can say about the concert was that one of Page's keyboards was not audible at all from where we were sitting. It was the synth that he keeps on top of the baby grand. It's like a check box was empty in some mixing UI when it should have been checked. At the start of Harry Hood, Page took a solo on that synth and we got nothing.

Of course the song was amazing. It is one of Phish's all time rockers. I consider myself quite the connoisseur of Harry Hoods and I was not at all disappointed.

The sign of an excellent concert is the feeling of disappointment when the show ends. I wanted more. I would have stayed for more.

Traveling is hard. Vegas isn't great. All of this is expensive. And it was worth it.