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Phish in Mexico is a singular experience. There is, literally, nothing to compare it to. Sharing the groove with the smallest crowd you’ll find, on the beach, with the Carribean Sea lapping the shoreline beside you (or around you!), in the middle of winter, in Mexico, after spending the day drinking mimosas and tequila, sunning on the beach, eating ceviche or strutting your best floaty at one of the many pool parties; it is nothing short of continually astounding that we get to do this. It’s apparent that the band feels this way as well, because they are consistently relaxed and in a fun, playful mood. The return of Fishman’s pink jacket and shorts (because how can you wear that only once??) on night 4 was an indication that the band was feeling loose and playful, with Fishman playing a rare set out of the dress.
I love this trip.
An early 5pm start left many of us baking in the sun as we jockeyed for position close up. Despite the heat, everyone seemed in good spirits as we settled in. When the band was ready to go they tuned up, a “Crowd Control” opener. Get your shit straight people, we’re all in this together. Nothing special here, a standard rendition. “Farmhouse” is a beautiful song that rarely seems to breathe any life into its placement. Regardless, it was heartfelt and featured Page stepping out a bit on the wurlitzer. The band didn’t linger here as they quickly moved into “Breath and Burning.” I love the sentiment of this song, as we certainly had been “dancing here for days.” While there were no big tempo or energy changes here, it was a solid and fun version, and the band and crowd really started to groove with Page taking the hammond out for spin.
The always welcome “Divided Sky” came next with Mike sounding large and in charge. Trey took The Pause to look out on the crowd, and the ocean and the scene, and marvel at it. “Who gets to play a concert here?” he mused in disbelief. Hey, you earned it, buddy! There was some other humorous banter that you should just hear for yourself. It will not be conveyed properly here. [Basically, Trey called all of us fans ugly. But, like, lovingly so. -ed, phish.net] The return of the melody was so sweet, special and quiet, and as the sun slipped below the horizon, Trey’s guitar lines bounced from cloud to cloud and ear to ear as the sky quickly turned to mauve and pink to celebrate the turn to night. Finally, Page’s organ gently laid the sun to rest. Then, what better song to play at a beach party than “Meat?” Punchy, funky and tight, “Meat” got the peeps jivin' and strivin'.
The first proper jam vehicle of the night arrived in the form of “Everything's Right.” Clocking in sat 18:06, it did not disappoint; soaring through a Trey driven jam into some rhythmic, synthy grooviness, with Fishman fully in the driver’s seat. This section really got the hips swaying across the beach. The ever darkening sky allowed CK5 to step up with some sparkly touches. I don’t like to compare versions of songs, so let me just say that everything here was so, so right. A “Squirming Coil” at sunset is already such a treat, add, “on the beach(!)” and, “in Mexico(!)” and you’re onto something. Trey nailed the melody, and the band competently moved through the composed parts (more or less, but hey…. Mexico). As the "Coil" was winding itself down with Page’s beautiful piano solo trailing across the sky, a huge pelican buzzed the crowd, low overhead.
It’s massive wingspan created a giant, graceful presence in the sky. In its wake came “Wingsuit.” I love this friggin song and with a light breeze off the Carribean, they delivered it with equal intensity and softness and absolutely flawless harmonies. It was as huge and soaring and graceful as the creature that inspired this song choice. “David Bowie” closed out the final first set of Mexico 2020, with the sky finally dark enough for CK5 to really add something to the festivities. Trey executed the composed section with more fluidity than he had been displaying with others, and as they moved through the jam section, Trey and Page were engaging in some inspired collaboration with Mike and Fish holding the space for them. At 11:05 Bowie proper kicked back in and the band cruised towards the climax with ferociousness. They brought it home solid. Take my advice and give the whole set a listen.
Set breaks are sometimes an unfortunate but necessary reality. Dancing in the sand can be harder than you think, and this break was welcome as we all settled down for a breather and took advantage of the cooling air to get some water and, y’know…. beer, tequila, etc… Special shout out to whoever thought having Don Julio in the venue was a good idea. It was.
Set 2 began with the opening riff to “Simple,” always a good way to get people back on their feet. It’s not like we needed much prompting anyway. The “Simple” > “Golden Age” > “Fuego,” combo comprised 44+ minutes of insane jamming, starting out with Trey’s Octavizer providing some extra depth and making space for Page’s Wurlitzer wizardry. The band then settled into something more laid back and rhythmic. The key changed, Page hit his ‘WTF button,’ and we moved on. After a brief visit from Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” things kicked up another whole notch. “Golden Age” is a great cover. Groovy and utterly danceable, with inspiring lyrics that would be nice if Trey could actually remember, (but hey… did I mention... Mexico?) The funk here did not disappoint, and we all knew we were in the right place. Bringing down the energy, the band moved quietly into “Fuego” and this version absolutely was en fuego. One of the most wonderful things about improvisational music is how a group recovers, or adapts to, a “mistake.” Someone missed a step in the middle fast part, and I enjoyed listening to the band work it out. The outro jam echoed the “Simple” riff, and some reverse-delay tactics from Trey pushed the jam into a deep, dark and undulating place.
Emerging from the Mexican swamp of Trey’s octave pedal was ”Undermind.” For me, this was not my favorite choice for late set 2, but I admit it was more enjoyable upon relistening. As I moved through my personal process, Trey moved us through shout-outs to “Manteca” and “Plasma,” and then a very effortless segue into “Back on the Train.” Getting over myself and getting back into what was happening in front of me, "BOTT" absolutely crushed. With another “Simple” riff to start the jam, Trey’s delay then sent us off into an ethereal and ambient place. To round out set 2, Kasvot Vaxt arrived to remind us that we are only “Passing Through” this wonderful country. Only the 4th time ever performed, “Passing Through” lit up the crowd. Smiles were all around as everyone was bouncing and giving their all. After Mike took a moment in the spotlight, literally as well as figuratively, the band took their time with this final jam, and by it’s climax it felt like we were levitating. Smiles turned to a massive collective grin as the jam came together to wrap it all up in a glorious explosion of sound, light, and dancing. Mexico just doesn’t suck.
To encore, the “Rise/Come Together” actually made me a little weepy. With Bernie having just won Nevada with heavy Latinex support, and me reflecting on our wonderful hosts and the bad rap Mexico gets in general, Coming Together with our Mexican cousins is a sentiment I was feeling big time. This version had plenty of energy and Trey sung his heart out. Dropping our bags in the sand for “The Horse” > “Silent in the Morning,” this one is always a crowd pleaser and always well played. Here’s hoping we get to sing it again next year. Then came the major bust-out: “Fee!” Who cares if Trey couldn’t remember some of the verses (still in Mexico!) we all know the words it’s such a rarity and so fun to hear, with Fish’s smooth, Carribean rhythms effortlessly moving the crowd. Mike then dropped an ode to all our amazing Phish ladies in the crowd with a truly nasty “Funky Bitch.” “More” was the perfect way to wrap up Mexico 2020 and left us all walking through sand fully vibrating with love and light. Everyone was being so lovey and there were hugs and pictures and no one wanted to leave.
As I mentioned earlier, Phish in Mexico is a singular experience and one of my absolutely all time favorite things to do. The people I run into on this journey are generally super wonderful and everyone is in it to make it the best time possible, and the band… I don’t even know what to say… It’s first rate Phish.
The Phish experience is so much more than 4 mediocre looking guys playing nerdy music to a bunch of mediocre looking people (see banter in Divided Sky for context). It is something we all create together that is so much greater than just the sum of its parts. You all did a great job! See you on the beach next year!
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