Playing for the first time since New Year's and gearing up to head out on a summer tour in July, Phish showed no rust in making a decade-long-awaited return to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Granted an unprecedented three-hour set, there was no danger of a tour gone awry as the quartet from Vermont took the Acura Stage and proceeded to run through two tight sets of classics and new-ish - by Phish standards - jams.
With only three acts before Phish on the Acura Stage and a 45-minute break between Anders Osborne and the main attraction, fans began a slow but steady progression into the concert field well before the first set. By the time the opening notes of "Kill Devil Falls" were heard, the field was packed and any sort of movement was severely limited.
"Momma Dance" came next, followed by "Rift" and crowd-favorite "Wolfman's Brother," before the band took notice of the assembled throng. Lead singer, Trey Anastasio, addressed the crowd admitting that "It was a dream come true" to be back at Jazz Fest, before turning the mic over to the Chairman of the Boards, Page McConnell, to do a quasi-a cappella "Lawn Boy."
McConnell was on point all evening, manning his keys as if there weren't multiple cameras keeping vigil. But, there were, and a camera at ivory level gave the crowd a unique vantage point to the pianist's deft touch.
Trey lived out an apparent long-held desire to play "Party Time" at Jazz Fest before following it up with an "Ocelot," "Funky Bitch," "46 Days" and a rarely played - and little recognized - "The Line." After an hour and a half, the set closed out with "Character Zero."
There was some breathing room as the crowd filtered out momentarily for food, drinks and natural relief. The sun continued to play hide-and-seek with the clouds and brief intermissions of shade were followed by steamy bursts of daylight.
While the expansive New Orleans Fair Grounds' field kept the sound dispersed throughout the show, the second set kicked off with a stirring Mike Gordon-helmed bass heavy "Down With Disease." "Birds of a Feather" led to the always crowd-participatory "Twist" and then "Sparkle," "Free," "Light" and "Sand."
Phish may have been aware of the blind eye turned to the 7 p.m. last call the previous night, though they showed marginal awareness of the clock, breezing through classic gems "Harry Hood" and "Cavern" before ending the set with "Grind."
A standard-length festival set would likely not have warranted such a lengthy road trip for many catching the Phish encore with "Julius" on day 2 of Jazz Fest. But, a three-hour slot in New Orleans? Judging by the massive crowd still rooted in place urging the band to play more, it was worth the trip.
Photos by Haley Odom/AXS.com
Related: Read more on the all-AXS Jazz Fest Guide