Phish glows true to form with covers, old favorites

By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2011

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MANSFIELD — Phish tried on many musical suits last night at the Comcast Center, covering songs by Talking Heads, John Lennon, Al Green, and Lou Reed, as well as tossing in its own song, named “David Bowie.’’

Yet through two lengthy sets that zipped a bit past 11 p.m., the Vermont quartet remained true to itself, leaning into lengthy improvisations and blending blazing musicianship with whimsical tunes.

The band’s first set was more solid than its second, combining old favorites, such as the opener “Llama’’ and “Possum,’’ with spirited covers. Guitarist Trey Anastasio first tackled Talking Heads’ “Cities,’’ then piano player Page McConnell beautifully captured Lennon’s “Instant Karma.’’

After the campy yet frenetic “David Bowie,’’ bassist Mike Gordon turned Green’s “Rhymes’’ into a bit of folk-infused soul.

The band, which resumed ritualistic summer touring a couple of years ago after a hiatus, hit a first-set high with “Divided Sky,’’ as Anastasio, Gordon, McConnell, and drummer Jon Fishman displayed the acumen and chemistry that make this band so popular.

Yet instead of quitting while ahead, Phish pushed through a perfunctory “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plane’’ to end the first set and forecast a second set that would also be well played, but not quite as creative as the first.

McConnell had the second set’s highlight, leading Phish through Reed’s “Rock and Roll,’’ which bled into a tight, energetic jam before growing into the Caribbean-flavored “Mango Song.’’

After that, the steam ran out of the show a bit, with too much time eaten up by the kitsch of “Halley’s Comet’’ and “Meatstick.’’

“Comet’’ is a few simple mantras that didn’t click in the way the similarly structured “Bowie’’ had earlier (perhaps returning to that kind of well in a single show is not a good idea).

Likewise, “Meatstick’’ is a jam vehicle at heart that didn’t catch fire, though it was an excuse for the band to do some goofy dancing and the crowd to toss scores of glow sticks.

With curfew looming, Phish zipped through “Run Like an Antelope’’ and encored with a curt “Suzy Greenberg.’’

Scott McLennan can be reached at

Correction: Because of a reporting error, Phish drummer Jon Fishman's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this concert review.


Last night

At: Comcast Center