Phish Deliver Rousing Performance at Star Lake

By Stu Kelly / July 22, 2023

Phish descended on the pavilion at Star Lake in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, for the first time since 2012 and only the eighth time they’ve played the coveted venue to continue their summer tour. After a scorching start in Huntsville, Alabama, Phish continued their upswing trajectory with a three-night run in Alpharetta, Georgia, before the elements halted their momentum in Wilmington. The band was motivated to return to their energetic performances after being forced to prematurely stop their second show of a two-night run in North Carolina due to heavy rain, thunder, and lightning. With only clear skies and temperatures reaching highs in the upper 70s in Pennsylvania, the path was set for the band to get started without a hitch. 

The Vermont quartet took the stage just after 7:30 p.m. to a roaring wave of excitement from the fans. The energy from the crowd bounced to the stage, which the band took in stride and sent back in the form of a “Party Time” opener. The undertone wasn’t lost on those who had kept up with the trials and tribulations in North Carolina; the time had come to make it right. “AC/DC Bag” filled the two-slot with the lyrics “Let’s get the show on the road,” getting another nod from the audience before “46 Days” surfaced and showcased a diverting jam that stretched to nearly eight minutes long. Page McConnell showcased his talent exceptionally well during this version. 

After a quick moment of reflection among the band members on stage, “Birds of a Feather” kept the momentum afloat. Determined to string together a consistent stream of cohesiveness, Phish kept the crowd enthralled and engaged throughout the first set. “Bouncing Around the Room” acted as a nice bridge before “Stash” served up the most extended piece of improvisation in the first set, clocking in at just under 16 minutes long. As usual, “Stash” provided many different layers and sonic textures, led by Trey Anastasio. The opening notes of “Leaves” acted as beautiful landing gear, allowing the audience to reflect through the ballad’s poignant lyrics. 

The ominous opening bass notes of “Maze” by Mike Gordon triggered another strong reaction from the audience, as it’s not uncommon for the band to use this song as a vessel to explore unknown musical parts, so it’s especially welcomed in a first set. The band closed the first set with “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” the same song they had to cut short in Wilmington. Given the circumstances, Trey couldn’t hide his laughter as he started the song’s lyrics. 


After a quick set break, Phish returned to the stage refreshed and threw an audible by opening with “Sigma Oasis.” The title track of their most recent studio album debuted in 2019 in South Carolina and has since been played 27 times. Jon Fishman provided some exemplary drumming patterns, maintaining a canvas for the other three members to paint on top of musically and providing adept fills, adding plenty of his signature expression. After nearly 17 minutes, which was the longest stretch of music of the evening, the band seamlessly transitioned into “The Final Hurrah” without missing a beat. One of the biggest surprises happened when Phish debuted “Pillow Jets,” a song that Trey had recently played in Denver earlier this year with his trio formation. The tune boasts a joyful undertone, with Trey’s tender voice leading the charge out of the gates. This particular version featured a menacing piece of improvisation that expanded into some dark territory. 

A mid-set “David Bowie” threw the audience for a loop as this song is usually a set closer. Nonetheless, the energy and momentum were in full swing. The band patiently navigated their way through many beautiful directions of improvisation as it felt like each member had been given space carved out by the other three to chime in and contribute to the many different layers of the song. As the number came to a halt, Trey wasted no time rifling off the power chords of the Talking Heads‘ “Cities,” which is cemented as a crowd favorite. The audience was whiplashed into a dancing frenzy, fully absorbing everything this tune offers. “Fuego” > “Ruby Waves” closed out the second set combining for just over 23 minutes of bliss. 

When Phish returned for their encore, they opted for “Character Zero,” a familiar encore song that invariably ignites a dance party and a sing-a-long between the audience and the band. This particular version featured some alluring interplay between Page and Trey as Mike and Jon were locked into a thunderous rhythmic groove. The always beautiful “Slave To The Traffic Light” capped off a wonderful evening of music and acted as the perfect exclamation point from the band. “Party Time,” “AC/DC Bag,” “Birds of a Feather,” “Leaves,” “The Final Hurrah,” “Pillow Jets,” “Cities,” and “Slave To The Traffic Light” were all tour debuts. With plenty left on the table, Phish returns to Star Lake tonight for another performance that will surely be full of many more surprises. 

Images by Stu Kelly Photography

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Stu Kelly