Looking back a year to Bonnaroo 2009- photo by Jeff Kravitz

Phish returned to the concert stage for the first time in over five months at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois at the soccer home stadium of the Chicago Fire, amidst the dawn of the 2010 World Cup football matches, which also opened this week in South Africa. Indeed, the evening began on a sporting note, as the Vermont Quartet played a trio of tight and crowd friendly versions of “Down with Disease,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” and “Possum,” before Trey Anastasio congratulated the Chicago Blackhawks’ hometown crowd for their Stanley Cup hockey championship victory over the frontman/guitarist’s favorite team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Dipping further into the hourglass of their canon and cover version bag, the jam fan favorite Phish dove into Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” (perhaps in a nod to the soul king’s Bonnaroo headlining slot on Saturday), a loose “Reba,” and a short, taut version of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The band finished the opening set on their opening Summer Tour schedule with a trio of landmark songs from their 1989 debut album Junta —“The Divided Sky,” “Golgi Apparatus,” and a breathtaking version of “David Bowie.”

Phish then opened their second set with a 13-minute ambient-laced version of Joy’s “Light,” from their 2009 comeback album. It was “Ghost,” the title track from 1998’s studio document of their cow funk era, which really showed Phish opening the doorway to inspired improvisation and excellent group dynamics with Anastasio’s most fiery playing of the night. The quartet brought the proceedings back down to earth with an energetic quartet: “Limb by Limb” (featuring a rare a cappella coda), “Prince Caspian,” and “The Horse>Silent in the Morning,” before hitting high gear on “Run Like an Antelope.” Then “Show of Life,” a new song, co-written by Anastasio and Steve “The Dude of Life” Pollak, made its Phish debut (the song premiered with Trey Anastasio’s Classic TAB band in February 2010). The Vermont Quartet ended the night with two more sporting and barnstorming fan favorites, “Cavern” and “Julius.”

Phish returns to the stage, tonight, for their second summer tour date at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.