The Gorge. A simply stunning landscape coupled with rich Phish history spanning back to 1997, you know it is going to be good. Apparently required disclaimer: I didn’t attend this gig and am writing this recap literally “on the couch” from Cape Cod based on the recording. If this approach offends your sensibilities or invalidates the opinions offered, you are welcome and encouraged to not read it. Thanks! Let’s get to the action.
A crisp, upbeat and metaphor-rich opening sequence of “Kill Devil Falls” and “The Wedge” starts things out with appropriate nods to the spectacular surroundings before yielding to the first jam vehicle of the night, "Bathtub Gin.” Facing a strong headwind of history at this venue (8/3/97 and 8/7/09 are must-hears) “Gin” immediately dispels any notion that rust may have accumulated during the month break after SBIX. Breezily riding the main theme with Trey sailing over the groove, the foundation doesn’t stray but the steady, attacking build and culmination equals total satisfaction. In the words of @ericwyman: “pure power gin last night, rage face on hardcore.” Indeed.
The brief “Nellie Kane” gives everyone a quick breather before jumping in to “My Friend My Friend.” A welcome mini-curve ball sees a punchy “Cavern” in a mid-set slot, followed by a pleasant if relatively uneventful “Taste.” The set continues with a seemingly innocuous “Roggae.” Smashing “the box” early, Mike drives this into deep space starting around the 4:00 mark – this jam is decidedly “out there” yet consistently engaging. A strong candidate for best version (see 2/26/03, 12/28/09, 6/20/10) and clearly the highlight of the set, you’ll want to squeeze this one in, today.
“Walk Away” – a song that has been an energy-boost go-to for most of the band’s career but has packed serious extra mustard since the killer 6/17/10 Hartford version – propels through fifth gear and around the backstretch of the set. Mike then takes over with the always-strong “Funky Bitch.” A stock rendition of Ween’s “Roses Are Free” provides the turn before the river card of “David Bowie,” the 400th lifetime performance of the song. While not likely to immediately jump into many personal “top x” lists, the jam section totally satisfies, with brief glimpses of machine-gun Trey to satiate the head-banger in all of us.
So what we have here is a way-more than respectable opening set that, combined with the stellar Bethel opener from leg one, forms a pattern that basically throws “first set/show of tour is the warm-up” out the window. If you are intimate with contemporary Phish music and are only seeking highlights you’ll likely only need to visit the “Gin” and “Roggae” but the set as a whole is a winner. Let’s break.
A short and bright “Backwards Down the Number Line” kicks off set two and gives way to a “Rock and Roll” that, given the strength and diversity the song displayed on leg one, seemed destined to soar from the start. Launching off from the main theme after the 6:00 mark (curiously LivePhish kept this as one track instead of the traditional long cover song “Gorge Jam #1”), this one is leaping straight for the river canyon and not coming back for a while. Like a tasting menu where the chef is in total control of your palate, this ride is going places! Around ~14:00 Page deploys the theremin for the first time since 8/11/97 that Mike supplements with slow and ominous calls of “and it was all right...” Classic type-II deep-space, we’ll be talking about this jam for a while, folks, so get in on the ground floor and listen to this now.
The driving, funk-laden ending lays the foundation for what is surely among the best genuine segues into “Meatstick.” “Some fans” have felt this song has been both slightly overplayed and lacking adventure of late, but this one absolutely shines. The last two minutes of this are pure gold as Mike shifts into “Boogie On” mode around the 6:30 mark, setting the stage for a classic and seamless “->” in, “->” out before firing up “Boogie On” proper. “BORW” provides the requisite funk, is perfectly slotted in the flow of the set, and breaks out a brief but firm can of whoop-ass on the dreaded “box.” The opening notes of “Farmhouse” might have sent some to cycle fluids, but that, my friends, would have been a mistake. Scanning over the track listing one might easily skip this ~5:30 version, but in this case they deliver a stunning version that could not have been more perfect for set flow. Not that the competition is stiff but this is clearly a candidate for best “Farmhouse” ever.
This smoking set opts to shift into a bit of cruise control for the balance. “Show of Life” starts a string of set closers that absolutely entertained but reigned in the momentum of the set just a tad. Regardless your opinion of the song as a whole, the outro jam was more than pleasant. “Julius” grabs the tempo reigns back and delivers a lilting, casual and patient jam, yielding to the perpetually-rocking “Character Zero” set closer. Hard to complain when the first two-thirds of the set sported such substantial wood. A “Loving Cup” encore sends the kids home happy.
This show is a definite keeper: a solid first set with a strong “Gin” plus a stand-out “Roggae,” and a second set with a genuinely Epcot “R&R” and a sequence from there through “Farmhouse” that is winner-winner tofu dinner. This wasn’t a good show “for a tour opener” – it is a straight-up solid Phish show with a fist-full of genuine thrill rides. Sweet.
@J_D_G is on recap duty tomorrow, with @bertoletdown calling the action from L.A. I’m heading out early to Tahoe so provided I survive US Scare I’ll catch y’all on the flip-side. Cheers.
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Mike Gordon: December 10, 2016
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