PHISH began their 30th Anniversary year by opening their Summer Tour with a three hour show for over 16,000 people on a muddy field in Bangor, Maine. Fortunately for attendees, the thunderstorm never came, and the gorgeous weather, with its blue sky and cool, periodic breeze, accompanied the music quite well, as the mighty Penobscot River flowed adjacent to the venue, stage right. Most of the songs performed were debuted by the band before 1996, giving the show a profoundly retrospective (if not nostalgic) flavor, a flavor only enhanced by a “Golden Age” second set opener and an excellent performance of “Backwards Down The Number Line.”
Fans who arrived well before gates were treated to a sound check (arguably a rehearsal) of over an hour that was easy to hear even a quarter-mile away from the stage. Importantly, it featured an impressive jam for over 15 minutes that many hope will one day circulate, as well as a funky instrumental song performed start to finish (this could be a new song), and a reggae tune sung by Mike with lyrics that referred to bees and honeycombs (possibly a new song as well).
You may have heard by now that the stage set-up for this tour is different from that of recent years. Fish is now in the middle (center), and so for this tour, be wary of telling someone you intend to be “Fish-side” at a show, because that technically no longer exists. Mike is still stage left (audience right), Trey is still off-center, and Page is still rage-side. The lights also appear to be new, and incredible. And the sound? The sound in Bangor last night was also amazing, and this may be due to there being an analog component to the mix. I don’t know, but I love it. Phish continues to do their best to ensure that one’s overall experience of their live concerts is A+, and I cannot thank them enough for this.
True, Bangor’s first set looks rather plain on paper. It is made up entirely of songs that debuted in or before the Voters for Choice Benefit show in May 1995. An old college friend of mine, a Mainer who had not seen Phish since Lemonwheel, attended last night’s show, and really enjoyed the first set precisely because it was so old school. All of the songs were very familiar to him, and of course he wasn’t alone. These songs are among Phish’s most well-known and greatly appreciated. They were largely executed well, even though Trey heavily employed his Digitech Whammy pitch shifter (or whatever the device is that he uses to shift the pitch of his notes), reminiscent of his playing in 2009 in particular.
Of note, “Stash” had a melodically fragile jam that Mike contributed to most prominently, and “Wolfman’s,” “Theme,” “Chalk Dust,” “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug” all had good jam segments, but like the smell of manure that periodically arose from the mud and wafted on the breeze, the set was not without flaws. For example, “Rift” and “Silent in the Morning” are very challenging to play, and Trey did not play them as well as he typically does. The first set was nevertheless very generous, at an hour and a half long, and right after it ended, some fans handed Trey what appeared to be an enormous, over-sized greeting card, I assume a 30th Anniversary card, that Trey then carried with him off stage with an equally enormous, over-sized smile on his face. This generous act made me proud to be a fan, so huge kudos to those responsible for this! It was easily a highlight of the show.
If “Golden Age” doesn’t get you moving, then what does? It is a wonderful cover and it opened the second set fiercely. Page clearly teased “Manteca” a few times during the beginning of the jam (listen to the LivePhish track at 7:00-7:04 and 7:10-7:12) and, eventually, he even employed the moog to mooglicious effect. Although “Twist” was through the motions, “BDTNL” had a demonstrably above-average solo from Trey, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is a “must hear” version for fans of this song.
Mike nailed Phil Lesh’s tone during “Ocelot” so much so that "Ocelot's" striking resemblance to “Tennessee Jed” was even more prominent than usual. This was a powerful version of the song, befitting its second set placement. It was followed by a “Rock and Roll” that began in its traditionally rockin’ fashion, but then dissolved into a spacey, haphazard jam that segued unsurprisingly into a perfunctory, yet still awesome, “2001.” The “Antelope” set closer featured strong playing from the band and, like the beautiful “Harry Hood” encore that followed it, augurs well for this tour. So don't miss Phish this summer, and have a safe and happy fourth of July!
Author’s Post-Script: I have been largely awake for two days and wrote this in Portland’s airport between 3-430am post-show, so please cut me some slack. I have to catch a 530am to ORD.
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