The first leg of our journey to see Phish in Lake Tahoe was grueling. After two amazing shows at the Gorge Amphitheater had left my wife and I in a state of complete disarray, we loaded up the truck and began the long descent from the Columbia Plateau to the Klamath Lake Basin. The drive seemed interminably long, owing mostly to the fatigue of three solid days of raging hard against the dying of the keg, but also due to some severe wildfire smoke inhalation. At times the road ahead was lost in a hazy mirage. My whole face seemed chapped from the dry heat of the high desert. After nine hours of hard labor, we pulled up to the Running Y Ranch and settled into our lodging for the night. We were so tired, we couldn’t even be bothered to pull the lid off the hot tub we had at our disposal. The ascent from Klamath Falls to the liquid sapphire in the center of the Sierra Nevada uplift was, in stark contrast, the driving equivalent of a cool mountain breeze blowing up the leg of my cargo shorts. Incredible what a good sleep can do for your performance. If I had any sense I would pay attention to that lesson and take a nap before I wrote this recap. Since I took two, and drove home to Portland, I apologize that you may not read this before the Bill Graham shows begin. Hell, I was only signed up for writing the recap for night two in Tahoe...but since my esteemed colleague Phillip Zerbo was busy training for his epic second place finish at the Phamily Poker Classic and couldn’t stop shuffling his deck long enough to put fingers to keyboard, I had to combine both shows into one ball of earwax. So let’s get to burning it.
Day one began with another stunner of a soundcheck which included “My Soul,” an odd “Dog Log,” “Buffalo Bill,” and a “Power of Soul” jam. Listening from my room at the Green Lantern it seemed apparent that whatever Phish was going to throw down in Tahoe this time around would be something special. By the time we found our spot to the right of the soundboard I was extremely excited for what was to follow. “Wolfman’s Brother” eased out of the gate with a languid flow that slowly built into a nasty call and response funk-fest that is riddled with machine gun bullets and just oozing ‘97 juice all over the place. A great start to the show to be sure. “Gotta Jibboo” keeps the happy dance vibe going strong with some stellar gin-infused ornamentation of its primary theme by the entire band. “Cavern” was standard paint by numbers fare, but nevertheless maintained the high energy from which the “Birds of a Feather” took flight. The Tahoe “Birds” is as colorful as the Western Tanager and as abundant as the Dark-Eyed Junco. One of the better versions this bird-watcher can remember in recent times. After expressing their pleasure toward being back in the beautiful casino parking lot it takes a while to come to terms with the “Funky Bitch” that follows. Once on the scene, she struts and preens, jiggles and careens, and works that healthy rump...as always, ”Funky Bitch” got back. The “Cities” that follows is of limited area and is in actuality a pretty small town...but it does have a rather delicate and ornate bridge with an evocative exit ramp into an atypically narrow and frenetic “Rift.” “Bathtub Gin” is initially a thick syrupy mash that eventually bubbles and froths chaotically through multiple time changes and is thereby distilled into a potent aqua vitae that is quite intoxicating. “Tube” was annoyingly brief and gives way to a set closing “Walk Away” that veers into its typically delicious “Tweezer Reprise” jam space...little did we know what this would portend.
“Golden Age” opens the second set with a happy groove that settles into an alien splash dance of soaring cetaceans awash in a twinkling sea of stars. The chugging boot stomp blooze of “46 Days” follows and is fairly incendiary before splashing into “Boogie on Reggae Woman” with a truly raunchy funk transition that slipped clumsily out of the band’s hands before they could close the deal smoothly. “Boogie” is just that...a modest dollop of electrified chocolate pudding dance sauce with an equally abrupt drop into “Ghost.” “Ghost” shuffles out of the attic with less than no urgency until the Chairman starts rattling the boards. The jam segment is initially a twisted blend of knocking on and walking through doors. As the pace quickens the entity takes flight and begins tearing in circles around the ceiling before bursting through the roof and soaring skyward for a brief flight then floating slowly down to Earth to meet “Carini.” “Carini” seems initially wary and lacking its tendency to be menacing and gruff and features an ensuing jam that is uncharacteristically clean and bright throughout its course towards “Piper.” The red red worm bursts out of the granitic gruss-pile surrounding Lake Tahoe with great energy and manages to sustain it throughout its ascent of each of the peaks it crossed as it squirmed its coil westward towards the sea. “Wading in the Velvet Sea” provided seventh inning stretch duties in typical tear-jerking fashion. “Mike’s Song” is compact but powerful and just begs to be taken out for an extended jog but instead trips over a curb and into “Slave to the Traffic Light.” “Slave” seemed to be a little more somber and subdued than usual yet still brings the second set to a soaring conclusion, thereby setting the stage for the first "Weekapaug Groove" encore in over 23 years (5/23/90). "Weekapaug" dances around several ‘70s funk classics, evokes strains of Rabbie Burns’ ode to friends near and far, then shreds them all in a high speed blender, the resulting contents of which are then unceremoniously dumped into the lap of “Character Zero.” The first night of Tahoe thus closes in epic head-banging foot-stomping hard-rocking fashion. All in all a pretty solid show, the musical equivalent of a flat-topped basalt mesa. No really tall jagged peaks, but still takes a lot of energy to get up on top and take a look around at the beauty that surrounds.
Tahoe night two begins quite unassumingly considering what was to follow. For the 32nd time in my personal Phish career, the show opens with “Chalk Dust Torture.” I have seen it way more than “Possum”...and I always love it...as it seems does everyone else. This version is nothing special, bordering on sloppy, but gets everybody moving. The “Camel Walk” which follows struggles to keep the groove alive as it is unable to strut its stuff and stumbled wearily around the oasis to a tragic death. “Sparkle” takes the high-energy third song spot that “Cavern” filled the night before and deftly re-vivifies the desiccating corpse of the dead dromedary. With pep back in our step its time to get “Back on the Train.” This locomotive is full steam ahead, setting a blistering pace as it rides high speed superconductor rails toward the frosty Alpine terminal station of “It’s Ice.” I often groan audibly when Phish begins to play “It’s Ice,” but I managed to stifle such a response this time and was rewarded with an ICE COLD “Golden Age” groove that was far too brief. “Brian and Robert” brought the temperature down several more degrees and seemed to my ears to be slightly reworked melodically. The lyrics of “Yarmouth Road” may tell an interesting story, but the journey along the street you have to go down to hear it is way too long and musically uninteresting...the tune just doesn’t “Say Something” to me...if you know what I mean. Having already heard “Chalkdust” once in this set, I bailed during “Kill Devil Falls” to go refill my water bottle. Even while re-listening to the show to write this recap, I got up, went to the fridge for a drink, went to the bathroom and still got back to my seat in time to catch the largely uninteresting average great jam this version contained. Next time will be different...right? “Kill Devil Falls” gives way to the olfactory hues of “Lawn Boy.” This version features a subdued bass solo from Gordo and a completely over the top chairman of the crooners finale but was otherwise a typical flower sniffing walk around the backyard with a glass of cabernet in one hand and a cigar in the other. “Ocelot” slowly builds pace from this place of tranquility and gets further and further afield ultimately ending up out into the wild space of the surrounding forests before abruptly tumbling down a hill to the set-ending “Stash.” The “Stash” of course represents the opening of the portal to what would follow in the soon to be legendary second set. Without this “Stash” the first set may actually be considered pretty bland but it actually got somewhere in the end and set the stage for the second frame.
During setbreak my wife asked me what they would open the second set with. “Tweezer” was my reply. What I should have said was “the best fucking ‘Tweezer’ you will hear in person ever.” As the door to the ice chest is pried open to expose Uncle Ebeneezer’s frozen head you can immediately tell this one is going to be different. I’m sure by now you’ve read Jeremy Welsh’s breakdown of the jam and inspected Michael Hamad’s charting of the Tahoeeezer, but if not, please do so. Those guys know what they are talking about. For me this “Tweezer” was the ultimate summation of my entire Phish career. Everybody who goes to see Phish multiple times is chasing something. Me...I was chasing the epic ‘94 and ‘95 Tweezers. I now no longer have a white whale to hunt. The funny thing was, due to how grueling this four show run was for us, we had already decided to retire. Throughout this mind-blowing Tweezer jam I was cackling to myself in realization that somehow the band knew I had quit and they were giving me the golden handshake. It builds from gentle groove into a heavy rock bulldozer that could have moved mountains before recoiling into a venomous space serpent repeatedly lashing out at asteroids it flies between as it orbits Jupiter. It is one of those jams where you hear everything and nothing all at once. It is the raw essence of the universe pouring through the four members of the band acting as one...yes people...the HOSE was turned wide-fucking open and love comes again and again and again. I heard “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Revival” all wrapped up into one. Then came the spontaneous woos. The jam takes a slight Eastern European turn before stepping on the gas and reigniting the stop-start spontaneous woo in full rage mode. “Can’t you see?” Can’t you see what this band is doing to me? Ripcord pulled back into Tweezer. Following the eighth longest jam in Phish history (not counting soundchecks and tower jams and things of that nature of course), the rest of the second set is of course nothing but gravy. That gravy consisted of “Tela” riding in on the cool breeze from beyond the mountains, the original gangster spontaneous woo jam of “Twist,” as always infused with the essence of “Oye Como Va,” the best “Architect” ever as it clearly draws some of the majesty of the preceding “Tweezer” jam, my wife successfully harpooning her own white whale (“Bouncing Around the Room”) after nine attempts, and a very spirited “Run Like an Antelope” (been you to have any woooo?). An always rocking “Julius” set the stage for a spontaneous woo-infused “Tweeprise” and the second Tahoe run was successfully rage stomped to a close.
The Tahoe Tweezer left me with the feeling that IT could happen at any moment. Enjoy Bill Graham, Hollywood Bowl, Dick’s, Fall on the East Coast, and of course NYE at MSG...we’ll be at home on the couch....taking IT easy. Perhaps we’ll see you next year. Woooo!
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