Heading into my fourth consecutive summer tour opener, I feel like I've been to enough of these launchpad shows to learn what to expect: nothing, just enjoy the moment. As tours progress and the band gets tighter and more oiled simultaneously, the shows tend to get better; it's been almost seven months since the band walked off the stage in Miami after a successful run of shows. Since then, Trey famously performed as sideman for another band of lore, and Mike had a well-received tour with his revamped touring ensemble. In any case, there's a certain excitement in the air when these guys walk out on stage for the first time in a while. The fans of course add to that energy, but you can also see it on the faces of Mike, Page, Fish and Trey when they plug in and get set to hit that first note of summer. Enjoy the friends and fans who travelled from afar to see the boys from Vermont, and chances are, Phish will offer up a surprise or two that you hadn't anticipated.
Bend is a hip, smallish city located on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains in central Oregon. The cool/crunchy downtown reminds me of Burlington, VT in some ways, and there's tons to do in the area. The Les Schwab Amphitheater is small by Phish’s standards with a capacity of 8,000 and offers the appeal of both a picturesque Western setting and relatively intimate size.
Once inside the venue it was easy to get situated just about anywhere you wanted. Because of a local noise ordinance which takes effect at 10:00 PM, Phish took the stage far earlier than customary, at 6:24 PM. Since sunset in Bend occurred at 8:41, CK5 had a less noticeable role with the lights during the first set and into the early part of the second. But cleverly, he pointed his digital LEDs out at the audience during the daylight portion, which added some interesting color to the foreground. Crystal clear skies were on order, and a warm but not hot temperature of about 81F° prevailed as the band hit the stage.
The first set featured a healthy dose of funk-infused songs, including “Sand,” “555,” “Tube,” and “Wolfman's Brother.” “Sand” arriving in the number two slot after the crowd pleasing “Sample” opener took many by surprise, but the surprise was welcome, and the whole place was immediately bopping to the crescendo-oriented groove. Interspersed with the funkier songs were a variety songs from the Phish canon, including the debut of the Trey/Tom Marshall original, “Blaze On.” The crowd seemed to laugh a lot during the lyrical portion of the song, and at first, it seemed a bit sing-song-like. But once the jam portion began, this new number suggested some great potential for future improvisation. None of the songs from the first set had noteworthy jams. On the other hand, the band sounded well rehearsed, and the playing was spot on with the exception of “Horn” which seemed to give Trey some troubles. But he made up for it in spades, and he gets my vote for the MVP of Bend I. Clearly, his efforts with the Grateful Dead are paying dividends now with Phish. Following another crescendo-oriented jam in “Wolfman's,” the band departed for set break at 7:37.
Photo © Phish From the Road
When Phish retook the stage at 8:11, the sun was mostly down and the temperature had dropped to a comfortable 73F°. The second set would prove to be similar in many ways to the first. While there were no major jams of note, the playing was excellent, there was an abundance of funk, and the band debuted two more songs. “Fuego” seemed like it had the most potential to stretch out for a ride, but instead the band decided to transition to another new song, “Shade.” While this song seems to have a bit of a ballad quality that some fans viewed as an opportunity to hit the restrooms, I thought Trey's solo was excellent, and another example of the benefit of his work for the GD50 shows.
Photo © Phish From the Road
From there the band launched into another debut, “No Men In No Man's Land.” This song is great, perhaps the song highlight of the show, combining funk with a quick tempo and great syncopated play. It's a bit like “Tube,” but features more interplay between Trey and Page, and the dance-till-you-drop jam section lasted much longer than your garden variety “Tube.” Coupled with a solid “Weekapaug,” which was followed by Stevie Wonder's “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” as well as a benign “Ghost” at the beginning of the set, the funky theme was on display throughout the evening. A predictably rousing “Chalk Dust Torture” had the crowds pumping fists as the band left the stage for a brief encore break. Returning to the stage, the band closed the night with a strong “Theme,” and once again Trey's musicianship was excellent.
Photos © Phish From the Road
My takeaway from this show is twofold: First, Phish is absolutely not a nostalgia act, riding on a tsunami of songs written thirty or more years ago. Seven of the songs performed were either brand new, or are very recent. That they are continuing to write and play new music is a sign to me that these guys still mean business. And while the big improvisational jams were not a factor in tonight's show, at least a couple of the new songs seem to have great potential. The second is that this band is playing very well for the first show of the summer. With the exception of one hiccup in “Horn,” Trey sounded terrific all night, and both Mike and Page were their usual exemplary selves. The jams will come. But this was a great showing in terms of competent, cohesive playing. Meanwhile, a mix of funky dance-along songs and spirited peaking jams kept the crowd happy and engaged. And finally, for an east coaster seeing his first west coast show, Bend is a pretty damn sweet place to see a Phish concert in mid summer!
Phish Summer 2015 – Setlists & Recaps
07/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 1
07/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 2
07/24/15 Setlist – Recap, Recap2 – Shoreline
07/25/15 Setlist – Recap – LA Forum
07/28/15 Setlist – Recap – Austin
07/29/15 Setlist – Recap – Grand Prarie
07/31/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 1
08/01/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 2
08/02/15 Setlist – Recap – Tuscaloosa
08/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Nashville
08/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Kansas City
08/07/15 Setlist – Recap – Blossom
08/08/15 Setlist – Recap – Alpine 1
08/09/15 Setlist – Recap – Apline 2
08/11/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 1
08/12/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 2
08/14/15 Setlist – Recap – Raleigh
08/15/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 1
08/16/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 2
08/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 1
08/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 2
08/23/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 3
09/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 1
09/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 2
09/06/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 3
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