[Thank you, Josh Martin, @Jsauce, for this recap of last night's show. -Ed.]
Greetings from the Gorge, everyone. Jsauce here. Long time listener, first time reviewer. I love the writing on here and I’m honored to be doing the .net review for Gorge2.
I’m going to cut to the chase here: I love this band. A lot. So do you. I will also admit to being a very critical Phish fan, to the point that several fellow heads have told me that if I can’t be more positive about what they’re doing at the present moment, then I might want to think about finding another band. Point taken. I mean, if you go to a show in 2018 and expect them to play 12/1/95 or 11/2/96 or 12/11/97 (plug for the best first set ever) or whatever set from the past 30 years, you’re going to be disappointed. And why would you want to? Isn’t part of the fun hearing something different? Isn’t that why we’re all here? Again, point taken.
All of that having been said, I contend that loving something and critiquing it are not mutually exclusive, and I have to be honest when I say that I feel as though there have been stretches of 3.0 where the band has shown an uncomfortable level of indifference in their performances. The first two shows of Bill Graham 2016 come to mind as prime examples. Sure, there are good moments, but not the sustained, focused excellence that keeps you coming back. What makes it all the more frustrating is that they still can really pour it on when they want to, like the third night of Bill Graham 2016, the first set of which was unquestionably fantastic. It’s maddening. Which is why, on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself in imagined conversations with the band (most often Trey), asking them why they would choose to follow a sick “Mike’s Song” with a “Farmhouse” (7/16/16) or a “Winterqueen” (Dick's 2017). Why, Trey, why?!?!
Such is the level of preoccupation I find myself having with Phish, and I honestly presume most fans have the same. At which point it occurs to me that my relationship with this band may not be entirely benign. It is not reasonable or healthy or sane. I love them. So do you. It is a problem. But, like so many of us, in so many ways, I am in love with my problems.
So what does all of this have to do with last night’s show? Glad you asked. I made about a million notes to myself about Friday night, the most important of which was, if you have a problem with Friday's sets, it really IS time for you to find a new band (see: supra). The music was patient and melodic, at turns dark and searching. I could go on about that show (and honestly wish I could), but at some point we’ve got to recap last night's show, right? Okay then.
Phish hit the stage at 8:15. They opened with “Party Time” and then “PYITE.” I’d love to tell you how those songs sounded. I wouldn’t know because I was still stuck in line with what seemed like a hell of a lot of people. I’m all for safety, but there has to be a more efficient way to get people in.
A strong theme throughout the first set was a very strong Page presence on piano. “Mike’s Song” featured some liquidy charging bass, overall a fairly close read to most 3.0 versions. “Weekapaug Groove” never quite took off the way one wishes it would.
I always think of “It’s Ice” as Fishman’s song, and he definitely delivered. The jam was short and muscular, with Mike leading the way.
Here’s the thing about “Divided Sky”: when they play it, everyone wins. It’s a beautiful song tailor made for the Gorge. It’s high energy, but also allows them to take a break from improvisation. A cleanly played version that paired well with “Cavern” to finish the first set.
Overall, first set had great song selection and pace, but the band sounded what one could describe as either patient or hesitant, particularly compared to Friday’s slugfest. What’s up next?
During setbreak, I said to my buddy the fastest way to get them to play “Tweezer” was to go use the bathroom at that moment. And so I did. And so they did. What followed was not the syncopated funk fest dance party we’ve come to expect, but rather, again, dark and melodic. Electric Page fills underneath Trey’s wah. Mike rides high, leading the band to an even darker space. We’re in a pretty scary part of town by this point. Trey bobs and weaves, jabs and feints his way through the solo. Just when you expect the peak to come, he sidesteps it over and again, so that when it finally does come, it’s feels surprising and deserved.
“Tweezer” faded nicely into “Golden Age.” To be honest I’m not the hugest fan, but I know some people love it, and Trey’s ebullient solo here is more than enough to recommend a listen. We’re rolling along in happy town for the first time in a minute, when BAM, another about face into a darker mood. Mike leads the way with some thundering 4/4 bombs, giving us what I’d say was the first real hard dance track of the weekend.
Which then faded to “Farmhouse.” This somewhat-odd (to me) song selection was offset by a beautiful solo replete with multiple “No Woman, No Cry” teases. “Piper” was a popular call around the campsite. This one started off hot and stayed there, with Page hitting the synth fills and Trey tossing out big handfuls of joyous notes. Again, the turn goes from joyous to dark on a dime, with Trey creating these long, wailing, plaintive notes so reminiscent of Summer ‘04 (e.g. “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” 6/19/04). This fades into “Prince Caspian,” which doesn’t get a lot of love from the community as a whole, but is sometimes good for a thoughtful Trey solo, which he delivers here.
“Wading in the Velvet Sea” paired with “Rise/Come Together” means that four out of the last five songs have been fairly slow tempo numbers, and honestly at this point the crowd’s interest started to wain. One sure way to get it back is the strum the opening chords to “Run Like an Antelope,” which is one of my all-time jammers. This one stayed close to the vest, with Page exploding under Trey hard trills. A thrilling conclusion to a well-played set marked by strong playing of individual songs, but somewhat marred by song selection and placement.
I honestly have no idea why people don’t like “Bug.” It has some of the smartest lyrics and can always be counted on for a thundering, soaring guitar solo from Trey. I’m a big fan of it and I thought it worked well in this slot. Mike hit the brown note in “Tweezer Reprise” and we all had one more chance to rain down glow sticks on the lawn.
In all, this show was not the ripping barn burner that Friday’s show was, but then again, very few are. Hesitant playing during the first set and odd song selection during the second took some of the bite out of the proceedings, but there were still some fantastic moments (“Tweezer”, “Piper”, “Bug”). Walking out of the venue, it occurred to me that it can be both: we can be thoughtful and truthful about the quality of the playing AND try to be fully present in the musical moment. Because when they play as consistently well as they have over the past two nights, It Doesn’t Matter.
Best wishes from the Gorge. We’ll do it again tomorrow.
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