[Recap is courtesy of user @jsauce, Josh Martin. Apologies to him and to you that this recap was belatedly posted. Once again, please note that the opinions offered in this recap are not necessarily shared by any of the volunteers on this site. -Ed.]
Greetings and salutations from Charlotte, North Carolina: Place of my birth, my first show (11/19/95), and of course, tonight’s show.
A word about PNC (neé Blockbuster) Pavilion: it’s about as generic a venue as you can imagine. Sprawling outdoor shed located way outside the city limits, convenient to absolutely no one, huge gravel parking lot, very interested police presence, broiling summer sun, etc. Imagine the late 90’s shed circuit: your Polarises, your Lakewoods, your Walnut Creeks. You get the point.
AND YET, for some reason known only to them, Phish have chosen this particular venue to unload the magic time and again over the years. For proof, and for sake of brevity, I offer Only one example: the massive, world shattering “Harry Hood”>”David Bowie” second set pairing from 7/25/03, which remains to me the quintessential 2.0 jam and one of the finest jams of their career. If you haven’t heard it, I strongly recommend taking a second to give it a spin.
Back to the present: the first couple of shows of summer tour had me kinda sad. I was not hearing a lot of the magic, but trying not to judge too harshly. The “Golden Age” in Toronto changed all that, as did the “Birds of a Feather” from Blossom. The band you know and love showed up there and also, by the way, left a very large number of heavy hitters on the table for the Queen City.
Which brings us to tonight. In retrospect, everyone should have seen this coming: Both Toronto and Blossom showed great turns, but there were a number of slower songs with not as much jamming as some would prefer. Charlotte was also an easy stop to skip between Blossom and Merriweather. Add in the fact that there were a ton of songs on the plate AND they seem to love playing here for whatever reason (see above) and it seems almost inevitable that Phish, on the summer solstice of 2019, played one of the finest top to bottom shows of their career. Before anyone immediately starts telling ol’ Marty to pump the brakes with the accolades, know this: I’m a (definitely over-) critical Phish fan and I’ll double down on that performance.
Where to start? How about with “Have Mercy?” This was completely unexpected and a first for your reviewer. Down shifting immediately into a “Gotta Jibboo” that was airy and confident. Healthy workouts for Page and Trey while they were working out some sound issues under the shed. The third turn of “Free” on this tour was similarly short. I’m sure I’m not alone when I wish they would unload on this song the way it deserves. You can’t jam on everything I guess, but one wonders why they seem to steer clear of going deep on it.
Any preoccupation with that ended with the first notes of “Tweezer.” After the Ebenezer turn they wasted no time getting into a slick grind, followed by modulation into a major key with joyful contributions from Page. At times in 3.0 this key change has felt almost perfunctory and inevitable and not played with much conviction. This was not that. When they are playing with intention there is an audible snap in their instruments. Trey takes the time to really bare his soul with some great hose. A return to the main "Tweezer" theme and one more turn on the bright side before morphing into a truly glorious “Passing Through.” It seems silly to say that, after a truly thrilling “Tweezer,” THIS is the point in the show where Trey really started to pour it on with effortless, melodic runs at every turn.
“Mercury” was a popular call given the summer solstice, and what a run for this song recently, folks. A twenty minute mind eraser in Vegas, followed by the full spectacle at MSG, and this one may be the best of the three. All eyes on the setting (finally!) of the sun. A brief return to the Tweezer theme and then morphing into a blistering "S.A.N.T.O.S." At this point I can only imagine that my face, as well as those of all in attendance, bore a strong resemblance to that Nazi dude who looked at the Arc in Raiders. You know what I mean. Pure melt.
Chit-chatting with the people around me, we all agreed that was easily the set of the tour. We also discussed the following, which I will put to you: I contend that in 1.0, shows started almost exactly half an hour after ticket time and setbreaks were about half an hour (Trey, you lying son of a bitch!). As 3.0 goes on, start times get later and setbreaks get longer. I have a friend who contends it’s always been 40 minutes in both cases. Please speak on this.
It was right about the time of the full on space ship landing/alien soul extraction during the middle of “Runaway Jim” that it became obvious this show was going to be an all-timer. I will share this with you all: about three minutes into the jam, there was an audible warming of the tone of the music in the shed, like they’d worked out another kink. Immediately after that I started to feel a very deep resonating hum in my chest, coming up from my feet, coming up from the middle of the earth. To deny its existence would have been absurd, when it was just as plainly palpable as the page of a book on a finger or a breeze on the cheek. It lasted a few moments and then was gone. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I'm not a hippie by any stretch, but I’m convinced there were very strong cosmic forces at work on this show.
"Scents" (sans intro again) immediately returned to the abyss. Here Mike really stepped out and dropped some excellent thunder. To get another dose of Tweeze funk seemed unfair at this point. The crowd, which had been boisterous all night, really started to lose their minds when they executed a nasty segue into “Sand.” WOW. Dense Page clay work then moving over to the baby grand to shower it down. Super, blistering peak and a rousing refrain.
Here we get "Lifeboy" --- a reprieve from the insanity and well needed.
The fact that Phish even attempted “Taste” shows how strong they were feeling. Once a real warhorse, it’s only played about once a year since 2014. One may assume (I think fairly so) that it’s been shelved due to its rhythmic and harmonic complexity, like they just weren’t connecting with the song that well anymore. Here Page really shines on the piano. Trey showed a rare moment of humanity, struggling at times with some of the changes.
Unpopular Truth: I could probably never see “Possum” again and be okay with it, but on this night even “Possum” detonated. Band and crowd really racing to the finish line here. Everyone is giving it all they’ve got. Deafening applause and well earned.
I’m sitting in the airport in Charlotte right now, finishing this up. Ran into a few folks and shared my thoughts with them. “Really? One of your all-timers? Sure you don’t wanna sleep on that one Marty?” Who could possibly be expected to sleep after that show?!?!
A final thought: walking through the lawn at setbreak, seeing so many smiling faces, doing this thing that we love so much. It is a gift to listen without expectation. It is a gift to visit with friends. On 6/21/2019 Phish played the obvious standout show of the nascent tour and one of my favorites of any era. It was that good. Listen and enjoy.
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