[Thank you William "Billy" Stark user @mikebomb24 for recapping last night's show in Bangor, Maine. -Ed.]
I had high hopes for Bangor night two. Summer tour has been relatively hot to date and Night one brought big jams in the “Down With Disease”, and “Simple.” I was certainly not alone in having a transcendent experience during the Type II “Limb by Limb”. On top of that Bangor seemed to be the perfect place to see a Phish show. The Northeastern Wookery was felt deeply, and tickets were almost too easy to come by with people miracling pits on lot. Driving deep into central Maine was certainly a treat, and as the pines multiplied in abundance and the Atlantic Ocean came into sight I experienced a tremendous amount of gratitude for Jonathan Fishman. The band could have profited more in a bigger venue elsewhere, but Fishmans dedication to his northern tribe is demonstrably deep. The music of phish feels at home in the north country, returning to the crucible of ice, snow, and forests in which it was originally forged in Vermont.
Theres no getting around it, night two looks absolutely atrocious on paper. The Big Three, as we aptly named the second set sequence and blunder of “Prince Caspian”, “Farmhouse”, and “Backwards Down the Number Line” may seem unrecoverable to most. In fact, when I explained the triad to our Pleasant Hill Campground neighbor, Mike, post show, he literally fell backwards in his chair in laughter. After getting up, he capped off the fall by saying his physical fall was not as bad as the emotional fall from grace that was the Big Three. Despite Mike’s analogy, the live experience was not nearly as bad as perhaps the disappointment felt by those that simply peaked at .net prior to their trip to the illustrious Camden, New Jersey. Onto the song by song.
I accepted “Crowd Control” for the warm up song that it is, expecting it to be a foil for bigger things to come. I’ve always loved its lyrics, though the song itself is underwhelming. “Plasma” in the two spot was an excellent call. It got the jam juices flowing, and it felt like they were picking it up right where they had left off the previous night. I have nothing in particular to say about "Army of One" except that Page’s singing was cute. “Alaska” was fun with inspired melodic jamming from Trey. It kept in good faith with Phishy humor to play it on the opposite northern end of the continent.
When the opening riff of “Kill Devil Falls” rang out, I began to get a little nervous. It continued the pattern of somewhat lackluster song selection at a point where I really felt it needed to be broken. I enjoyed “How Many People Are You.” As an avid lover of all things Mike, the song seems to embody one of his many mantras in a wondrously weird composition that featured some lead Mike playing. I also had the pleasure of overhearing a dosed Wook respond to the song’s refrain with, “I think we’re just all one, man.” “Petrichor” was beautiful, and after heavy rain and several camping woes that puddled our tent, it felt nice to have the band acknowledge our wet struggles. The contrast between "Petrichor" and the immediate "Saw It Again” which followed left me smirking in the latter tune’s auditory darkness. “Sand” was righteous. The band was in lockstep, and drove the jam to a raging peak. Mike has been loud in the mix these days, and has been taking a lead role in the jams more and more. He has been talking on social media about how he has adjusted his hand position to rely less on momentum with his pick. This, Mike explains, allows him to access his inner muse and more readily channel higher energies when jamming. He has also come to a greater understanding that in each note he has both melody and groove, and he doesn’t have to struggle to balance those two musical principles. This made sense during the "Sand."
“Turtle in the Clouds”, was a great second set opener. Probably my favorite Kasvot Vaxt song, it got the crowd hyped and excited for what was to come. “Gotta Jibboo“ kept the groove going in a tight and standard rendition. Next up was the headiest excursion of the night, the deeply type II “Fuego" -> "Cities”. The "Fuego" wandered into some interesting territory.
Well into the jam, Fishman began a polyrhythm that was very much against the grain of the groove and created a rhythmic rift in the jam. When he returned to the groove it unleashed a palpable store of potential energy which charged up the band and propelled the jam to flow for a few more minutes before Trey led a clean transition into a romping “Cities”. The "Citie"s jam began with Trey teasing "Fuego" and quickly ascended into deep full band improv. Fishman reminded us that it was the eastern most stop on tour with a notably high amount of China cymbal usage. Trey then interpreted Fishman’s James Brown-esque yelling during the funky latter part of the jam as a cue into more Kasvot. “The Final Hurrah” began without disrupting the infectious groove of the previous jam and featured a powerful Type 1 jam itself. The set was looking great so far.
Then came the big three.
There’s not much more to say about the following three songs except that it seemed as though the audience was doing their best to keep their cool throughout. The transition into “Prince Caspian” from "Final Hurrah" was mind boggling, a true head scratcher of a ripcord. As the "Caspian" entered some spacey and emotive territory, Mike turned on his octave pedal and played some inspired runs which seemingly suggested the band was heading towards some of the most exploratory territory of the night. But just as they stepped into that territory, then came “Farmhouse”. And then ”Backwards Down the Number Line”, which did have some nice, somewhat redemptive jamming at the end. The “Chalk Dust Torture” felt like a call back to the "Sand." Also at the end of the set, it’s energy and Trey’s shredding peak served as damage control for what had just occurred prior. All in all the difficult 15 minutes of the second went by quickly enough, but dropped the overall quality and flow of the set considerably.
As Trey strummed the first chord of "Lizards" my friend giddily geared up for his “second "Tela”. He wasn’t disappointed when he realized his mistake, and the crowd raged for the chorus and was awestruck as always by the outro. Suzy Greenberg was fun. Fishman got a little too silly during the neurologist line, which gave everyone, Trey included, a hearty laugh as they found themselves back into one place for the final chorus.
The Big Three and the audience’s reception of it has a lot to teach us. Unlike on the Reddit forums, I didn’t see anybody complaining post show. While watching disappointing setlist call after disappoint setlist call I was struck by the resilience of the audience and the band alike. I observed an unspoken agreement between the band and audience. The audience creates a space in which the band is allowed to make mistakes and questionable calls. This space is what enables Phish to take the risks it does and reach the improvisational highs that only they can. I watched as after a collective suppressed groan, the audience succumbed, danced and even sang along to "Farmhouse." By "Chalkdust," everyone was raging hard again. This trust and acceptance, even during the Big Three, is what makes a Phish show what it is, and allows them, even in an otherwise lackluster show, to drop big gems like the "Fuego->Cities->final Hurrah."
I’d also like to give a special shoutout to our neighbors at the Pleasant Hill Campground for rescuing us from a near tent collapse disaster in the pouring rain. Universal help and support like this is what makes the Phish community special.
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