[We would like to thank Doug Kaplan user @MrDougDoug (@hausumountain on Twitter) for recapping last night's Alpine show. Please note that the opinions expressed by a recapper on this site are not necessarily shared by any volunteer who works on phish.net. -Ed.]
Well here we are again, team. Another night at Alpine Valley: a venue that whenever I return to it, it feels like the venue’s farewell run. Surprisingly and delightfully, things have been roughly 42069% smoother than the last several runs I’ve attended, and it seems to me like the venue’s star may be rising again. Who knows y’all, maybe LiveNation finally sympathized with us, after all of the complaint emails after Bon Iver destroyed the galaxy? It’s certainly much more preferable for me when the band plays a hometown show in Chicago proper, but hey… renting a lake house with eleven of your best buds in the world is a pretty excellent way to spend a weekend.
Tonight the Gods who make the ticket lotto work have determined that I’m to sit up on the lawn, and luckily it looks like many of my friends will be there too. On lot, we load up our gullets with Twizzlers and Passionfruit and Pamplemousse La Croix and head in early to beat the rush (please let me know if there was actually a rush). We find the spot for our tarp (affectionately known in our crew as “Brown Tarp”) on a relatively flat-ish-for-Alpine-but-still-maybe-a-little-bit-brutal-on-the-legs patch of Page side. Time to grab a seat, bust out the ol’ fidget spinner, and take care of various super-serious errands before the show starts. While anxiously waiting for it all to go down, I propose a theory that the band won’t start until the sun gets behind the big hill. Trey can’t be getting blinded by the sun when he’s busy trying to teach us serious lessons about how everything’s OK when our souls interact with light or something like that.
Sure enough, as soon as the sun gets behind the big hill, the show kicks off with the always-dependable “AC/DC Bag." The Alpine lawn requires a special kind of dancing that mostly results in people standing in a wide-legged stance and shaking their butts in a duck-like wiggle-waggle that suits this song particularly well. Maybe there are only a few bands that can play at Alpine Valley because fans of non-cult bands can’t exhibit the sort of dance moves that we have to construct?
“Shade” comes on, and I step across the tarp to interact with my friend Carl, because this has officially been our special song since we saw it together in the rain during Deer Creek 2016. I’m not like… going steady with Carl or anything serious like that… but if our lives were even just a little bit more like Bye Bye Birdie, I would’ve already given Carl my pin. I imagine picking him up in my hotrod from his parent’s house every Saturday night (with their blessing), and “Shade” comes on the stereo when we finally park the ride at Lover’s Lane. Back to real life, we pucker up for a quick but juicy kiss, followed by a bit of hugging and swaying. Carl points out an older couple and says something like, “if the old heads are cuddling to this one, you know it’s that good-good.” This song has some of the best four-part gang vocals in the entire Phish catalog.
A group of BFFs are able to triangulate “Brown Tarp” from some cryptic instructions buried deep within a text chain that surprisingly broke through the data-grid group-text LTE-4G-WWW-hellscape. This is cause for great celebration! I talk to my friend Allison (who goes by “Funky Bitch” on various social media platforms) and inform her that “Funky Bitch” will undoubtedly be played tonight. She quickly strolls off to take care of some very important errands and not a minute later the band starts playing “Funky Bitch." I imagine her raging in a bathroom / beer line and hopefully remembering that I’m a 4th-dimensional zone-lord who knows the future.
“Funky Bitch” is the beginning of a thread that you can trace through the rest of the show: songs with big, happy, organ-driven Page moments, where you can easily cut-and-paste Trey exclaiming “Play it Leo!” in your mind, even if it’s not a song where he’s ever specifically done that.
“Blaze On” is the next Leo-worthy bop, and this one plops a little bit more mustard on the hot dog than other recent first set renditions. Every time I hear this song in the context of Trey’s more recent soul-oriented material, I’m amazed that he was able to trick the fanbase into wholeheartedly embracing a sappy, uplifting, soul song because it’s disguised as a 420 anthem. Nice Trey. I love the soul songs! This jam begins in an understated, funky zone that leads into a classic 3.0, churchy, white-light peak. Just when you think that it’s about to neatly wrap up, Papa Trey hits “THE CHORD”… you know what I mean… and so does Page, because he moves straight to his synth station. Fishman tries to wrap it up, bringing the “Blaze On”-bop back into play, but the rest of the band resists. Oscillators whirl and burble while Trey gets into a double-helix, cosmic-elf delay zone, reminding us that aliens are in fact real and living among us. The band decides that maybe it’s getting a little too weird and that it’s probably time for some uplifting major key vibes, so they drift into a delicate, low-key, melodic space, leaving “Blaze On” unfinished and segueing into Phish’s #1 Parrothead anthem “Ya Mar." Now is the moment we’ve been waiting for: we get to actually hear Trey proclaim “Play it Leo!” The Leo-worthy trifecta is complete, and I’m feeling pretty pleased about all things Leo. The sun has nearly set, leaving a beautiful patch of soft pink sky over the ski lift. Hmmmm… maybe I don’t hate this place as much as I thought I did???
The band introduces another thread that we’ll be able to neatly trace throughout the rest of the show by kicking out a trio of classic EVIL PHISH, hopefully a clue that we’re likely to broach some stranger psychedelic spaces later on in the evening. The threefer of “The Sloth," “Fuck Your Face," and “My Friend My Friend” was too much fun for me to spend time taking notes. The lawn chompers STFU’d for a few moments, aside from the essential “woos” and “fuck yeahs,” as people continued their waddle-dances while incorporating some more headbanging and general 666ery satan-style fun into to the equation.
We get a special little treat with a very brief, impromptu, jazzy jam not unlike a Grateful Dead space jam that precedes “The Wheel." I was wondering though… have you noticed that the jam in “The Final Hurrah” is pretty much the same exact jam as a typical type one “Blaze On”? It’s the same key, chord structure, and can sometimes be the same level of intensity. I’m just waiting for the day where they’re singing “Blaze On” and the “woo-ooohs” at the same time while Page is triggering the “faceplant” sample. This scenario that I’m describing DID NOT happen during this particular version, but it did happen in my head, and my friend Kim may or may not have given me a strange look when I loudly sang “Blaze On” while everyone else was busy Faceplanting Into Rokk. Oh, and my friends are probably getting pretty sick of me talking about how much I love it when “Character Zero” is a set closer instead of an encore, and say what you will about that song, but the crowd always loves it because it shreds faces.
Oh shit! It’s setbreak already. I’m like… supposed to write the official review of this show [Editor's Note: There is no such thing as a Phish.net "official review" of anything.] and I’ve been in the bubble of “Brown Tarp” this whole set. I remember earlier in the evening when my friend Nick didn’t necessarily make me feel any more chill about this whole scenario, saying something like “there are like 30,000 people at this show tonight, and you’re the one that’s reviewing it for everybody.” LOL+FUCK. Guess it’s time to walk around and catch some of the vibes.
I chortle to myself when I overhear someone uncovering one of the many amazing connections that one often uncovers at a Phish show, saying “oh, we probably played each other in high school sports.” The bathroom has its own unique climate. A climate made of hot, wet urine. Even though I’m tasting the humidity, I try to remind myself that the ocean is love. I give an affirmation to my recently-befriended line-mate, “You Got This." “Thanks Coach,” he replies. I’m ecstatic to escape into the air-conditioned indoor-zone-of-commerce-and-snacks and take a quick moment to air out my danky armpits. Yummy yum!
The “Halley’s Comet” second set opener mirrors the prior “Bag” opener with a quick, peppy, old-school anthem to get the crowd happy and singing. The lawn duck wiggle-waggle transforms into a much more tired, drunken, and unsteady stomp, as people lose their sure-footedness in the dark. An enormous inflatable llama pool float magically arrives in our section just as “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” begins. All of my buds can confirm that I am 100% into the inflatable scene; I'm almost always bringing LED balloons and inflatable alien koalas to these shows, so you can imagine that I was pretty stoked. But it quickly revealed itself to be a curse. First arrived the hoards of people who wanted to take pictures of / with the llama. Camera flashes pop off, and chompers chomp many words that I don’t want to hear, as I’m trying to focus on the gooey syrup that Phish is pulling from the gooey syrup tree. “No sorry I can’t take your picture with the llama right now, I’m trying to listen.” With “ASIHTOS,” Phish indulges the earlier introduced thread of evil possibilities. The song enters into the sort of dark psychedelic zones that we all desperately crave before modulating into a plaintive, quieter space before culminating in a bit of controlled chaos. The llama drifts away and is now somebody else’s problem.
Everyone up on “Brown Tarp” is wondering if “Runaway Jim” is going to go deep like Charlotte’s exemplary version. The band gets into the first instrumental portion and the glowsticks are popping and the cheers are erupting all throughout the lawn. Much to my pleasure, Phish continues down the wicked and strange path. The four wizards decide that this is as good of an opportunity as any to show off their ability to manipulate the time stream… or rather one great thing about this tour is that the band has been able to cycle through numerous improvisatory ideas in rapid succession without having to spend much time ramping up to search for their ideas. In this “Jim”, we get a propulsive, soupy, Krauty section, some belly-shaking bass bombs (WE LOVE IT), and a happy melodic Trey zone that neatly segues into “Undermind” (didn’t this happen earlier this week??? Well it’s much more fun in person than on the XM stream!). My friend Jack and I decide that it’s time to seek out some flat ground to get in some big dance moves. Did you know that spinning around in circles and flailing around your arms is a great way to get your body, mind, and soul spiritually attuned to Phish’s energy? Well that’s just a theory that some of my friends have, but it’s a highly sourcy rumor. Oh yeah… and can’t you just imagine Trey yelling “Play It Leo!” over this one when Page takes his big organ solo? This is Leo’s song, too.
In this moment I remember again that I have to write the review for phish.net, and hear Nick’s voice in my head saying, “you’re the one out of the 30,000 writing this review." I decide it’s time to walk around again to catch some feels and figure out exactly what it is that I’m going to write about. “Undecided undefined undecided undefined." I very very slowly dance all the way to the top of the hill, aiming to preserve these knees for our pit tickets tomorrow. Instead of finding a hot take about this show, I find another spinner zone. “Probably better to rage than worry about my impending homework assignment. I only do this like… ten or fifteen times a year or so.” Like “Jim” before, “Ghost” is able to quickly step outside of itself. While not as psychedelic and murky as the “Jim," this “Ghost” probed into some of the more delicate spaces that the band has been hinting at in “Jim” and “ASIHTOS." I sense that it’s time to get back to homies over at “Brown Tarp” and Phish realizes that it’s time to give the Saturday night party crew some of the boogie zones that they deserve.
I like to think of “Golden Age” as the key predecessor to Trey’s recent batch of “soul songs." It’s a true 3.0 anthem, and he’s channeled its wholesome, uplifting energy into songs like “Soul Planet," “More," and “Drift While Your Sleeping." My friends on “Brown Tarp” are duck waggling hardcore and it’s a beautiful moment because we’re all in the right place and also we think our souls are free. My legs certainly aren’t free and I soon want to spin around on flat ground as soon as they stop singing, so Jack and I venture back to flat ground AKA the bathroom zone. The Four Dudes decide to hint back to that evil thread that I keep mentioning//encouraging but also aren’t about to give up on their profound realization that the crowd desperately craves Big Dance Energy. So they compromise as they cycle through danceable zones, delay walls, and a few more bass bombs (which get the huge WOOs from everybody).
“Back on the Train” continues the dance party vibe, so it’s probably another good one to stay on flat ground and slip in just a few more controversial dance moves before regrouping at “Brown Tarp”. I take a quick note that this is another mid-tempo, organ-heavy, sauntering slapper, where it wouldn’t be too far-fetched for the guy who plays The Red Wizard character in Phish to yell a quick “Play it Leo!” after a particularly crunchy organ solo.
“Harry Hood” is the best song to have one final rock out, hug session with your friends, awkward hill duck-waggle, big-stretch dance, a few sways, and celebrate the very fun night that you’ve had. Phish also seems to be feeling these same feelings because they actually loudly sing at the end of the song (whereas I’ve been finding they often leave that to the audience), and give some extra sizzling feedback to close it off. OH, and I didn’t know that space smells like cow poop and fireworks, but I’m down with that y’all. I’ll try to always remember this.
So what does it all mean? I’m not entirely sure. That’s a question that only you could answer… or your doctor… or Jerry… but he’s in Havana, Cuba with 2Pac so he can’t be reached at the moment. After you’ve had so many of these repeated experiences, it can become difficult to ascribe meaning to each individual occasion. You wonder if all of this is purely hedonistic or spiritual? It’s a little bit of both columns, and most of the nights combine and melt into a dream. There are some nights where I might have a fleeting moment where I wonder why I keep on doing this over and over, year after year. I can happily say that this was not one of those nights. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have so many kind-hearted, brilliant, nerdy, freaky friends to share this truly bizarre and unexplainable hobby with. But it’s more than the massive, communal, gooey love fest happening over on “Brown Tarp." Phish is the greatest rock band that ever will be. We’re the luckiest fans in the world who ---every night---Phish comes out on stage aiming to entertain and challenge us in equal measure. Tonight was no exception, as the band balanced quiet, psychedelic, improvisatory passages with an arsenal of organ-heavy, summertime-stompin’ crowdpleasers. But it’s never been about one individual night. One concert can undoubtedly change the world, but for me it’s all about the repeated experience, the commitment to a lifestyle where I allow both the microcosm of one night’s show and the larger narratives in my life to play out in ways that are both entertaining and challenging in equal measure. I can’t wait to spin in the pit during the last show of summer tour tomorrow night. The harsh sunrise is not nearly as beautiful as the pink sunset over the ski-lift. Time for some sleep.
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