[Recap is courtesy of user TwiceBitten, Nick Williams (@deepthoughtsjp on Instagram). Please remember that recaps are written by VOLUNTEER FANS. Their views are entirely their own and are not necessarily shared by anyone who volunteers to work on Phish.net. There is no such thing as an "official" dot net recap of a show. -Ed.]
Phish fans are not exactly a homogenous bunch and I find the differences in the fanbase generally line up with geography. Fans in the Northeast are the most persnickety. They are capable of providing enormous amounts of energy, but they are also prone to talking over slow songs, smoking cigs indoors, and groaning and shit-talking the show while the music is playing. Fans on the West Coast are a lot more easy going. There is room to move in the GA section, the crowd is more evenly divided gender-wise and in general they are the most pleasant audience to be around. Still, West Coasters lack the fire and grit when it comes to giving energy back to the band, and we all know the band feeds on that and uses it to complete the circuit.
The Mountain West fanbase is somewhat harder to pin down, seeing as they’ve only played Dick’s over the last nine years, and it’s a real melting pot of fans from all over the country. Speaking of cannabis, I will say that the audience in Colorado can also be a bit unresponsive, maybe due to the strong legal weed, but also possibly due to the vibes dissipating slightly in the large open air venue. Fans from the Midwest are a rowdy bunch, more willing to display enormous amounts of energy without discrimination, but also willing to talk over slow songs like their Northeast counterparts. I think the term “blind unfocused rage” works well to describe them.
All this brings me to the Southern fans. The South rules, here’s why: you people are not only insanely polite, but also so gosh darned thankful every time Phish plays in your region. Not only is the crowd energy exceedingly lit, but you know how to listen to a ballad, whistle at the deep and soulful lines, not smoke cigarettes indoors, and just in general be completely awesome to be around. I don’t want to make tickets any harder for you guys, but I will say that if any of you folks from other regions have not seen Phish in the South, you’re missing out on what Jerry would call “a real good time.” The 2015 Lakewood run and the 2018 Alpharetta run are two of my favorite series of shows I’ve ever seen. This year not only did the South provide an enormously positive crowd response (there was an old school wave through the arena preshow), but also the only proper shakedown of the tour.
The excitement was palpable as the band hit the stage for night three. The first thing I noticed was that Fishman was wearing his Bernie Sanders donut dress. Maybe it was a case of great minds thinking alike, but @farmhose had been bugging him to wear it in South Carolina for weeks now. This is an early primary state and any extra love the band shows down here for Vermont’s own presidential candidate can’t hurt his chances.
The first tune of the evening was the Phish debut of “Sigma Oasis," another New Age sobriety song from Trey that I liked quite a lot. “You’re already there” indeed. Trey first played this at a solo acoustic show in Boulder last year. At that Colorado show, he gave us this little bit of banter: “I’m not sure if that’s a philosophy or a song, but that’s the first time I’ve sung it. I like it as a philosophy we’re already here, there’s no place to get.” Amen. Up next was “Buried Alive,” which featured a couple unique passages from Trey and a “Little Drummer Boy” tease. “Guelah Papyrus” seemed tighter than a standard 3.0 version. I know I’ve heard him butcher this one quite a few times. The energy stayed up with a rippingly fast “My Sweet One.” I noticed on Saturday that there was a tune Fishman wanted to push the tempo on and Trey reluctantly went along for the ride. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Trey put the brakes on Fish’s BPMs, so it was nice to see Trey at least trying to play that fast.
Is “Everything is Hollow” the opposite of “Everything’s Right?” I’ll leave that analysis to someone else, but I enjoyed this song and its placement. “Bright white light shining right between my eyes,” three eyed aliens from the Dog Star, etc… No time to dabble in half-baked extraterrestrial BS, 'cause here comes the first “Curtain” without since St. Louis 8/28/12, an underrated show played in one of the best indoor arenas in the country. Right before going into the “With” section, Trey cued Fishman and suddenly they were playing “Mound.” Every time this lopsided bluegrass-prog song comes out I am reminded that, yes, old Phish songs and Mike songs in particular really are that odd. Free bumper sticker idea: Keep Gamehendge Weird. Along with “Scent of a Mule” this one is near to my heart for the way it merges country music and the avant-garde.
During “Brian and Robert” these southern fans showed real gentility and smoked outdoors. Whether it’s the weather and the ample smoking balconies, or whether it’s their pleasant and considerate demeanor, the Southern fans are a class act. Speaking of how great Mike’s songs are, I love “Crazy Sometimes.” It really worked with this crowd. The inmates had been given the keys to the asylum. Maybe one day this will get the type II treatment it deserves? Time for another cool down with “Frost.” A song that has been proven to be a nod to Jerry. Here was another chance for the crowd to show how respectful they could be during a ballad, responding to the deep lyrics like they did with “A Life Beyond the Dream” from Saturday night. Then again during this song I saw a dude wheeled out of the 200s strapped to a gurney, so it ain’t all roses in the Holy City. They’ve played this song four times in the last two years and I really hope they keep it up. One of the best ballads Trey has ever written.
“Breath and Burning” was the first since 8/11/18 MPP and had two white light peaks. You may hate this song, but the crowd loved it. We know you all love “Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues” as well as “It’s Ice.” Sure, Trey doesn’t nail the composed section with anywhere near the accuracy I’d like, but I’ll take a late 3.0 “Ice” jam over most early versions with their quiet piano-based meanderings. Tempo was maybe a bit hotter than Trey could handle, but it’s good to have goals, right? “Walls of the Cave” works so well as a first set closer. Again, there was perfect and total respectful silence during the quiet vocals in the first section. The audience was rewarded with a jam that peeled the paint off the walls. A huge banner that read “PLAY WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT” was hoisted into the air a few rows back from the rail. Thunderous roars of applause cracked against the walls of this giant pineapple-looking venue. All in all a fantastic first set.
At seatbreak, a guy told me that the band had played 253 songs so far this year. The record of 257 was set back 2017 thanks to the Baker’s Dozen. I’m not able to 100% confirm any of this, so perhaps you will in the comments below. Halftime, while not a mere 15 minutes, was shorter than usual. The band wanted to get back out and play more music. They came back with a bustout in “After Midnight.” Did Phish already know what I had just learned about the song count? Were they going to break the record tonight? The song was played well enough, but didn’t break out into the jam it possibly could have.
Up next was “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan.” Did anyone want this to be called here? Probably not. Though I will say the theme of “time” was a holdover from the set opener. Has this song ever fully gone type II? The jam chart lists two entries but I don’t think either really gets there. Charleston’s “Faulty Plan” was maybe more of a type 1.5 version and was getting pretty heady when Trey basically ripcorded into “Energy.” Does this fit into some sort of Einsteinian time and space equation? What does E = mc2 even mean? I’ll leave the science for someone else.
The beginnings of a type II jam were emerging from “Energy” when Trey called the drop into “Soul Planet.” According to the film “Interstellar," LOVE is the universal constant that transcends space and time. Well I’m here to tell you that although you may have never dreamed up this setlist in your wildest nightmare, you’re gonna need to embrace it and meet it with love in order to find the beauty in it. The jam instantly entered the flow state they’d been searching for all night. We were approaching Krautrock territory when the music evolved into a gorgeous ambient section that reprised the “Sigma Oasis” refrain. I’d say this was a successful jam.
Here, the band oozes into “Wingsuit,” another song that some “fans” seem to dislike. This lovechild of 10/31/13 seems to work best as a landing pad for a jam. I will always love this song because it gives a chance for Trey to explore the Lydian mode. I used to think that some songs just had an innate mystical quality to them, but then eventually I learned enough about music to know that raising that fourth scale degree puts the tritone right in the middle of the octave and creates a more open and unresolved sound when used in improvisation. Many Eastern folk scales are based on the Lydian mode, which itself is a pure scale derived from the overtone series. The use of George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept is the key to understanding the tension and release of early Phish. I could write a whole article about this stuff and perhaps someday I will.
Up next is “I Always Wanted it This Way,” which certainly continues the theme of “no one’s favorite song." Still, the Southern crowd was game it seemed. I wondered to myself if they were going to be able to close this set out in style without a “YEM,” “Bowie,” “Antelope,” “Hood,” “Coil” or “Slave” but immediately a powerful bass note blew those thoughts away from my mind. Trey brought the jam away from the usual places and spaces it inhabits into a 3.0 style build and peak that lit up the crowd again. And of course here comes the tune that I was forgetting: Trey’s most ambitious composition of the modern era, “Petrichor.” This is the first time (I think) that it’s been used in the late set spot usually reserved for the aforementioned songs, and I gotta say, I thought it worked very well here. This was a tight version of a complex song. It should be noted that the very first version of this song was performed in the same venue on 10/14/16, and while the song has not become their new "YEM" over the course of the last three years (what could?), it was nice to see it taking up that slot in the set, and I think it works best late in set two when all the jamming has been done and said.
It was here that I got a text from @MrDougDoug: I love this set so far - internet is going crazy like it’s the return of Dallas 16. Phish fans’ enjoyment of a show is directly correlated with how many 1.0 songs are played and not quality. Damn straight buddy. Sometimes I’m convinced that a portion of this fanbase doesn’t actually like music, just the idea of music that Phish represents. What does it represent to you? Who will decide what this contains? Certainly not me or you. We go to the shows to release all control, yet a portion of the fanbase wants to grasp so tightly to the reigns to the point where it stifles their own enjoyment. Who am I to tell them that they are “doing it wrong, ” but if you’re one of those fans, “you’re doing it wrong.”
To take us back to the show opener: “you’re already there." Stop searching, this is it. This set had heart, this set had class, this set had elegance, this set had grace. It also had a number of Phish’s least popular songs. So what? There have been a few totally fresh setlists in 2019, ones that could have never been played in any other year. That to me is astounding enough to give a show like this a pass. If that somehow offends you, maybe it’s time for you to find another...
Oh snap let’s not finish that thought, because here comes “Boogie On Reggae Woman." It’s baby making time, which leads naturally into “Rise / Come Together.” Can this song have one title please? LOL. If anyone thought “Boogie On” would begin a trend of crowd-pleasers to close the set, the joke's on you. But then again it always has been, hasn't it? I know Fish was thinking about Bernie when he played this one. This tune brought the set to a close. Someone gave Trey a painting while he took his bows. The encore break was a few minutes longer than usual. I’d like to imagine the band was laughing about the painting and arguing about who got to keep it to hang in their bathroom or woodshed.
They came back with “Pebbles and Marbles.” This was the first time it has ever appeared in the encore slot. To me, the lyrics fit the theme of the show, or at the very least, the theme of this review. After not playing this song much for most of 3.0, this was its third appearance so far in 2019. If it comes out for MSG it would be a Christmas Miracle. Unfortunately, the jam for the tunes was completely called off in favor of “Beneath a Sea of Stars.” Besides “Ruby Waves” this is the only other Ghosts of the Forest song that has shown some improvisational potential. The last version played at Mohegan Sun was one of the best jams of the year, and among the more forward-thinking passages of music that Phish has attempted in 3.0. This version clearly didn’t have time to go deep, but we got a nice little type-II-space jam, which is also a rarity for an encore.
Then good God, here comes the first "Izabella" since 8/6/17, which was the first since 7/31/98. The crowd ate it up and we probably all thought that would be the last song, but the trend of extra-long encores on this tour continued. The audience completey exploded with energy when the band went into what seemed like a pranksterish repeat of “Chalk Dust Torture,” but of course this is Phish, and we got a 19-year bust out of a song only played once (at the legendary Moby Dick show). Everyone was literally going apeshit for “Chalk Dust Torture Reprise.” Trey thanks us for coming on the tour, hopes we come back sometime, and tells us he loves us. The whole band gets introduced (“I’m Trey, I play guitar”). The song finishes with a final “Plasma” reprise. Geeze, way to reprise the reprise, guys.
The show ended just a minute or two after midnight (get it), which is half an hour later than they ended on Saturday. As we walked out of the venue to the sounds of “Little Drummer Boy” being piped over the PA, I got a text from my sometimes jaded friend Miles that basically sums up my feelings on the night:
Show 300 for me. Been waiting for another CDT Reprise since 7/11/00. I hated the setlist but for whatever reason raged the show with a huge smile. Certainly an odd choice of songs. Hey, it’s not like they have tickets to sell. What do they care? Flow at times was like trying to pass a freshly plowed potato covered In dirt thru your ass. Yet I loved the show. Weird.
Was this the best show of the tour or year? Far from it. Yet still, this was Advanced Level Phish. If you beat this one, you’re ready for the final boss. This was like that Dallas 2016 show everyone hated but with some actual jamming, and perhaps better song selection. You don’t have to love it but If you are somehow truly upset by this show or the concept that Phish will indeed “play whatever the fuck they want," let’s face it, you’re probably a custy.
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