[We would like to thank Andrew Sinclair for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
On this balmy Tuesday in August, a bunch of friends from all walks of life cruised the open roads towards Central Pennsylvania and the self-proclaimed “Sweetest Place on Earth” for the first of two shows in downtown Hershey. This Chocolate Town has been around a long time, and over the generations it has become a pretty enjoyable family spot for a summer getaway. It was in the building next door to our venue, Hersheypark Arena, that Wilt Chamberlain famously dropped 100 points in one game, and also the site of Kobe Bryant’s (RIP) Pennsylvania State Championship, before he made the leap to the NBA. It was also where Phish took "Mike’s Groove" into the heavens, back on 12/1/1995.
For this phan, it was also a homecoming as I grew up in nearby Allentown, Pennsylvania. I figured this would be an enjoyable midweek getaway and the first day adventures did not disappoint. Let’s get to the action.
First of all, Hersheypark Stadium was a really easy venue to call home. We wandered by foot to the edge of HersheyPark roller coasters and bumper cars, and were just hoping the dark storm clouds would stay out of our way. Fortunately, they did. The venue seemed about two-thirds full, with some space in the back half of the Dicks-sized floor and the upper reaches of the metal side stands.
We camped ourselves on Mike Side, about 30-yard line, and enough towards the side rail to have some covid-friendly space and comfortable dancing room. This would prove valuable as Phish took the stage at 7:41pm, and got everyone cooking with “First Tube." Just like Winter Tour 2019 opener in Providence, what a joy to get this TAB standard going in the kickoff slot. Trey titled his Axe to the heavens to signal the end of this frenetic track, with everyone in immediate jubilation. Then we got dirty as we dropped into “Axilla." Pretty solid and heavy energy here, and also a good spot to mention that it sounds like Jon Fishman is hitting the drums with a little extra pop and muscle this Tour. "Axilla" gave way to another grungy and rolling beat with “Fuego." Solid version, patient, and still enjoying listening back to the Arkansas opener version of Fuego, as we get the first major example of Trey’s using his new effects. Dark Chocolate opening.
We picked up some speed with an enjoyable and extended edition of “Runaway Jim." Not quite a full exploration piece, but some nice Type-1 rocking before coming back to the main elevated Jim we know and love. We all built up our appetite by then, so “Gumbo” showed up and filled our bellies with some more gravely Funk. Not quite the Dicks’ “S” show, but we got a nice triumvirate of “Sample in a Jar,” “Steam” and “Sugar Shack.” All fine versions, although the "Steam" did include some lyrics mixup from Trey, but nothing major. And of course, we are celebrating in one of the world’s largest Sugar Shacks next door.
Now we get to the higher strength of this opening Set. A fast “Llama” was welcome, and reminded us that when Phish is in lockstep, as they were throughout this evening, they can crank it up and deliver. I enjoyed this one, as did the grateful and raucous crowd. The Band again dropped back down with “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long." Really solid, and quality setup for the final rocker of this Set 1, “Run Like an Antelope.” It crushed last week at Alpharetta2, and again flexed its muscles tonight. Overall, the First Set was well played, and balanced a bunch of funkiness with some old-school Rock N’ Roll (foreshadowing).
Set break was only about a half-hour, which seems to be the new trend along with earlier start times I believe.
The two featured Jams opened the Second Set, and were very different but equally enjoyable. “No Man’s” kickstarted the frame, and the Band was truly in rhythm riding waves up and down the keys and ladders in a solid flow. Page had a chance to shine here, and he carried the speed and pace and allowed the rest of the band to build off his work on various keyboards across his rig. And then Jon took command for an especially fast and blissful “Soul Planet” that followed. I get it, the Soul pair may not be on everyone’s Bucket List, but they tend to Jam with a high success rate. Tonight was no different, as Trey and Mike worked their riffs and ideas on top of Jon’s excellent pacing work and backbone for a really uplifting Jam.
Time for Leo to shine once again, as the Band picked things up with “NICU." The Stadium was moving now, being elevated from two ethereal tight Jams into a fun one. A slipper, a sand dollar, day at the shore goes out to everyone hopefully taking some to recharge and relax these summer weeks and to those gearing up for Atlantic City this upcoming weekend.
"Joy" was a welcome breather, and man, if there ever was a song to sum up these last 18 months or so. It’s been a rough stretch for everyone, and this is a good time to gently suggest reaching out to family and friends that may not be in the best place right now. We are fortunate to have these spiritual gatherings and a Band that “We want you to be happy.” But not everyone has that in their lives, and this global pandemic has really kicked our collective butts. It was welcome to have a few minutes to consider all the positives in our lives, and just to even have a Show/Tour on the calendar. Don’t take it for granted.
Okay, the home stretch. “Scent of a Mule” also made its Tour debut, and allowed each Band Member to flex their muscles and offer a solo section. Page played with the slowdown, while Mike held the long singing note. And Phish reminded us, again, how they are masters of tempo and changing speeds. “Golden Age” followed, and while it didn’t stretch like other classic versions, it was well played and continued the uplifting vibe of Set 2. Like earlier in this show, some people may groan when they get a “Prince Caspian” and “Backwards down the Number Line” late in the show. But they hit better in person, let the Band show some heart and emotion in their playing, and "Number Line" actually moves pretty fast so it’s hard to just doze off.
As the show wound down, we were given a special treat as “The Lizards” appeared for the first time since pre-COVID Mexico. My buddy BK had been chasing it for a long, long time and finally got it in Riviera Maya. I was fortunate to hear it back in Hartford 2016, one of the first shows with my Connecticut comrades. Beautifully played, with patience and a nice build at the end. We rounded out the evening with “Character Zero” that got everyone roaring and moving with some solid energy.
It has been 590 days (who’s counting?) since my last show, when we were treated to the now-legendary MSG Tweezer on 12/30/2019. So it was only fitting that the last song I heard before tonight, “Rock N Roll”, put the cherry (Twizzler) on top of a very balanced and well-played show.
The show brought a bunch of Tour debuts, and mixed the down and dirty of Set 1 with a very positive and optimistic Set 2. The Band played a tight show, which is not surprising because we are in the midst of a completely strong tour. There was nothing here that would battle for supremacy with the Alabama Carini, Alpharetta Chalk Dust and Tweezer, or the murderer’s row of Deer Creek1’s "Sand, Blaze On and Simple" (my early JOTY). I also want to add that Chris Kuroda’s rig is the stuff of legend. I believe he was given the green light to build whatever he wanted heading to the 2017 Tour and Baker’s Dozen, and the current rig continues to utilize most of that setup. That alone made for the best Lighting in the business, but now he layered on the LEDs, and is creating effects that are just unreal. I caught about a dozen Atari games last night onstage, including Centipede and Space Invaders. Much appreciation for the 5th member of the band, and I wouldn’t protest if LivePhish offered the CK5 angle as an option for the newest webcasts.
But I will, thanks to this incredible Band, carry with me a handful of good thoughts into tonight’s Hershey2 and beyond: And the Truth will Rise Above, World’s Greatest Dad, Never Waste the Day, The Ocean is Love, Set the Gearshift, The Age of Miracles (thank you Healthcare world), We Want you to be Happy, It was Alright, and of course, The Trick was to Surrender to the Flow.
One last thing: I may not be a praying man, but if you’re up there Mr. Milton Hershey, please bestow on us a slow-build "Punch You in the Eye" tonight. I’m 0 for 22, but keeping the faith, nonetheless.
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Sustaining the series of sweet segues this summer that slipping into NICU was so silky.
"Let the Band show some heart and emotion in their playing." Agreed.
(a view from couch)
Legend has it that, not dissimilar to the band Phish, a young Milton Hershey traveled around the US perfecting his craft as a confectioner. Some too, might add, that, like Phish, Milton had a series of life altering iterations, a 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc...which shaped the young man into the colossal confection concoctor he became and establishing the loyal following that adores his chocolate to this day.
Milton's foray into the caramel game early on in his career mirrors the molasses funk that Phish brought to us in the mid to late 90's. Hershey used his early success, much like the members of Phish, to build something, the likes of which had never been seen. The success of Hershey's Chocolate, while taking it's toll on the young aspiring chocolatier and leading to his fair share of heartache and struggle, in the long run did not get lost on the pioneer as he devoted himself to philanthropy and empowering the youth of America. Hershey took great pride in all he set his mind to and focused on people over profits. Much like Hershey, Phish have always focused on the music rather than popular demand, and their ever-growing fan base over suits and record companies, defying convention and building a massive organization still devoted to those two key pillars.
So, as the band took the stage on the 10th of August for the 10th show of their summer tour, the many ironies...nay, similarities were not lost on this spectator. The double rainbow screaming down from the sky as the band gravitated to their instruments, seemed to momentarily disarm them, shrinking the already thin veil between band and crowd. As the first notes of First Tube rang from the stage, much of the audience, still enamored by the eerie gray backdrop that framed the rainbows downward arch, faced away from the stage, soaking in the scene. It took Trey a few licks to work out some of the rust as he worked through the progression of notes. While oftentimes positioned as a closer or in the encore slot, the incendiary rocker feels majestic in the lead off position. And if Trey's fingers were slow to loosen up, his legs surely made up for it as he hopped around the stage, cajoling the audience to do the same. Building to it's peak, First Tube, stayed within it's temporal boundaries while serving to raise the temperature above it's already uncomfortable swelter. Axilla brought the already frenzied crowd to another fever pitched peak, in a short but emphatic rendition.
Like many of Wingsuit songs, having been there for their awkward reception (I, for one, welcomed them with open arms and dancing feet) I hold a special place in my heart for them. Fuego, which would have been better suited in the clean up slot of set one, took the band into early Type 2 territory, with full band interplay before, not so smoothly, morphing into Runaway Jim. The jam that extended out of Fuego appeared to have some teeth and a little patience could have seen a more seamless transition. But alas...
During Sunday night's romp at Deer Creek, prior to stalled start to Weekapaug, I still cling to the notion that Trey was trying to start up runaway Jim, so when the band dropped into Jim, I felt that Trey had been made complete from the previous show. This Jim successfully navigated the terrain of the song proper but with minimal plinko style build in the early section and a brief volume down section prior to the big early peak. It felt a little rushed here, though as they drifted from the song into typical type 1 territory, the crescendo built as trey played a series of notes akin to a yodel before putting Jim back in the doghouse.
As Gumbo began I thought to myself, if Gumbo was a person, being a member of the collective family that is the Phish Cannon, it would be the family member who was just getting by. Flashes of greatness still materialize occasionally (7/22/03) but overall, they stick to the script...and I have to imagine that is frustrating, as many of your siblings are getting the treatment. Page's majestic key outro signal imminent doom to jam opportunities and without a breath, Sample begins and generates to a raucous crescendo before ushering in Steam.
My love hate relationship with this song stems from the "caught it first time played" and the fact that the lyrics are just so forced. So when Trey misses a line or two, i silently smirk. The middle jam section begins down an sinister path with the whole band locked in. Then, as the song proper ends, Steam begins to envelop the stage as a sonic soundscape oozing with emotion, jarring dissonance and feels as if it is about to take off into the stratosphere. It does not quite get to the Karman line and instead Sugar Shack is cued up. Traditional straight forward with Trey's looping section repeated numerous times until it's demise.
In comes the rage and intensity that is Llama. A fun and energetic run through, played fairly cleanly, leads to audible band discussion on why they don't play that song as much, with Page's humorous remark, "Because Mike said no!" Which he quickly noted was just a joke. I don't recall if this was the point where Trey got on Fishman for being on his cell phone. Fishman having his or a cell phone on a stand facing him, apparently to face time with fans...LOL. Trey proceeds to joke regarding his usage of Toms or some other such percussion accoutrement possibly alluding to the fans criticism of Fish's audio loops. Anyway, I digress...
The final pairing of Death Don't Hurt Very Long and Run Like an Antelope was perfectly placed and i'll admit, i completely get DDHVL. My sometimes twisted mind occasionally towards some sordid thought about some odd way of dying...just a mindless day dream, and the fact that once you die, it won't hurt, so does it actually matter if it hurts, which is basically the premise for DDHVL. I digress again...but the Antelope that comes out of the stellar play of DDHVL reignites that fire in the venue and the stress and release crescendo building up to Rye Rye Rocco is so insane that Trey momentarily forgot where he was or what part of the song they were playing and moved to next gearshift verse. When they started the build up/tension section it was already at a breakneck speed and I watched in eager anticipation to see how much build they could generate. Answer was: ALOT! Solid way to race into half time.
No Men In No Man's Land became yet another launching pad for set two's lift off into the dark and sinister. While no major song length records were broken, the point and focus of the jam was well conceived and brought back that alien invasion, thick soupy soulful play from the entire band. Page's effects moved into mindflayer status and Mike's bass bombs dropped like they were trying to stave off the demented beasts relentless attacks (I second the fellow that said to turn Page and Mike up). Though Soul Planet swooped in and snatched up the No Men, after the song proper, things went straight back to and beyond the Karman line. Soul Planet simmered in the type two murk for a bit before turning major key and b-lining for the heavens. The band was locked in and, like vultron, their singular parts, came together to fight both good and evil as unified front. Together they built layer upon layer of musical dimension and as the jam wound down, a smoother than normal transition into NICU was well executed.
I love Joy as it's emotional recounting of a loved one lost is such a current theme. How quickly though the shift to Scent of a Mule crashes through mood with it's levity and, sans Marimba Lumina and full onslaught of a Mule Duel , still delivers lick over lick for a good jaunt, recounting the Alien Invasion and subsequent victory the band endured earlier in the set. Golden Age got Caspian'd before it could truly take form and Caspian got Number Line'd. But...and this is a heavy heavy, finger in your face, told you so BUT, Number Line got Lizard'd. The Golden Age through Number Line Section was well played if not almost squarely by the book, with limited stand out moments but The Lizards > Character Zero one two punch to close punctuated an above average set of Phish.
Rock & Roll in the encore slot could have gone either way and owing to the band's first 9 shows it was anybody's guess if the band would let is bask in the limelight and explore some deeper darker terrains or if it would be a quick run through. It was the latter, and it typical Phish fashion, you were left to wonder if the message of the song, "It was Alright!" had any subliminal meaning.
Like the life of Milton Hershey before them, the story, the legacy, the legend and the folklore of Phish are, clearly, still being written and re-written, rumored about, questioned, extolled, meticulously dissected and argued over. But like Milton Hershey and his chocolate empire and the focus on the product and the people, the Phish universe that is swirling through the US right now, like chocolate being churned across a musical landscape, continues to maintain its focus on the two things that matter...the music and the fans
Good show but the 2nd set was forgettable overall. Either way it was great to get back to a show.
Everyone going to AC - have a blast!!!!
These shows were upbeat and family friendly- I appreciate that more now as a parent... and looking forward to getting dark in seedy AC!
While 2nd set was my (personal) least favorite of the 4 at Hershey '21, it worked well for the venue and all the kiddies in attendance. First set and day 2 were nice and old school.