[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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