[We thank user Chris Vetoulis for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
On the morning of August 13th, 1997, Josiah and I boarded a Greyhound bus in NY that would take us to Pittsburgh. At seventeen years old (and way before smartphones), we didn’t realize it would take a generous woman picking up laundry to hitch us the 20 minute drive out to Star Lake Amphitheater for our second show and Phish’s first performance at the former Coca-Cola Amphitheater, set in Gamehedge-esque Western PA.
We would go on to Darien the next night with strangers made friends who offered a ride and were among those to see Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters dance on stage for a rather “trippy test” leading up to The Great Went two days later in Limestone.
Returning to Star Lake after more than 25 years would stir adolescent emotions and nostalgia mixed with gratefulness for our continued gift of Phish with my closest traveling companions, Jake, Cheryl and Nate.
Coming off a show cut short mid-set, bizarre to have happened 10 years to the day when "Caspian" closed a short Northerly Island set, also at Mother Nature’s command. Feeling high energy (temps a bit lower) as the band takes stage to make tonight’s opening choice another permanent record.
Its "Party Time," not the "Scents and Subtle Sounds" replay, as they had with "Caspian" 10 years earlier, and Page doesn’t want the Party to end, when Trey jumps back in to move into his solo and get the show on the road with the phan favorite "AC/DC Bag" up next. "AC/DC Bag" is quintessential blues Phish and gets everyone in the pavilion grooving. Trey signals "46 Days" and Page, Trey and Mike share equally in shaping the improvisation, while Jon holds down rhythm cleanly and assertively.
"Birds of a Feather" would be next and doesn’t reach the heights of its former late-90s self but still harkens emotion to times past.
The second performance of "Bouncing Around the Room" this tour, and its played just as tight as we saw in Huntsville and either by coincidence or intentionally is followed up by "Stash," in the same song sequence as a few nights earlier and as was presented on A Live One. Stash is too much of a “bliss jam” for my buddy however despite the sun still being up, I enjoy the high major and souring jam versus the dark, evil "Stash" he was hoping for. "Leaves" is a beautiful landing and Trey and Page’s vocals are perfect throughout. "Maze" gets the audience back and in full energetic swing as it reaches a build and climax that comes across as more timed and impactful than its first performance of the tour.
When "Scents and Subtle Sounds" shows up in the final slot of Set I, no one is surprised at its arrival and the boys deliver a tight performance of the song, with an ending that is anything but subtle, featuring Trey and Mike holding on high to the peak of the final segment while returning to the chorus on full throttle, signaling that this must be the end of the set, despite my secret longing for the to play "I Saw it Again."
Set II kicks off with "Sigma Oasis," and while I enjoy the song, it for some reason feels like more of the same from Orion and I start to realize how many repeats the boys are choosing, despite CK5 really opening up a dreamy landscape in a jam that no doubt tops the former performance of the song. A transition into "The Final Hurrah" is the only thing that keeps the opening sequence of Set I from faceplanting into Rock since the next song up will be "On Pillow Jets" which has both lyrical and musical qualities that I can see propelling it into a song that is more regularly rotated. "David Bowie" murders other "Bowies" of late and I get a kick out of the young men in front of us in the pavilion who appreciating it deeply. Up next is "Cities." "Cities" continues to be a bit of a rarity, with only about one performance per year and it again delivers with exuberant audience response in the Bridge City. Friends saw "Fuego" again repeats from Hunstville and doesn’t to much for me for some reason however I deeply appreciate how it and songs like "Sigma Oasis" clearly resonate with our next generation of Phish heads.
A transition into "Ruby Waves" injects even more energy into the venue and it’s a solidly performed version, with Trey and company returning to the chorus at the end before ending the second set. We are so very lucky.
When "Character Zero" encores, it could very well be the last song of the night, however it’s the "Slave" that Mother Nature stole away from Wilmington that will finish tonight’s show. With tears of joy, I rocked to the "Slave" build, again realizing the outlet and escape that this beautiful scene (and all of the people in it) bring to my heart.
The trip back to Star Lake brought back a lot of memories from Phish youth, on both sides of the stage. We are lucky to get to continue on this show of life as long as possible and I have to actively remind myself to stay innocently present in the beauty of these moments. Even 25 years later, Phish fails to disappointment and creates wide-eyed anticipation for tomorrow night’s show.
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