, attached to 2003-07-12

Review by Anonymous

(Published in the second edition of The Phish Companion...)

By 1996, Red Rocks was a major "power center" for Phish. Beginning with the storied 1993 show, Phish played a series of inspired shows under the moon and those stunning red rocks. Sadly, what was supposed to be Phish's most ambitious and celebratory run -  four shows in August, 1996 -  was marred by an unfortunate, and still debated, incident between ticketless fans and local police in Morrison. By the time Trey thanked the audience the last night, wistfully saying the band hoped to return one day, it was clear the Phish phenomenon had outgrown this beloved spot.
So it was time to relocate.
In 1997, Phish played its first show at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. Perched on the banks of the Columbia River, this remote theater boasts majestic views of sprawling canyons and a wide open sky. With the band rocking out under the stars, and fans dancing across the spacious, ascending lawn, one could be forgiven for not missing Red Rocks anymore. And judging by the band's performances at this special site, they're coping just fine with the move (check out the powerful "Wolfman's" and the alternately funky and raging "Tweezer" > "Disease" > "Tweezer" and starry "Hood" from `97, as well as the "2001" > "Mike's" > "Weekapaug" odyssey from 98).
Summer 2003 marked Phish's first return to this shrine since 1999, and I was determined to be there. I'd never been to Seattle, so I convinced my parents that it was time for a trip, with some Phish shows taboot. We had a few days in Seattle, and took advantage. I highly recommend visiting this city in the summer, it's sunny but not humid and you can eat outdoors at Carmelita's, the best vegetarian restaurant on earth. Incidentally, Mike loves the place, and visited the day after I did (according to his journal on Phish.com).
I'll get to the show in a minute, but I ran into Fishman at our hotel and thought that should warrant a quick mention. So, apparently, Phish was staying in the same hotel as us before hopping on their jet to get out to the desert. The day before the show, I was working out in the weight room and I passed a short guy who looked a lot like Jon Fishman. Turned out we were the only people in the gym, and he was, in fact, Jon Fishman. I did not want to be another fan intruding on Jon's privacy, but I would naturally strike up a conversation in that situation, so I went ahead. Jon was very cool, and very down to earth, informing me that he "plays drums for a living". We had a chill conversation while working out, and my fear just faded. Before we parted ways, I said "have a great show". While I'm sure it had nothing to do with me, he did proceed to have two fantastic shows. I'm sure it won't happen, but I'd love to talk to him again sometime.
So, the show.
Long, scenic drive from Seattle with my parents and friend Faris. The scene was chill, aided immensely by the jaw dropping views everywhere you looked. It was windy but the sky was clear and beautiful. I won some Dead tickets at a basketball game in the official vending area. Never used em, actually. We had these cool box seats slightly right of the soundboard. We even had this small team of clearly unprepared guards to stop people from getting in (they did anyway).
Phish ambled out onstage with the sun still high, but just starting to dip towards the canyon on its slow journey towards setting.
I remember thinking that we were off to a solid start with the performance in "Taste". The jam hit its usual peaks but with a slight added gusto that seemed appropriate for the setting. It was very windy during "Stash". I recognized "Mock Song" right away, as it had really grown on me from the album. Tender and soft, the song just glides along gracefully. But it was clear they could work on it a little more for future shows. The band could have been more cohesive and the performance was not up to par with the album. I do hope they play it sometimes, though. Currently, this remains the only live performance of the song, and I'm glad I was there for it.
"Army of One" was a Vida Blue carry over, and also a Phish debut. It was straightforward but solid. Page delivered some soulful vocals for this tune. Trey did some nice soloing as well. A decent first set song, but nothing too exciting. By this point the energy level was quite low; although they were playing some nice material, the combination of the wind, several new songs, no segues, and no jams to speak of had brought the set into kind:
Well, "Maze" just about pulled us out of that rut. Long, exploratory and intense, this version is worth checking out. It featured strong ensemble jamming that did get a little repetitive but remained powerful.
The first set had a few nice moments here and there, like every Phish set, but overall, it definitely lacked in momentum. The second set would make up for that. Indeed, both nights had second sets that were disproportionately stronger than the first, more so than most shows.
The Set II opener, "Piper", got right into the jam, with Trey whipping out some memorable licks. Very energetic and to the point, with skillful soloing and a driving, forceful backup from the ensemble. Great start to the set. Listening to this again, I must note that Trey's guitar tone is clearly different than what it was once. It seems a bit more shrill. I think that the tone has improved since this show, though.
The "Piper" just sort of segued into "Two Versions of Me", a recently debuted tune. It's a catchy Trey ballad with a little room for some pretty rhythm work from Trey. It will take some time to grow on fans, but I like the song. It can, sometimes, hurt the energy in, say, a second set, but in this case it didn't hurt anything. Page also plays well on this one. On my tape, I hear Trey asking, "Wanna do `Secret Smile' now, or is that too much?" Well, for the second set, I'd say that would have been too many new, slow ones in a row for my taste. Gladly, they decided against that and went into
"Tweezer", ah. I was pumped to hear this start up, but it wasn't the jam monster we're always hoping to hear. It was, like every "Tweezer" but the one later that month in Kansas, the standard, rocking mini-"Tweezer" that was the average on the Summer Tour. Although spirited, it didn't do much and was a little disappointing for a second set "Tweezer". It fizzled out into "Dogs Stole Things".
"Ghost" is one of my very favorite tunes, and it was clear they meant business from the start. The band lunges into this one with a relatively quick pace, almost yelling the lyrics. The energy is there. The jam begins fast. Page makes beautiful, ambient sounds. Then Mike begins the bass line that would come to define the song. Funky, inventive, brilliant -  the band at its best. Trey catches onto it immediately, creating some smooth textures around it. The band builds around the theme, skillfully quickening the pace and carefully nurturing the energy. Mike is the anchor here; the band swirls around his infectious groove. Then Trey powers forward with a new theme, and Mike is right there. It's as if they're dancing, circling around each other, delicately crossing paths here and there, creating a stunning pattern for all onlookers. Although the jam morphs and varies, the general pattern only grows in energy, Trey takes the lead and powers ahead with an equally infectious lead that Mike glides beneath. Page suddenly tears into his piano, as the band locks into an even higher gear of collective power. Trey's guitar begins emitting what can only be described as little yelps of joy, circling around and then jumping in ecstasy. Trey's lead jumps higher and higher and Fishman begins accenting his heights with cymbal crashes. Then Trey begins soaring as if into the night sky. With a final exclamation of astounding fury and beauty, the jam settles into a steady, pounding groove where it settles briefly, only to be awoken by a simply perfect outro lead from Trey, in perfect lockstep with Fish. Within seconds, the jam fades and dissolves. And just when you think the storm is gone, the opening, ominous drum beat of "David Bowie" begins.
The band, again, throws itself into the song with exuberance, wasting no time and sparing no energy. With a full ensemble effort the band simply surges forward, creating a vortex of tension and release suspense that enveloped the audience. It felt like staring at a hurricane. The ensuing buildup is a masterpiece of precise musicianship, keen timing and a lot of heart. The ending segment is perfectly extended and built until it becomes a tower of spiraling wind. Trey hits the note and we collectively collapse, relieved, thrilled and uplifted. The band is gone, replaced by the whipping canyon winds seemingly left in their wake.


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