, attached to 2019-06-18

Review by andrewrose

andrewrose Nothing like a hometown show. Alright, well technically Toronto isn’t my hometown, but when you’re Canadian and the last time they played your hometown was your first show 25 years ago, that’s about as close as you’re going to get. In any case, with this band, every show is a home game. On that note, Phish seems to have aligned with the sports gods heading into this tour, playing St. Louis on the night they won the Stanley Cup, and then rolling into Toronto the day after the Raptors championship parade. Of course the band actually landed on the day of the parade, and I know because I ran into Trey and Fish on Queen West on Monday evening on their way to dinner. Not a bad way to start to trip. After 25 years of chasing that particular white whale, this one was a win for me before the show even started.

I can’t remember having an easier time ever rolling into a venue and up to the front. The weather was perfect, warm sunny and not too hot, and the band took the stage early. After the fitting "Bag" opener the band treated us to some highlights in the first set that are definitely worth hearing. Trey seemed pretty dialed-in and nimble from the get-go. The "Ocelot" boasts bouncy touches from Mike before a patient and uniquely melodic soulful build led by Trey. Aside from a couple more obvious jams ("Stash," "Golden Age"), I thought the strength of this show and what made it more of a start to finish strong offering for me personally were these moments. Solos like this, and earnest engaged playing from the band even in short simple songs was something we took for granted in the mid-90s and which often marred big chunks of sets in later and even more recent years. In any case, they were clearly having a good time. "Sample" re-emerged from its longest gap ever (??) and packed a legitimate, you-should-actually-hear-this punch, complete with signature Trey fist pump at the end. A major-key type II Stash followed, picking up where the St. Louis version left off, the first of a trio of songs seemingly a nod to playing in the Great White Frosty North. The Canadians in the crowd gladly co-opted the “the great divide” as our border, as a fan brought a “We the Wedge” sign to the front of the stage, a nod to the local Raptors motto. I might also take this opportunity to say however that as a Montrealer I was pretty proud (and surprised) that the most visible sports symbol in the crowd, deep in Leafs and Raptors territory, was the dude front row centre with a Montreal Canadiens Gallagher jersey. Props.

Page hammed it up big time in "Halley’s," vocally and otherwise (maybe inspiring the "Lawn Boy" later in the set), before the band launched into the debut of the Ghosts of the Forest tune "Ruby Waves." This one clearly has some jam potential and they took it out for an enjoyable ride. Still feeling around its edges, but don’t be surprised if this resurfaces in a second set as a launch pad sometime soon. Machine gun Trey brings it home. And I will take a first set "YEM" closer any night of the week, which seems to be a Toronto staple now.

This may have been one of the oddest second sets I’ve ever seen in terms of song selection, but I can honestly say I wasn’t let down or bored for an instant. They were really tight and inspired tonight, and it began off the bat with a "Plasma" that wasted no time in going into a few minutes of jammy type II territory leading directly to a flawless segue into the third appearance of "The Final Hurrah" from the Kasvot Växt set. "Final Hurrah" boasted a similar efficient shift into exploratory full band interplay by the four-minute mark, and spent the next five in blissful neo-millennial territory that they had so much success with at MSG over the New Year’s run. I’m a sucker for this atmospheric, melodic Phish. Everyone took turns leading some impressive turns in this engaging jam. I thought Fish and Mike carrying that inspiring control of the groove right into a pretty inspired and even somehow eventually menacing version of "Wingsuit," if such a thing is possible. "Golden Age" would prove to be the real jammy meat of the second set, and it doesn’t disappoint. Page leads this one off with some "Meatstick"-esque swells and Trey laying back with funk riffs, Fish pulsing everything along with a steady shuffle. By seven minutes we see a return to the nimble full band interplay of "The Final Hurrah," only this is funkier, dancey territory. Mike shines here dropping ideas left and right. I love the electro groove that drives "I Always Wanted it That Way," and I thought it worked pretty well here. I’ve become pretty fond of "Caspian" in recent years, and though this one was short it was inspired and landed directly in "If I Could." Maybe I’m getting sentimental but this might have been my highlight of the show. Page and Mike earnestly set the stage for to Trey just absolutely smoke the solo, with patience and perfectly chosen, soulful notes and tone. If this doesn’t get your soul swirling, I don’t know man, what are you even doing here?
"46 Days" was a bring the house down affair with Mike and Trey in full face-off mode.

I think the Ghosts of the Forest album might be the best studio project Trey has been involved in in ages and was happy to hear another offering from it in the encore, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why they aren’t playing the title track yet. In any case "Drift" gave Trey another chance to showcase that heartfelt, piercing, old school phrasing. He and Mike trade-off some beautiful notes as it comes to a climax, and you’re encouraged to hear it through to the end if like me you’re a fan of that kind of thing.

If all you’re chasing are big ticket song choices and monster jams, this might not look like the juiciest offering on paper, but I can assure you that if your tastes have come full circle enough to understand that it takes more than that for a solid front to back night of Phish, you might be pleasantly surprised by this one. Try this freaky experiment on for size: skip the jams and check out the "If I Could," "Samplem" and "Ocelot", and then ask yourself, why am I chasing anything?


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