Today we play two! In the interest of moving things along and keeping my sanity, for any multi-show run I will do a single post covering both shows. This will apply to nine venues in total (The Gorge, Shoreline, Nassau, Albany, Cincinnati, CCCC, The Spectrum, Hampton, and of course Big Cypress). The posts will be longer but hey they weren’t exactly short to begin with…
Oh yeah and I covered these two shows a bit when I was doing the Venue Project thing (you know, before The Baker’s Dozen came along and pretty much ended any debate about which venue was the best for Phish*) so if you would like to read that please go here.
*Look I know the sample size is a big part of why MSG takes top billing for many people but the simple fact is when you have played a venue like that as many times as this band has and with as high of a hit rate as those shows seem to have you really are never going to be able to put together a reasonable enough argument that another place is a “better venue” for Phish.
Phish – The Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA — 09.10.1999
I Farmhouse, First Tube, Twist, Divided, Ginseng, Carini, WTU?>WIGRIC
II Disease>Moma>Piper, Fee, Jibboo, Saw It Again, Melt>Cavern>Bowie
Notes Out On Sandpaper
–debuts of Will It Go Round In Circles and Gotta Jibboo
The Central Theme
The first weekend of Fall Tour found Phish at The Gorge, easily one of the favorite venues of fans around the country, particularly those who have been able to make it to that beautiful place (me not yet included). This was the third year in a row that they stopped here, each time for a pair of shows as one does when the comings and goings to the place take as much commitment of time and energy as this one does. This is a ‘bucket list’ type venue and for the most part Phish has played highly regarded shows here, though in some sense it is difficult to separate the music from the experience which may result in an attendance bias amplification effect as a result. But that’s more for the other project. This one is about the music for the most part.
Starting off with a Farmhouse opener is… not exactly the way to prove the point about how awesome shows are here but hey that was a thing in 1999 as four times (including three on this tour) out of the nineteen performances of the song it came in as show opener. That out of the way we get the second ever run at First Tube, tonight a bit beefier and definitely befitting of the shadow opener slotting. Now we get to the fairly-standard-for-the-era run of songs that fill the bulk of this settling-into-the-scene first set. Twist is fun but mostly jamless and then Divided predictably gets the sunset slot. Notable here is that The Pause is quite long as even after Trey signals the return after 1:16 Fish waits another 1:30 before “answering” so you get a full 2:46 of Pause here which is neat. Ginseng Sullivan gets the bluegrass tune nod and then a crunchy yet contained Carini (which along with the Twist earlier has some solid use of the Note Eater 5000 by Trey) precedes the always-a-head-scratcher freestanding first set What’s The Use?. This is only the sixth ever performance of the song and the third standalone first set version (really only the 07.09.1999 version from MPP out of Free fits the ‘cool down’ slot many of us prefer for the song). Perhaps it was a callout for the next song played like “hey, what’s the use, let’s go ahead and debut this bad ass cover song that we really should have played more than just twice because c’mon who doesn’t want to hear this one?” though I am skeptical that was the intent. But hey at least we got the debut of Will It Go Round In Circles as the closer here. File that song in the long list of ones that should have stayed in the rotation. Perhaps even more today than then this song fits the vibe of a Phish show extremely well. The song lives on as a TAB staple though so I guess we can be happy it hasn’t fully disappeared.
After the break they opened with Down With Disease, a song that I’m not sure I could ever tire of though I am certain someone out there feels triggered by that statement so hello to whoever that poor soul might be. Though the song has now become one of the most reliable vehicles for open exploration in the catalog, at this time you really never knew if it would be a big ol’ set-carrying version or one of the tighter, shred-heavy, energy bursts along the way. Tonight is a little bit of both to be fair. But probably more contained than open. Basically, this one isn’t a setlist highlight but it surely doesn’t detract in any way either. While we are here, I will note that this one has the first example of something that if you know me at all you are probably already rolling your eyes about me bringing up here. Yes, my friends, this Disease has a nascent take on The Lick, a roughly 15 note descending phrase usually initiated by Trey that pops up all over the place throughout the years (well, mainly in particular songs like Disease and Gin and Ghost but yeah). This one comes in at 5:05 (aud) and is not the fully formed version it has become but it is there and like most in Diseases it signifies the drop into the jam proper. Consider this your forewarning that we are likely to find more of these as we go along.
Now warmed back up, the set moves along as Disease falls into Moma (nice but nothing too special here) and continues with a Piper that never really gets going before they bail out for the old ending. Fee starts up which at this point was becoming more of a rarity (and in 1999 was always done sans megaphone). This is the 2nd of three versions for the year but that doesn’t mean it would go quietly as the good thing about its rarity in this era was that typically the ending would stretch into harmonic ambient space. Now this one doesn’t go nearly as big as the one from 07.08.1999 in Virginia Beach (that one is the GOAT after all) but for a couple of minutes we do get to close our eyes and smile at the lovely tinkering going on up there on stage. Once Fee ends Trey sets a new loop, one that we now all know and (for the most part) love but here a new thing as they drop into the debut of Gotta Jibboo which up til now had been only heard in the TAB iterations to date. It got a LOT of workout on the May tour, being played in 10/12 shows so if you had any knowledge of those shows you probably knew this one was coming eventually. While fun and bouncy this one never launches and the result is solid but a bit underwhelming with the context of those 14-18min versions from TAB tour. Don’t worry though. More to come with this song a bit later on this tour.
Saw It Again cranks us back to the stuff we all knew, continuing the see saw feel of this set as they move between the shredders and the dance tunes. This leads to Split Open and Melt which is always welcome in the 4th quarter. To be frank, this is not a version you will hear folks singing the praises of but there’s nothing wrong with sitting in that syrupy groove for a while and just looking around for a bit, maaaaan. The pace is relaxed and particularly so once Fish drops down to more subdued playing, letting Trey build layers of sound within the Melt template. There is a lot of potential in this jam that never pays off though as I respin this yet again I guess my main gripe is I want more of it. Sit in that space for 10-15min and you never know what might go down. But here it feels like just as they are starting to get comfortable someone brings the Melt beat back and they start to work towards the close instead. Could be Mike but might have been Fish. Oh well. Buy the ticket take the ride. We don’t get to decide. I will give Trey credit though. He keeps that return going for a couple of minutes instead of cleanly wrapping it up and moving on to Cavern where, as par for course, the lyrics are botched. Still with considerable time to go here the Cavern is a fake out closer and instead they start up Bowie for what many hope will be the defining song of the set.
Well… see.. here’s the thing about Bowie in this time. Sure there are some nicely stretched out versions but we are well past the peak of jamming for this song (I put it as Fall 94 through Summer 95, ymmv). This does not mean good stuff isn’t going on here! Far from it! But let’s not go in thinking this will be some 30min monster. I mean this one is only 21min long (yes aud track times are over 25min bu that’s the encore break crowd noise for the final 4min) so clearly that is laughable! All kidding aside, I do like this Bowie. In true pre-millennial fashion the intro is VERY extended with loops and synths and full soundscape building to be found. Outside of the telltale high hat hits by Fish you would be hard pressed to know this is even Bowie for almost eight full minutes (and that without any teases, secret language, or other shenanigans). In the right (or wrong) headspace this Bowie intro could take you to some pretty weird places. At one point Fish really messes with your head by playing the “clock” sounds from the studio version of Maze (or at least what sounds like them) and then the band all drops out one by one, ostensibly to reset for the start of Bowie itself. Once in the “traditional” jam things get pretty standard though I would stick with it as the entirety of this Bowie is worth the time. Squirming Coil is the encore tonight which is nice enough. I’ll save the takeaways for the end of the post so we can do both shows at once.
Phish – The Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA — 09.11.1999
I Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL, DST, PYITE, Billy Breathes, Heavy Things, Guyute>Free
II Wolfman’s->Sand, Meatstick->Maze, Caspian>Hood
Notes Out On Sandpaper
–debuts of Heavy Things and Sand
The Central Theme
You might want to check out the full video for this show unearthed by the folks doing wonderful work over at PHArchive on YouTube. Really great to see this video circulate. Just be ready for some nausea-inducing optics at the start and frankly throughout the entire thing. Maybe double up that bonine hitter before pressing play. Oh and the bros chatting and looking at lot art at the end are great.
Following what I am certain was yet another crazy fun night and day spent in the campgrounds and by the Columbia River Phish opened up the second night at the Gorge with the high energy triple play of Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL. Tube is super short (even by today’s standards) but gets a quick loop-funk jam and an addictive Trey riff before they head to the Son Seals cover. The pace here is a bit slower than most versions of the Funky Bitch but I assure you no one was complaining at the extended soloing from Page and Trey. Limb By Limb represents the second song repeated so far this tour (First Tube being the first the prior night) and much like that one they seem to have a lot more to say in the second take this run. Not in terms of length as this one is about a minute shorter but it just feels more direct. Maybe I am just latching onto the Trey tease of Long Tall Glasses too much, I don’t know. I love how he just arrives there and goes with it and then his trill section later will bend your knees in a good way. The mid set gets a Dogs Stole Things (already becoming a rarity just three years into its life) and a fiery Punch You In The Eye. I love this song as an opener particularly with the extended intro but even here it rocks hard. I mean what’s not to love about a version that chugs along for over three minutes, building up tension as it goes, before we get to the lyrics?
Now it is time for a cool down and Billy Breathes fills that role nicely. This sets up another TAB-song-making-its-debut for Heavy Things, a song which has become more at home here than with TAB (which is not always the case obviously). I’m certain we all know what to expect with this one so let’s just move along. Now we have Guyute, another repeat already on the tour and one that goes against those complaints about the lack of compositional songs that people love to throw around about this era. But we aren’t here to dwell on that so let’s talk about the set closing Free instead. 1999 is a pretty dang food year for this song even if the jamcharts aren’t overflowing with versions from this year. It is kind of surprising they only played the song 13 times that year considering how much I like em all. The jam extends as Mike drops bombs and Trey gets his glitchy shred on, playing those backwards notes like they are going out of style. This is a filter that got a ton of use in this period and while it comes back from time to time at no point was it ever used as frequently as this era. Trey shoves a bunch of notes together as they work back to the song’s close, leaving the crowd wanting for more as they take setbreak.
Phish hit the stage for the second set with purpose, cranking into Wolfman’s Brother and really stepping on the gas from the get go. I always take it as a god sign when Trey is scat-riffing over his guitar line as they drop into it. The jam starts out as rocking wah funk but shifts through a few phases as they stretch it out. Trey hints at DEG at one point followed by a tension-filled section that counterpoints the deep pocket groove the other three have going. They move out into more pronounced wah funk that drops into big soundscape layering over the groove as Trey futzes with all the pedals at his disposal. Still in Wolfman’s but also some place else entirely, this jam is basically a template example for the power of what 1999 Phish could be, all four members playing with more swagger than a pimp on Shakedown. Almost suddenly the groove drops to ambience, snapping you out of that groove trance as Trey adds some keyboard tinkering to go along with his sustained tones. Trey goes shredster for a bit, sets a loop, and then communicates the change to Mike and Fish who crank into the debut of Sand! If ever there was a TAB song destined for Phish this is IT.
Folks who weren’t up on their setlists were likely looking around for some form of confirmation of what was going on especially since this one stretches over 18min (and still is in the top ten longest versions ever). This is a slow burn Sand which primarily showcases Trey over the groove of the base song (something Mike would very quickly get away from as I am sure he got bored quickly considering his penchant for not sticking to the same bassline for very long). Here I will borrow from my venue project post to say that “this version is a Trey clinic as Mike lays down the static bassline, Fish rides rhythm alongside, and Page toys with accents and effects. Over the course of this 18” minute version Trey patiently offers up great idea, some which stick and other that don’t take…” As they move through the jam the intensity builds and builds with Trey going full Jimi and doing his I’m-so-amped-I-can’t-jam-stand-still dance the whole time. As debut versions go, this one is up there on the list with a select few songs. Yes, they would go on to play bigger versions even on this tour once the rest of the band caught up with Trey on how to approach it, but there is no denying the power of this original, interstellar dance-a-thon take on the vehicle. Mike even throws out a few fight bell hits in approval afterwards. He knows.
They follow that up with the tour debut of Meatstick, the first since their visit to Japan but here still without the Japanese lyrics we would come to know and love (for some). The outro jam drips directly into Maze which somehow accomplishes being both heavy shred and mellow at the same time (well, at least as far as Maze goes). I suppose that is another facet of 1999 playing as even with the soupiness of the layered sounds there was the ability to blow heads open as they always had. Maze starts with some loops and then gets to business as Trey uses distortion to great effect. Next – and believe me I am as shocked as you are to be saying this – is a very strong Prince Caspian which vacillates between overly tender playing and powerful soloing. And then we get a masterful Harry Hood with that wonderfully dreamy bliss playing followed by a series of false endings. Listen for some backwards note play by Trey in the intro too. When The Circus Comes To Town, a personal favorite cover for Phish in the non-jammed realm, encores tonight and now everyone needs to pack up for the quick turn to get over to Portland for the next night’s show, the fourth in four nights!
Take Your Laser Beams Away
These two shows found the band comfortable and loose with highlight jams popping up all over. Some of these will not make the final rankings but are worth your time if you go picking. The first night feels more like a tour opener than the actual tour opener was with the dips into open space being less pronounced and a decided focus being paid to the song side of things. But then the second night is Phish in their fully comfortable form. This is not unusual for multi-night stops at a venue where one night will be clearly more connected and flowing. While I love some of what we heard in the first two shows it is this third one where we are starting to get a good idea of what this tour will become. It is a good example to give someone who is not up on their 1999 Phish for them to hear the broad range of what the band was doing during this time. But if you do that, let them know this is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We got a lot more awesome coming shortly…
Will It Go Round In Circles
I recommend checking them all out but please spend time on Bowie, Free, Wolfman’s->Sand, and Hood. Those are the goods. The player in the sidebar has you covered!
This Happens Once Again
Next we will hop over to Oregon for a show I love through and through but one that has not gotten much “official” love. Well, okay the big centerpiece jam is out there now but I’ll continue lobbying for the full show release…