Wide Open Views and That Laid Back Sound – Phish and The Gorge

The next venue for us to visit is another outdoor beauty, The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA. This is a much larger venue than Red Rocks with a 27,500 person capacity, making it more of a hallowed venue due to location and the band’s reputation to throw down great shows here instead of for it being a difficult ticket to see the band. Situated in the amazing Columbia River Gorge about 130 miles west of Spokane and some 150 miles east of Seattle, The Gorge was originally supposed to be a vineyard before eventually becoming the storied concert venue it is today. Those who have been know that few places can match the grandeur of the overlooking view one gets of the river valley that acts as a natural backdrop to the band playing, a backdrop that included an “open” back to the stage for many years until the venue added a black screen behind the stage to assist in the projection of lights and other visuals. The beauty of the area owes itself to the Missoula Floods which occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, carving the walls of the valley that had been forming for millennia into the form that we mainly see today. It is a place that seems to inspire a unique mode of playing for Phish, a mellow mood of sorts that comes through clearly even on the tapes of shows from here. Being the destination venue that it is the band has always played at least two shows here which also contributes to that relaxed feel as the crowd and band are able to settle into their surroundings and enjoy being away from reality for a bit. In a way, this gives shows here a bit of a festy vibe or at least more of one than your typical two show stand at [insert corporate name here] amphitheater.

It wasn’t until the Summer Tour in 1997 that Phish first played The Gorge but since then they have landed in George eight times with each visit being a pair of shows. Some quick math tells that totals sixteen shows. To date, no member of Phish has played at The Gorge without the rest of the band, unlike most of the venues we find in this project.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for The Gorge Jams.

08.02.1997  By the time Phish arrived at The Gorge in 1997 they were well into the US portion of the tour and about to make their way back east for the first of the Limestone, ME festivals, The Great Went. From the first notes of this one you can tell they are taking everything in here and playing with the laid back feel that will come to typify shows from this venue. The band opened with a solid Theme From the Bottom in a strong year for the song, hit the Ginseng for the 2nd song bluegrass slot, and then dive into the then new vehicle Ghost. There are others that soar more highly than this one but it has the swagger and groove that any good version should particularly once Trey hits on the Who-Knows-on-speed theme in the back half. After playing another of the new tunes (Dogs Stole Things) they played the first of the sunset Divideds that will become the norm for this venue as the years go by, building a lovely jam out of the reflective moment that is The Pause. The funk returns in a stretched out Wolfman’s (one of those songs that really took off once the funk entered the equation) and then they capped the set with a plodding Melt where Trey repeats a riff for much of the jam before exploding into a flurry of notes in the return to the song’s form. The second set starts off with a bit of a nod to the last time they had been in the region for the Fall 96 show we talked about here previously as they go big in Disease->Tweezer->JBG and almost get to the same type of Diseezer motif with the tease of Disease in the tail end of the Tweezer jam before the move to JBG. The other notable highlight here is the “lights out” Hood encore where Trey asks CK5 to turn off the lights so they can enjoy the “outdoor vibe”. This is a solid show for their first night ever at The Gorge.

08.03.1997  On the second night Phish came out hot from the start, opening with a punchy Gin that drops into an inventive Foam that goes well beyond the norm for the song. Next is the debut and one time performance of Samson Variation before the set turns song-y and towards the bluesy side of things. Twist->JJLC is an interesting combo with the Twist being a bit more rocking blues than normal and the JJLC carrying that vibe forward. They keep this feel going with the swinging Julius second set opener before a short but sweet Simple and a peaky Fluffhead. The singular performance of Lifeboy is next leading to a fantastic, peaked out Taste that really is the highlight of this set before they fill the end run with typical crowd pleasing fare. For a Sunday show this one feels a bit odd in that it is a tad all over the place and somewhat out of the mode that the Summer 97 shows went. It isn’t an off night by any means but it isn’t exactly peak Phish either.

07.16.1998 The next year the band returned but this time at the start of the US portion of the Summer Tour having only played the famed Portland Meadows show on American soil prior to this one. The first set is a pretty mellow affair as Phish goes, starting with a Coil opener (at the time the fourth ever Coil opener – there has been one other since in Telluride on 08.10.2010) to perhaps reference the sunset (do I need to point out the lyrical reference? I’m going with no). A third song Stash is a bit underrated as they do some nice T&R construction but it is the Reba that really sets the tone for the set in earnest. If you didn’t already know where I’m going here, this is a subdued, let’s-all-take-a-look-around type of Reba jam in the “mellow” vein that permeates this venue. Page’s organ fills accent Trey’s wah’d out comping carry us through until they shift into a higher gear with Mike pushing the pace until all fade out except for Fish as they drop into the transition to FEFY. They back that up with Circus which while fitting the vibe makes for a pretty low key back half of the set. They punch up the Antelope closer though and come back after the break with another 2nd set opening Julius to get everyone moving. A swanky Moma follows before a short Piper and Axilla lead to Bowie which is somehow kind of mellow even with its typically frenzied end tension. The band then cranks into a Tube that gets a funky ambient outro jam before giving way to the Slave closer. I’m not sure how to take the Sample encore here but we have another night at the venue so no harm no foul. The vibe in this show is a bit overwhelming in its mellowness, particularly in the first set but the highs are quite good.

07.17.1998  Often when Phish plays more than one night at a venue it can take a set or three to really get into the groove there and this can be compounded further when they are in the early stages of the tour. Well, my friends, this second show in the 1998 run at The Gorge is where they hit their stride bigtime. As a sign of the impending awesome to come the band opened with Makisupa, one of only seven confirmed times the song has opened a show (two of those were mentioned in the Red Rocks post). This is still the last time that they have opened with it. After a short loopy ambient jam they play the fun summertime vibe number Ya Mar, drawing out the end with a breezy jam that begs you to smile. The Gumbo that follows is Manteca funk (which is fairly common with the 98 Gumbos) before Trey finishes it up with a nice bit of soloing. Now it is time for the annual Divided Sky sunset performance and this one is no slouch as after The Pause they go big time. Divided is kind of one of those songs you might not go looking for at a show but always seems to deliver. That might just be my old school way of thinking but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone talk ill of the song. And if they did about this version I might have to question their motivations… ANYWAY after a breather for Waste>MMGAMOIO they close strong with My Soul. Now, you should probably already know this second set but just in case you don’t please do yourself the favor of cuing that up and cranking it. It only has one of the biggest (and the longest!) 2001s ever, a huge Mike’s Song with a second jam that eventually goes somewhat ambient, replacing the need for a filler tune and punching right into Weekapaug Groove. This one has it all what with the Mike-led funk, full quote of Taste by Trey in the middle, and a powerful end jam that never resolves back to the lyrics but instead slams into the Zero closer. Yup, that’s a four song set, friends. All killer no filler style too. The PYITE>Rocky Top is just gravy in the encore, quite frankly. This is to me the best show the band has played at The Gorge and it is a crime that there has yet to be an official release from it. We should start a petition.

09.10.1999  For their third visit here Phish was again coming in at the early stage of the Fall Tour having just started out on 9.9.99 (numbers are cool!) up in British Columbia. I’m not a huge fan of a Farmhouse opener so I guess it is good that four of the seven times they have done it were in 1999 but that one from this past summer scares me that they might think it is a good idea again. Thankfully it didn’t set the tone for the show though as First Tube cranks in with the “secondary” opener slot. This set is more typical of what we have come to expect from first sets in latter day Phish with a couple of non-jammed vehicles (Twist, Carini), the expected sunset Divided, a bluegrass tune, a head scratcher with the oddly placed WTU?, and then a fun debut closer (Will It Go Round In Circles which unfortunately only got one more performance a couple of weeks later in Tucson on 09.21.1999. The second set opening Disease is one of the contained, shreddy type I versions and then the set gets a bit uneven as they play a standard Moma and a seemingly truncated Piper leading up to a megaphone-less Fee (with outro jam!) that bleeds into the loopy debut of Gotta Jibboo (for Phish, of course. It had already been around for TAB at this point). The evil energy of Saw It Again picks the pace up but then they go into mellow mode for a downright slow Melt. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really go anywhere. The same can be said for the Bowie closer which takes almost ten minutes to get through the intro and that is without any teases, SL, or other antics adding to the time. It just has that overly patient let’s-get-ambient-no-matter-what feel and thus never really feels like it can top out. Capping it with a Coil encore doesn’t alter the mood here and we are out into the night kind of wondering what happened there. Truthfully this is more the norm for Fall 99 shows than the outlier but in comparison to some of the other shows we have heard here the difference in “intent” (god, I hate using that word in the context of Phish) is quite clear.

09.11.1999  For the Saturday night show of this 1999 pair Phish came out swinging with Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL to get everyone up and moving. Trey has a brief but melodic lead in the Tube Things see-saw a bit from there with DST and Billy Breathes keeping things grounded sandwiched around PYITE and then leading to the set ending Guyute>Free segment. This Free gets pretty crunchy for a bit, stretching past the “normal” length of the song but don’t be fooled by the timing on most pulls of this one as there is at least a minute of post set crowd noise in there. So maybe not quite the fifth longest version ever that it appears to be. Trey gets that glitchy guitar thing going here that is often found in jams from 1999 which is kind of a love it or hate it thing for some fans. Personally, I love it but I am a big fan of that era so there’s that. As with 1997 this second show gets a bit of the Wolfman’s funk but tonight the second set opening version is also tinged with the developing Millennial Sound as they layer washes of sound on top of the groove. This gives way to loops and those play-every-note-in-one-second fills Trey got so comfortable with in that era as they set up the transition to… the Phish debut of Sand! Now a quite familiar vehicle, prior to this night (and tour) the song had only shown up in TAB shows, primarily that May 1999 Tour. 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 several great ideas, some which stick and others that don’t take (that final Jimi-like lead is freaking great before they return to the main Sand riff). This is up there in the pantheon of great debut versions of songs (e.g. The Amsterdam Carini) but really just scratches the surface of where the song could go once the rest of the band caught up with Trey on it. But that doesn’t take anything away from this highly dance-able interstellar version! A run through Meatstick brings us back to earth a bit and then we get a somehow both shreddy and mellow Maze. Then following a real live actually engaging Prince Caspian and then a peaky, blissful Hood closer (with several false endings) before the Circus encore. This is probably the “better” of the two shows from this stand and the second set in particular holds up quite well for enthusiasts of the era.

07.12.2003  Okay, now we are really getting pretty removed from my writing comfort zone as I believe this marks the first 2.0 show that I will have written about more than simply in passing. Bear with me, folks. Well, the band helps out from the start, playing a soaring Taste opener before dipping into the then new material with Mexican Cousin and running through a fine enough Stash, NICU, and Heavy Things. Then we get the debut of Mock Song (only version they would play until the festy-themed bustout at Magnaball in 2015) and Army of One (previously only played at Vida Blue shows earlier that year) before ripping into a demonic, openly jammed Maze closer. It’s one you will want to hear if you are a Maze fan. Just remember that you will in fact get out of the maze and you should be fine. Second set starts out with a chugging type I Piper that swirls and grooves for about fifteen minutes featuring a lot of that gnarly, uncompressed Trey 2.0 tone before dissolving into the debut of Two Versions of Me which almost got backed up with the 2nd ever Secret Smile if you listen closely to the sbds of this one. Thankfully they chose to instead dive into Tweezer (unless you are a big Secret Smile fan in which case I’ll say go listen to 07.15.2003 if you want those two songs paired, sir). Trey plays the melodic part of Free before it kind of falls apart into a loose, dirty return to Tweezer. It isn’t the prettiest finish to Tweezer ever but you get some of that with 2003 Phish. They ease up for DST and WITS but then it is back to the deep end for a late set Ghost! This is a monster of a Ghost which you should go read about in more depth. Let’s just say this is the type of jam that jam chasers point to when decrying the ripcording and other stuff that sometimes creeps into Phish sets. Oh and let’s just go ahead and back that ridiculous dance party Ghost with a solid Bowie closer, mm’kay? So by the time the Frankenstein>Reprise encore hits you are just laughing at the power this band can wield. This was about a week into that summer’s tour so the band was warmed up and pretty well in form so you get a good snapshot of what they laid down in those shows here. 2003 has some positively other worldly jams intermingled with head scratching song choices, particularly with that set of ballad-y numbers they debuted that summer. You take the good with the rest though…

07.13.2003  For the Sunday night capper to this 2003 pair Phish started out with good old Runaway Jim which gets some extension including a bit of almost-but-not-quite Seven Below jamming. They follow this with the third ever Scents And Subtle Sounds (with intro!), playing it pretty straight at least in comparison to some of the massive ones from later this tour (not to mention the epic soundcheck version from before the next show in Utah). After romping through Axilla and Carini and playing the mini bustout for DFB they play what will be the last version of Round Room until its 140 show bustout during the first set of the wonderful 01.01.2011 show and it gets the 2.0 ambient outro jam treatment too which is a nice (one time) treat. Halley’s Comet is next with some Mike on electric bagpipes action in the end before they run through Guyute (also with some Mike electric bagpipery) and then a rousing run through YEM caps the set. The second set starts off fine enough with a rocking Llama and a funky Wolfman’s that dives into the 60 show bustout of JJLC but it is the Seven Below that follows where this set gets its legs. They go super deep in this one, jumping off into the ether such that by about the twelve minute mark you might have one or four of those “what song is this?” moments. At the start of the deepery Trey throws in a Third Stone from the Sun tease and then they proceed to build back up, eventually ending with a quick run through the main theme of the song. It isn’t the most connected Phish you will ever hear but there is a willingness to take the risk that is greatly appreciated. The show finishes strongly with Hood and Chalkdust before a First Tube encore and then we are left to wait for six years until the band would come back here again.

08.07.2009  When Phish returned after The Long Wait there were varying opinions about whether they would be able to recapture the jam magic that had been their currency with the fans for so many years. Heck, I guess you could say there were those who had been saying such things since like 1994 but whatever on all that. There had been hints of it sprinkled throughout the first leg of the Summer Tour that year but it still felt like they were searching for the connection that made it all work so well. After warming up the second leg of the tour with the four shows at Red Rocks and then playing a one off show at Shoreline (which we will get to…) Phish came back to The Gorge for a pair. Maybe it was something about being back in another familiar place but something seemed to click that weekend and the jams started flowing freely. The show opening Disease was a type I surprise considering they had just played a decent open ended one in the middle of the second set at Shoreline but it set the tone for how the evening would go. A fun midset call-and-response jam in Possum between Trey and Page livened up the crowd and offset the “another possum?” thoughts from those who had been keeping track of such stats. During this set they played the first P&M of 3.0 and then in the penultimate slot for the set the first Sally since that same 08.12.2004 show, taking the Robert Palmer cover to type II depths that this song simply doesn’t typically go. It is a quality jam that holds up so check that one out for sure. The Stash that precedes it also takes a noble leap at going sideways but really just stays in the T&R mode for the most part. The second set has an engaging calypso jam in Light before they nail the segue to Taste and then later on there is a Gin that some still hold as the most creative of 3.0 even though it is pretty well drenched in whale tone. Followed by a lovely Hood closer it is quite nice to hear the band willing to take risks again here at a place where that has definitely been their modus operandi.

08.08.2009  For the second night of this pair Phish started out by dusting off Mango Song for the first time in 3.0 and then after a quick Chalkdust debuted the Mike and Leo Kottke tune Middle of the Road which would be played one more time that summer before getting shelved. The rest of the first set is pretty underwhelming as the midset Tweezer never takes off and only the energy of the set closing Zero>Lope pairing makes any waves. The second set starts out quite strong with a loping RnR jam that hints at some FOTM phrasing before peaking and moving into Makisupa which has its own interest considering Trey and Mike switch instruments to give us a different sort jam (that actually kind of works). The set turns song-y from there as they play a standard YEM surrounded by a bunch of setlist fodder and then rock out the encore with GTBT>Reprise. This is definitely the lesser of the two from the 2009 run but has a great highlight in that RnR->Maki sequence.

08.05.2011 Two year on from the last visit Phish returned for another pair at The Gorge to start out the second leg of the summer tour following the one month break after Superball. The first set is basically a warm up the jukebox grouping of songs but the Taste>Roggae pairing here is a beauty that deserves your time. That set tricks us into complacency though as after the break and a set opening BDT#L the band starts up RnR and takes it out into a completely unique space, dropping into dark waters as Page hops on the theremin (something that was well received in the several times he did it in 2011) and Mike throwing in massive bass bomb brown notes. Many thought it was going into FOTM but instead you will get Meatstick and like it. They keep it flowing with a big time Boogie On out of the Meatstick jam and then kind of fizzle to the end of set with some questionable placements for Farmhouse and SoL. This RnR jam was something of a revelation at the time, another step up in the jamming department for the band as they had seemed to plateau a bit in this touring year. But by the time the summer had ended there were several great jams to look back on including the one here that started the run.

08.06.2011  The next night got a bit of the second show slump thing as the first set is mainly a collection of decent songs played reasonably well. The Wolfman’s Brother hints at more to come with some Heartbreaker teases but other than that there’s not much of note in this set. Then they come out hot with a Chalkdust second set opener that butts up against Tweezer which is where the real heat starts to rise. The jam goes from white hot shreddery to spacecamp soundscape and then out to Caspian and eventually a nice Sand before coming back to Tweezer. After a few other solid numbers like BOAF and Golden Age>Reba they cap the set with a tease-filled Lope closer and then a Suzy>Sanity>Reprise encore. This show is honestly a bit flat compared to most from this venue which is not to say it is bad in any way but that it lacks by comparison to some very big brothers.

07.26.2013  Once more, Phish kept to their play-it-every-two-years mode in 3.0, coming back to The Gorge in July 2013 for another pair of Friday/Saturday shows. This first night kind of feels like a Saturday Night Rock Out what with the high energy opening quad of Bag>Timber Ho, Wolfman’s, Funky Bitch and then following a nice Happy Birthday shoutout to CK5 they drop into the fist-pumper-pleasing Wilson. Trey stops during the blat boom pause to talk about wanting everyone to chant “Wilson” at Seahawks games and sports a fan made Wilson “jersey” which would eventually result in it being discussed in an official NFL film segment. The second set starts out with a far ranging C&P that kicks off a set filled with tons of teases and the fun looseness that comes when this band is relaxed and comfortable with their surroundings. Listen for a quite well played Waves, a Mango with a bit of outro jammery and a ‘moon jammed’ Zero closer where the band gets a bit howl-y once CK5 turns down the lights. It may not be the best show ever here but the energy from it comes through loud and clear on the tapes. Oh yeah, there’s a 156 show bustout of Secret Smile here too if you like that sort of thing.

07.27.2013  The second night in 2013 also has a pretty standard first set though it does get one of the four performances of Architect (as opener no less!) and the debut of the Mike tune Say Something along with an 87 show bustout of After Midnight to close in honor of the passing of its writer and one time opener for Phish, J.J. Cale. The second set starts with a short-ish but underrated Disease that segues into a fun Undermind that saw Fish hit the marimba lumina (before that was really a “thing”). Light also has a nice if abbreviated jam and on the whole you really cannot complain about a setlist like this one where aside from some possible jukebox-ing is all songs with great payoff. This show doesn’t have the big highlights of some of the others from The Gorge but is a solid set particularly for Summer 2013 which is viewed by some as a bit of a dip before they ramped things up again that Fall.

07.15.2016  And now we get to this summer’s entry and the final pair of shows at this venue. After a much discussed and somewhat jam-lite East Coast leg of the tour Phish had a few days off to make it west for this pair of shows. The first night had many wondering what band they would get out west so when they opened with Tweezer (even a contained one) you knew they were saying “ok, let’s get back to business” in a way. Shedding the distractions of the early summer (i.e. finishing work on the new album, Bernie, etc.) they played a solid if unremarkable first set including the debut of the now loved humorous Fish tune Ass Handed and the 155 show bustout of Old Home Place (perhaps a nice nod to being back in this great place after a three year absence?). The second set starts with another solid C&P from this venue (with an interestingly placed Under Pressure tease considering the general tenor of the fanbase at this point) and then a subtle yet powerful WTU?. From there things turn into something of a tease fest as the NMINML has heavy C&P quotes, Stash gets both C&P and WTU? teases, Ghost gets full band instrument switching and C&P and NMINML teases, Chalkdust gets C&P, WTU? and NMINML teases, 2001 gets C&P and NMINML quotes, Cavern gets C&P and WTU? teases, and the encore Wilson has some Makisupa in it. It is a fun, flowing set of the sort that works quite well in person but sometimes doesn’t hold up as well on tape even though in this case I’d say the energy and impact of the music works even after the fact. It was a bit of a beacon for some who though the sky was falling and another sign for others who see this as The End Times but somewhere between those two viewpoints is a third where this was yet another awesome night at The Gorge with Phish.

07.16.2016  The second night in 2016 is definitely a bit of a Saturday Night Special with the focus seeming to be on high energy rockers at the expense of big jams. I always love a Buried Alive opener so that’s nice and then there are solid versions of 555 and Sand before a rousing Gin closer. The second set feels like an extension of the first in that there is a lot of good playing going on but very few attempts to stretch anything too far beyond its normal limit. The BOAF is interesting and Wingsuit peaks well and the Mike’s is a different sort of jam than typical for the song but I’m not really here to laud the descending runs Trey plays in farmhouse, you know? This show lacks anything of a major centerpiece jam which (as always) doesn’t mean that those there didn’t have a great time but that it feels like a step backwards after the inventiveness of the prior evening’s show. Thankfully for us every night with Phish gives us something a little different so I guess we will just have to see what that next one from this wonderful venue provides.

Let’s see the tale of the tape for this venerable tour stop…

Venue:  The Gorge Amphitheatre

No. of Shows:  sixteen

Intangibles:  unique, beautiful venue with amazing views of the natural splendor of the Columbia River Gorge and an open, all-GA atmosphere. band seems to enjoy playing here as shows from the eight separate pairs of shows performed. on site camping and other close by amenities make it a relaxing destination for Phish. something about the vibe here always comes off as laid back and relaxed, showing up in the music performed which tends to include patient takes on the songs.

Recurring Themes:  Divided Sky sunset jams (ok, only three times but they are all great), Wolfman’s Brother (only song played seven out of the eight visits), Hood jams often with the “lights out”

Key Jams/Songs:  1997 – Theme, Ghost, Divided, Wolfman’s, Disease->Tweezer, Hood, Gin, Foam, LxL, Julius, Taste; 1998 – Reba>Fefy>Circus, Julius, Moma, Bowie, Tube, Ya Mar, Gumbo, Divided, 2001, Mike’s>Paug; 1999 – Fee>Jibboo, Melt, Free, Wolfman’s->Sand, Meatstick->Maze, Caspian, Hood; 2003 – Taste, Maze, Piper, Tweezer, Ghost, Round Room, Wolfman’s, Seven Below; 2009 – Sally, Light->Taste, Gin>Hood, RnR->Makisupa; 2011 – Taste>Roggae, RnR->Meatstick->Boogie, Tweezer>Caspian>Sand->Tweezer; 2013 – Wolfman’s, C&P, Waves, Mango, Disease->Undermind>Light->Sally; 2016 – C&P>WTU?>NMINML, Ghost->Chalkdust, 555, Gin, BOAF, Wingsuit, Mike’s

PJJ Ratio:  2.50 (please see the Shoreline post for details on this)

This venue presents a pretty solid case for one with a high number of jams per capita. Phish always seems at home when they play here and each run has something we end up discussing for a while afterwards. For my money you cannot beat that second set on 07.17.1998 but having been here eight different times over several eras Phish at The Gorge offers something for everyone.

3 thoughts on “Wide Open Views and That Laid Back Sound – Phish and The Gorge

  1. Alright I finally got to finish this piece and I think your Key Jam calls is a fantastic playlist for the Gorge.

    I really like this project. Fun review

    Like

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